Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 23 January 2020

At World Youth Forum, young people lead conversation for new Middle East

Four-day meeting in Egypt seeks to tackle future challenges, from climate change to security and job creation

Egypt in February tendered 10 blocks offshore the Red Sea,.  AFP
Egypt in February tendered 10 blocks offshore the Red Sea,.  AFP

Climate change, conflict and jobs were on the agenda as thousands of young people from the region and beyond considered the challenges of the future at the opening of the World Youth Forum in Egypt on Sunday.

Sponsored by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi at the resort town of Sharm El Sheikh, there was a focus on climate change, food security and extremist ideology as some of the major challenges facing youths and nations.

It was the third World Youth Forum, which was Mr El Sisi's brainchild.

It aimed, as he said during the first session on Sunday, to provide “an opportunity to hear diverse views from experts on one issue and from the youths themselves on the most important issues they face".

The forum also gathered representatives of groups ranging from the EU to the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the Arab League to discuss the shifts by extremist groups from battlefields to online and cyber security.

The forum heard that shift is a challenge to national security and stability, and to the future of young people who are frequently the targets of extremist groups, from far-right nationalists to militants.

For the first time, we are being addressed directly on how we can work together

Mohammed Ali, 22, who wants to be an IT entrepreneur

This year’s forum will also discuss food security, women’s empowerment, blockchain, greater co-operation between North Africa and Europe on common challenges and the digital economy to create jobs for youths and spur national development.

One common solution, Mr El Sisi and speakers agreed, was strong functioning states to prevent a slide into violence and chaos as seen in Syria and Libya.

That instability, they said, prevented critical issues from being addressed.

Few countries are feeling these pressing challenges and youth concerns more than Egypt, where more than 60 per cent of citizens are under the age of 30.

According to the International Labour Organisation, youth unemployment in the country is more than 20 per cent.

Like much of North Africa, Egypt is on the frontlines of the effects of climate change, with rising sea levels threatening communities in Alexandria and on the coast, and unusually heavy rain flooding streets.

While Egypt has been a target of terrorist attacks in recent years, it also played a role in the international coalition against ISIS.

But the theme and discussions at the forum returned again and again to development and creating job for young people in Egypt, across the region and beyond.

As part of this need for economic inclusion, this year’s forum includes a business incubator backed by the summit and the Egyptian government to support young entrepreneurs and provide support to start-ups.

These ranged from trucking applications, to medical tourism, to agricultural technology.

“For the first time, we are being addressed directly on how we can work together to not only move past the previous challenges our nation faced, but to build a better future for our generation and those who will follow us,” says Mohammed Ali, 22, an aspiring IT entrepreneur.

Those taking part say they are looking to young participants for inspiration on ways governments and the international organisations and community can better address global challenges.

“We have asked the youth to do the job and take action,” Egypt’s Environment Minister, Yasmine Fouad, said of the fight against climate change. "But have we done that globally?”

The four-day conference, which includes an Emirati delegation and the UAE Minister of State for Youth, Shamma Al Mazrui, includes 6,000 young men and women from across the Arab region and worldwide.

Updated: December 16, 2019 03:10 AM

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