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

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

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Climate change, conflict, and jobs were on everybody’s lips 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 Sinai resort town of Sharm El Sheikh, there was a focus on climate change, food security, and extremist thought as some of the major challenges facing both youth and entire nations in an increasingly uncertain world climate.

Sunday marked the third edition of the World Youth Forum, the brainchild of the Egyptian president, which aims, 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 figures ranging from the EU to the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Arab League to discuss the shifts by extremist and terrorist groups from physical battlefields to online and cybersecurity. These, the forum heard, are both challenges to national security and stability but also to the future of young people who are frequently targeted by extremist groups – whether they be far-right nationalists or so-called Islamic 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 is also gathering international experts and young leaders to discuss food security, women’s empowerment, blockchain, greater cooperation across the Mediterranean between North Africa and Europe to address common challenges and the digital economy to create job opportunities for young citizens and spur national development.

One common solution, Mr El Sisi and speakers agreed, was strong functioning states to prevent the chaos and a slide into violence as seen in Syria and Libya; an instability they say prevents critical issues from being addressed.

Few countries are feeling these pressing challenges and youth concerns more than Egypt where over 60 per cent of Egyptians are under the age of 30. According to the International Labour Organization, youth unemployment in the country is over 20 per cent.

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

While Egypt itself has been the 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 jobs

for young people in Egypt and 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 and nascent business ideas that were all on display in Sharm El Sheikh. These ranged from trucking apps to medical tourism and agricultural technology.

Young Egyptians themselves say the forum and other recent policies have been a change from being overlooked by previous governments to now being heard.

“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 that will follow us,” says Mohammed Ali, a 22-year-old participant and an aspiring IT entrepreneur.

Rather than simply turn to young people for solutions, participants and officials say they are looking to young participants for inspiration on ways governments and the international organizations and community can work better to 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 features an Emirati delegation and the participation of Emirati Minister of Youth Shamma Al Marzui, includes 6,000 young men and women from across the Arab region and worldwide.

Updated: December 15, 2019 09:39 PM

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