When the promotional video for the state-sponsored World Youth Forum, which kicked off in Sharm el-Sheikh on Saturday, first appeared, reactions ranged from excitement to bewilderment, ridicule and anger.
The advertisement for the youth conference, led by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, opens with a shot of a European-looking street and a woman in heels. The accompanying English voice-over says: “If there are streets you can’t cross and clothes you can’t wear, we need to talk.” The video closes with the statement: “If you have a voice and you want to be heard by world leaders, join us at the World Youth Forum in Egypt, where the conversation begins.”
Many considered the Western scenes shown in the video alien to Egyptian society, and the promotion spawned a social media campaign using the forum’s slogan, “We Need to Talk,” to highlight the violent crackdown on personal and political freedoms in Egypt in recent years. One of the conference organizers responded to the criticisms, telling Mada Masr that the conference’s primary objective is to “market Egypt” through the media coverage in countries that have representatives attending the conference.
“The youth will do what tourism has failed to,” the organizer said, alluding to the steep decline in the number of tourists visiting Egypt since 2011. Previously a member of Sisi’s 2015 Presidential Leadership Program, which claimed to prepare youth for top government positions, the conference organizer spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity.
Responding to the backlash against the forum’s promotional video, the organizer said it included scenes unfamiliar to Egyptian society as it was primarily aimed at an international audience. The video was meant to convey that young people can build the future, according to the organizer, and to market Egypt and rehabilitate the image of Sharm el-Sheikh as the “city of peace.”
The idea for an international youth conference was first proposed during the fourth in a series of state-sponsored youth conferences, held in Port Said last April. In his closing address the president announced his intention to go forward with the idea.
The organizer said that alumni of Sisi’s Presidential Leadership Program, led by a team from the president’s office, were the driving force behind the World Youth Forum. Two classes comprising approximately 2,000 young people have graduated from the program to date. The curriculum, overseen by the president’s office, includes classes on political science, management and social sciences. Graduates are appointed to positions in state bodies and make up the majority of the youth organizing and attending Sisi’s youth conferences across different governorates.
According to the forum’s website, topics on the agenda include cultural differences, problems facing youth around the world, the role of civil society in sustainable development and the importance of press freedoms.
Approximately 3,000 young people, mostly Egyptians, are expected to attend the forum, the organizer asserted, saying that several African presidents and the Chinese education minister have confirmed their attendance.
The forum is scheduled to run until November 10 in the Red Sea tourist resort.