President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced a number of plans to empower Egypt’s youth in his speech to inaugurate the Knowledge Bank initiative at Cairo Opera House on Saturday.
He promised 2016 would be the “year of Egyptian youth,” in which they would be engaged in a number of projects, including the Knowledge Bank, that would empower them and strengthen their participation in public life.
The state-run Knowledge Bank project aims to provide free access to online research resources that normally charge hefty subscription fees. Anyone with an Egyptian IP address will be able to freely peruse a range of online publications, including Nature, National Geographic, Encyclopedia Britannica and more.
Sisi said he had also asked the Central Bank to enable the financing of small and medium youth-run initiatives. He promised that by the end of the next four years, 20 percent of bank loans would be allocated to such projects.
“Banks will offer around LE200 billion, which should [launch] 350 thousand companies that will offer job opportunities to more than four million people,” Sisi said, promising to reduce interest rates to less than 5 percent on all loans given to youth initiatives, as he explained high rates have prevented many young people from starting their own businesses in the past. Projects in Upper Egypt and the border governorates will be given extra attention, Sisi asserted.
The Housing Ministry has additionally been asked to initiate a social housing project for the youth, Sisi explained, in which 145 thousand units will be built in 2016, at a cost of LE20 billion. This is distinct from another national project in which 224 thousand housing units are being built.
Sisi also promised a program to reform education, where a committee will be tasked with reviewing the curriculum for all ages in the next three months. He made other promises related to sports, arts and a new forum to initiate dialogue with young people.
“Hold to your country against those who want you to lose your faith in it, hold to ethics and true religion against those who abuse it for the sake of their own narrow interests,” he urged.
“A few days ago I met with a group of youth who were depressed because of a lack of opportunities — they didn’t join the parliament. When I asked about their ages, I discovered they are 23 and 25. I said [to them], ‘the development of nations does not occur overnight’.”
Sisi did not mention the increasing number of young people in Egypt’s jails for terrorism and protest related charges. Security forces recently cracked down on political activists from the April 6 Youth Movement for allegedly calling for protests on the upcoming fifth anniversary of the January 25 revolution.
There has also been an unprecedented crackdown on media freedoms. Journalist Mahmoud al-Sakka was detained for 15 days last week for allegedly belonging to the “January 25 youth movement.” Researcher and journalist Ismail Alexandrani has been detained since November for belonging to a banned organization and publishing false news. Last week, eight journalists in three different news organizations were referred to criminal court for publishing news concerning alleged corruption by Justice Minister Ahmed al-Zend.
As January 25 approaches, authorities have been careful to promote ideals of good citizenship and the need for stability and security through a variety of forums, including Friday sermons in mosques. Young people were a large proponent in the street protests of 2011 that led to the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.