The Egyptian government has launched a number of activities and services for youth, particularly throughout 2017, starting with national youth conferences, encouragement for youth projects, the Presidential Leadership Program, and the annual World Youth Forum, stating that the purpose behind all this is mainly to motivate youth to engage further in political activity.
Throughout these opportunities, the state has been calling for youth participation in politics, encouraging them to voice their thoughts and provide suggestions to benefit the country, and focusing on qualifying them for leadership.
Contrary to this, the reality inside youth centres is that hundreds of youth can join different activities, except anything related to politics.
Youth centres are clubs affiliated with the state, offered to those who are not able to afford the expenses of a sports club. Hundreds of families send their children to such centres to practice sports and arts in their spare time. There are over 400 centres in urban areas and more than 3,700 in rural areas, according to 2016 data from the country’s official statistics agency CAPMAS, in addition to another 74 centres in Cairo.
A few days ago, the Egyptian parliament approved a law to regulate youth centres that would ban young people from practising politics inside these centres, a decision that stirred great controversy among parliament members and youth members of these centres. The new bill prohibits youth from practising political activities inside youth centres and sports clubs. It also prohibits smoking, gambling, and drinking alcohol inside these centres.
As justification for banning politics in youth centres, Parliament Speaker Ali Abdul Aal said, during a previous discussion session over the law, that “youth centres are a public facility where political ideas should not be propagated, and political activity is always a bias towards a particular party and a particular government. Therefore, it is not permissible to depart from the constitutional text in Article 87, which prohibits the exercise of any political or religious activity inside them.”
Abdul Aal continued that currently, there are 104 political parties in Egypt, saying “I believe and agree that they failed to prepare political cadres,” referring to the role of these centres in the past. He affirmed his rejection for practising politics inside these centres, referring to articles of the constitution, and citing examples of some failed political parties as a justification for his stance.
While discussing the failure of political parties, member of the Free Egyptians parliamentary bloc, Ayman Abu El-Ala said that there are political parties who did not totally fail in preparing political cadres, referring to a number of parliament members who were originally influential figures in parties including Al-Wafd, Free Egyptians, and Future of a Nation.
Moreover, Qassem Farag, member of Parliament’s Youth Committee told Daily News Egypt, “youth participation in politics is very significant, and we support this, but are still against allowing politics in such centres, as this would change the nature of the functions of these centres.” He also said that practising politics will lead to forming different blocs inside these centres, and this will shift to “a situation that is not wished for or predictable.”
On the other hand, Parliament Member Samir Ghattas said, “the current political system forbids political action in universities and in youth centres”, adding that “there is no model in the world that solely relies on conferences for young people in the practice of political work.”
“These conferences are a sure sign of the lack of political work in all state institutions, parties, universities, and youth centres. I oppose the system that prevents politics in general,” he also said.
The MP asserted his rejection for the ban in the law, saying “I demand state institutions to mobilise young people to practice their political ideas within an official framework, so as not to fall prey to terrorist entities with extremist ideas.”
Ghattas was among another 20 members who opposed banning politics inside youth centres and demanded an amendment.
Furthermore, Hafez Abu Saeda, member of the semi-governmental National Council for Human Rights, told Daily News Egypt, “we cannot prevent politics in universities, youth centres, or clubs, as we are not supposed to deal with politics as a taboo. I reject political parties inside centres as this will cause partisan bias, but political activity is required, and it is part of preparing youth for the future.”
Abu Seada, who is also a lawyer, mentioned an example explaining that youth in universities and clubs can organise seminars and conferences to discuss important issues to come up with different solutions and analyses, such as that related to the Jerusalem issue. He added that banning politics is a “crime that restricts participation in politics.”
In a similar context, Minister of Youth and Sports Khaled Abdul-Aziz said that the “Youth Parliament” model in centres is a cultural activity and there is no ban on youth parties to participate in its activities.
Youth centres allow teaching politics only: centre members
Inside each youth centre, there is a Youth Parliament, which is a simulation where youth aged 18-24 are trained on how to join political life, through workshops explaining the constitution, parliamentary functions, and political parties.
Parliamentarians who support banning politics inside youth centres saw that these simulation parliaments are sufficient to qualify youth to join politics in real life.
“We are learning inside the [Youth] Parliament how to practice politics in reality, or in other words, the parliament is a program sponsored by the ministry to prepare youth to engage in real political life, but in fact, we are not participating in any decision-making. However, I wish we can be given an opportunity,” Ahmed Youssef, head of the Population Committee of the Youth Parliament of Cairo, told Daily News Egypt.
Moreover, Mahmoud Gamal, candidate for Gezira Youth Club, told Daily News Egypt in a phone interview, that he is against including politics in youth centres, but recommends teaching politics to youth at such centres.
Gamal said that he joined the Gezira centre twenty years ago. “In this place I learned a lot and was able to become a media practitioner,” he said.
“I believe that youth have great suggestions and ideas that would really benefit the country. They are on the streets every day, engaging with the public, living the daily life in Egypt, so they are the best people aware of the conditions and able to give solutions,” he also said.
Gamal added that in every youth centre, there is a Youth Parliament, but they are not given the opportunity to discuss political issues in depth, as there are still some restrictions, and youth are only learning to practice politics without producing any tangible contributions.
Members of the centres believe that they should have a chance to engage in politics to express their views towards different political and economic issues. Some parliament members believe that youth participation in politics will increase dispute and change the main aim of these centres into being a political platform for disputes and protests, while others believe that youth should be granted a chance to gain political training, to learn to speak up.
President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has launched over five conferences, giving youth an opportunity to join the discussion about different topics in the country, including economics, sustainable development, and education. In November, the World Youth Forum was launched with the participation of 1,000 young people from around the world, to speak about different experiences and attend a Model United Nations simulation.
The law was prepared by the government and includes 49 articles. It will grant young people, of both genders, the right to have control of the board of directors of these centres by at least 50%, within the framework of the state’s approach towards youth empowerment. It will also impose decisive penalties to counter any breach that affects the functioning of youth bodies and hinders them from performing their role.
The draft law stipulates that the concerned minister shall issue the necessary decisions for the implementation of this law and determine both the central administrative body and the competent administrative authority in charge of its enforcement within six months from the date of its implementation. Until such decisions are issued, the existing regulations and decisions shall remain in force.
The law is awaiting President Al-Sisi’s ratification for its enforcement and it will then be published in the state’s official gazette. Its currently being reviewed by the State Council.