The current state of youth work in Egypt
In December 2011, the Egyptian security forces raided 17 Egyptian and foreign organisations. According to the authorities, this was because of investigations into suspected illegal funding from abroad. The 43 accused NGO members of staff all received jail sentences of between one and five years, and the court ordered several of the NGOs to have their assets seized. This was a hard blow for the work of non-governmental organisations in Egypt, especially because many of the organisations, founded to work for the country's democracy after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, are dependent on international financial support. The prosecution of NGO staff is clearly contrary to the democratic change the young people of Egypt had begun to ring in with the overthrow of the regime. The course of action taken by the Egyptian courts is weakening civil society, an important pillar of democracy in the new democratic Egypt.
The verdict is based on a law from the time of Mubarak. Several attempts at reforming the old NGO bill in Egypt have failed. The Egyptian Parliament had reached an understanding with civil society about a new NGO bill in May 2012. However, shortly before the bill was to be passed, the parliament's lower house was dissolved by the Supreme Court because of a formal defect in the electoral law. In May 2013, the upper house wanted to introduce new, restrictive NGO legislation, but then the upper house was also dissolved before the bill could be passed. Now it is understood that the new NGO bill is to be passed by the next parliament. However, this has yet to be elected. Apparently, elections are due to take place sometime in December.
Meetings with Egyptian youth organisations
During the four days in Cairo, the German group had contact with some twelve different Egyptian organisations and institutions. Both sides were very interested in an exchange, and because of the tight schedule, conversations were continued afterwards. Many of the Egyptian organisations are already in contact with international NGOs, but there continues to be a strong desire for international cooperation and networking with Germany. Meeting the German guests provided them with an important opportunity to use one-on-one conversations to exchange experiences and establish long-term contacts.
At the same time as the German NGO delegates were in Cairo to hold their many meetings with Egyptian NGOs, the latter were faced with the challenge of having to re-register with the Ministry for Social Solidarity by 10 November 2014, to be able to legally continue their work. By registering under the old NGO bill, the NGOs have to accept ministerial control of international cooperation and foreign funding for projects. Some NGOs were noticeably shaken by this. But hope reasserted itself when, in the very same week of November, seven Egyptian human rights organisations refused to join the Egyptian delegation at the UN Human Rights Council conference in Geneva on the grounds that the current draft NGO bill would prevent NGOs from carrying out their core activities in Egypt.
A great variety of Egyptian youth organisations
During the study visit, the German participants were introduced to a wide range of youth organisations. On the one hand, there are the large youth organisations that were established before the revolution, operate nationrywide, and have a good infrastructure. Some of them also have extensive international experience and long-established partnerships with organisations abroad. They consider themselves non-political and non-religious and tend to offer leisure activities for children and young people, or provide a platform for vocational training and further education to expand the professional skills of young Egyptians about to enter the job market.
On the other hand, there are sizable organisations that existed before the revolution, are part of the old educational elite, and by being part of this network have access to good funding. Their goals and main focus areas are as varied as their operational methods and structures. Some regard themselves as part of Egypt's civil society, using the new development opportunities and providing a platform for young people to explore different aspects of themselves and how to fully realise their own ideas. This makes it easier for smaller associations and structures to operate and saves them the cumbersome registration at the Ministry for Social Solidarity.
Since the overthrow of the old regime, many new initiatives and smaller organisations were set up by young people who did not feel adequately represented by the existing organisations. They did not find within the old structures any possibility of democratic participation and so formed their own structures to be self-determined in their support for political change, social justice, or art education. Many of these organisations came about as part of the Arab Spring, are currently establishing their networks, and have little or no access to funding.
The organisations that met the German delegates were mostly youth work organisations working in the areas of economic change and social justice, and some others representing art education and culture. The framework for national funding is still being set up, and the framework for international funding is officially tied in with the Ministry for Social Solidarity.
This caused surprise and some reflection amongst the German guests, with many reading it as a sign that government interference is greater than had been previously apparent. The German youth organisations felt that in this situation, the fight of the Egyptian people for a free, democratic, and equal society all the more needs and deserves any possible support from Germany.
A meeting with the Youth Ministry
The new expectations young people have since the Arab Spring are a tough challenge for the Ministry for Youth and Sports. They would like to establish cooperation with German youth organisations focusing on the following seven topics: science and technology, an exchange of delegations of young entrepreneurs, environmental activities and recycling projects, culture and the arts, exchange programmes for students, social participation for young people, supporting self-awareness and providing a positive role model for girls and young women. The Youth Ministry supports future cooperation between German and Egyptian youth organisations in all areas.
The outlook for German-Egyptian youth work
During their meetings with young people, the German visitors realized how hugely the life of young Egyptians is determined by their involvement with political change, the shifting boundaries of democracy and freedom of speech as well as progress - or failure - in the process of building a new social order. German international youth work, with its culture of dialogue and youth exchange, can help strengthen Egyptian civil society and contribute to the founding of a more equal society.
Coming soon: detailed documentation of the study visit
The visit to Egypt was the third in a series of IJAB study visits to Arab Spring countries since 2011 and addresses its member organisations' great interest in cooperation with Northern Africa. A documentary account of this study visit, including reports by individual members recounting their experiences, will be published this year. The documentation will make experiences and impressions gained in Egypt accessible to a wider circle of interested stakeholders and individuals in order to help establish a network of contacts between German and Egyptian youth organisations. The documentation will be published in PDF format and will be available as a download from this website.