CAIRO: Opposition leaders and rights activists encouraged youths to fight for change, citing the “failure” of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), during the closing of the third annual conference of the April 6 Youth Movement late Monday.
The movement’s conference, entitled “From the Occupied Egyptian Lands,” started on Saturday, running parallel to the NDP’s annual conference.
According to a statement released by the movement, these parallel conferences, which started in 2008, are held with the expressed aim of “responding to the lies of the NDP and uncovering the contradictions between [the party’s] words and its actions.”
“Because the Egyptian people are living as strangers in their own country … because the police oppress and terrorize the people under the Emergency Law, [and] because we are in a large prison, that’s why we speak to you ‘from the occupied Egyptian lands,’” said the movement’s statement.
Speakers at the closing of the conference tackled problems relating to elections fraud, healthcare, unemployment, and the privatization of the public sector, expressing their concerns that the new parliament might pass legislations that could cause further deterioration in these areas.
Ayman Nour, the president of Al-Ghad party, said that the April 6 conference tackled issues that are important to the Egyptian people, while the NDP’s conference overlooked highly important issues, such as minimum wage.
“The real Egypt is the one discussed in [the April 6 Youth Movement’s] conference, while the NDP’s conference makes us feel [like] they are talking about another country that’s more developed than European countries,” said Nour.
Nour further criticized the NDP’s conference, stating that it emits laughable lies that underestimate Egyptians’ intelligence.
He called on youths to utilize their will and their ability to propose alternatives to the regime, and assured them that change is coming.
“Closing the polls doesn’t mean that hope is lost,” Nour stated. “Civil disobedience has now become a must.”
Samir Eleish, the head of the National Center for the Aid of Civil Organizations, said that the low standards of education are robbing youth of their future, calling upon opposition groups to unite.
“Our voices are weak because they are separated,” says Eleish. “[The opposition groups] won’t make change until they unite.”
Karima El Hefnawy, a leading member of the Kefaya Movement for Change, stated her concern that the sweeping NDP majority in the parliament will enable the party to pass legislations concerning health insurance and employment that will both benefit the party and harm the interests of the people.
El Hefnawy, addressing Egypt’s youth, said: “This is your future. Protect your rights in health and education. If you don’t oppose these legislations now, there won’t be any secure jobs.”
El Hefnawy, who is also the member of a committee focused on the protection of health rights, criticized the current state of healthcare in Egypt and demanded that the state increase its healthcare spending from the current 4.5 percent of GDP to the recommended international standard of 15 percent.
Talal Shoukry, the vice president of the Pensions Union, said that the regime has committed thousands of crimes against the Egyptian people, citing privatization of the public sector, which he said had cost 1 million Egyptian workers their jobs.
He called for every social group to form a union capable of engaging in civil disobedience against the regime.
Khaled Ali, the director of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, tackled the issue of state lands that were sold to investors at low prices. He stated that the money that was lost could have been used to enhance education and healthcare.
“We are being sold,” Ali said. “At the time that they’re talking about improving living standards, the wages are not increasing — not even with a court order.”
Hamdy El Fakharany, who recently won a lawsuit over government land sales in the Madinety project, said that the amount of land sold to investors at cheap prices is equivalent to the width of five Arab countries.
El Fakharany stated that he is concerned that the new parliament might pass a legislation that will end the current public auction land sale policy by allowing the state to sell government-owned land directly to investors. Such a change will make it quite easy for state land to be sold to foreign investors at very cheap prices, according to El Fakharany.
Gamal Eid, the director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, demanded that the NDP admit to crimes it has committed, and that it offer apologies and compensation to the families of those who have been affected by the NDP’s offenses.
Former MP Mohamed El Beltagy criticized the recent parliamentary elections, calling on the opposition to take advantage of its outcome.
“The parliament has now become a second headquarters for the NDP; it is not appropriate to even call it a parliament,” El Beltagy said. “We have to fight a real battle in order [to prevent the NDP from averting] the crisis … it is [now] facing.”
El Beltagy added that the election violations created a public awareness of the effects that corruption can have on people’s lives. This is yet another reason why the opposition should unite, he added.
According to Ahmed Maher, the general coordinator of the April 6 Youth Movement, the conference’s most important recommendation is that opposition movements and activists unite to form one mass joint opposition effort.