Warning: this article might get a tad bit political!
We try in Cairo Contra to keep it a politics free zone for your pleasure and entertainment. However, due to the nature of the incident itself; there might be a bit of politics included in this article.
In the past week I’ve been in Sharm-El-Sheikh taking part in the World Youth Forum (WYF), yes again! If you missed last year’s coverage, you can check it out here and here. You can also check out our video coverage here. This year I wanted to do something different while I was there, and the occasion rose when I got a chance as Editor-in-chief of CairoContra to get a seat in the session of “Meet the President”. This Session allows the press to meet the president and directly ask him questions.
I walked into the room with the eye of an observer. As one, it was quite interesting to watch the clamouring crowd of journalists settle in and see everyone setting notes and adding the last touches to their question lists.
Finally, the president made his entrance. The moderator, Sherif Amer, started off the questioning session with a quick word about the forum and how it is considered as the “forum that opens connections to the world”. He then opened the floor to the media’s questions.
Everyone started asking theirs while I sat there hopefully waiting to ask mine. I didn’t expect to get so lucky being surrounded by the big dogs like BBC, El-Arabiyah, and the likes. As I listened to them—I was gravely disappointed—not for not getting the chance to ask a question, but for the questions that were being asked.
There had been many panels of discussion during the forum about climate change, its impact on our future, entrepreneurship, and the fourth industrial revolution. As a result of these discussions, I expected the questions would dive more into the concerns of young people and their future. Instead, all these legitimate topics were swept aside for political bait.
There were questions about: the Egypt-Greek-Turkey relations, the re-elected British prime minister, Egypt’s stand regarding the Palestinian crisis and its impact on Jordan, and the situation in Yemen, Libya, and Sudan.
While all these questions are important and demand answers; I believe the place in which they were asked was not the right one; since this is a forum dedicated to us, THE YOUTH.
I started to have hope again when a EuroNews correspondent finally acknowledged the forum and asked, “Why is it important to connect with the youth? and what other projects are you undergoing so far for them?”
President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi replied, “We are focused on getting more youth involved in the current government. We are intentionally picking younger candidates. It is a bit late for taking this step but that is because we had to take some time and train them for these positions. We also wanted to involve more youth from different political parties as these different connections are important. We support small and medium enterprises to create more jobs for the youth. In the past several years; we have been struggling with around 5000 factories closing down due to instability. I have around a million young people who need an annual income. So...I ask the foreign media, how much would that cost in your country? This is your role as the media, to remember and remind the people that the success of one nation does not have to be over the blood of another. You can consider me talking to myself if what I say bothers you.”
I had attended conferences before where the president had made speeches, comments, or remarks; but I had never seen him live talking to the media. I have to say there was something quite smug about watching him sort of propel their reality to their faces.
Another question that tackled a topic quite relevant to the youth and their future was a question about the Ethiopia Dam. It was asked by a correspondent for BBC Africa. The response however; was not very reassuring for me as an Egyptian worried about the future of water access in her country.
“The water case is very important. We would have been in a better place had we started negotiations and strived for stability earlier. However, we are acting on it now. We are negotiating and planning to reach an agreement by January. If not, we shall keep negotiations open. We should not be challenging one another. Egypt, naturally, is protective of its own nile. We will only seek negotiations.”
When questioned about the current situation between Egypt and Qatar, the president chose to respond with a message/statement for the people and media.
“It is a shame on any media outlet that sells out its nation [reference to the Arab nation] under the excuse of politics.” El-Sisi replied
Amidst the many questions, everyone was surprised when the president pointed at a lady in the row in front of me saying, “You haven’t asked a question…. Yes please,” he smiled as the lady rose. I realized she was the TV show host, Azza Mostafa. She was quick to ask a question about women and how far they have come regarding being empowered in different fields.
“We try to provide more opportunities for women. They have a very important role, in fact they have always played a prime role in protecting the Egyptian identity for many years,” President El-Sisi said.
One last question concerning young people was regarding the youth living abroad and how the current government connects with them.
“We’re making an effort, but we know it’s not enough since there are around 10 million Egyptians abroad. We have the Presidential Leadership Program that offers trainings and allows youth to bring in suggestions to the government. Perhaps we could look into creating similar programs for youth abroad.”
With that, the questioning session came to a close. The president spoke some concluding words, gave a message to the media, then exited the room.
I’d always heard of president El-Sisi being raw in how he speaks to the public and the media; it’s something that can play out well in some instances but can be quite dangerous in others. In this session, it played out to his advantage.
As we got up to leave, I thought back to my childhood when I wanted to become a journalist; I felt grateful and honored to have had this amazing opportunity. However, I would have never pictured a press room to be so laid back with a few laughs here and there. I expected cold and distant suits. It was quite understated in comparison to what I built up in my head. As a child, I always thought that sitting in a room like this would be like attending a gala for journalism—but now I know—not all that shines is gold.
What do you think?
Did you think the questions asked were relevant to the World Youth Forum? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!