EL-SISI ‘WOKE’ TO GENERATIONAL, GENDER MIX
FOUR days in Egypt this past week, and it was hard to not think back to 2011 – the year of the Egyptian Revolution of Dignity, commonly called the Arab Spring. My colleague and I were at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, in Kenya, in transit. Airport staff kept on asking us if we were bound for Cairo. Our answer, in emphatic unison, was the same every time: no! We were going to Johannesburg, as far from Cairo as possible.
Saturday, it was, February 5, about 12 days into the Arab Spring – Egypt Edition. Behind us in the queue, as we desperately declared that Egypt was not where we were headed, was a young Egyptian man. Destination Cairo, Tahrir Square, to join his compatriots – was beckoning. For someone flying into a territory of political uncertainty and violence, he was too excited and visibly self-assured.
It was time for the new Egypt, he said to us, in which young Egyptians would save their homeland from obsolescence. Melting into the boarding gate traffic, he turned to us and shouted: just watch what is going to happen in the next 10 days! His prediction proved more than accurate. In less than 10 days, the 30-year reign of Hosni Mubarak ended. Egypt became the second North African country to succumb to the Arab Spring after Tunisia.
The Arab Spring was co-ordinated mainly online, a territory young people are comfortable in. It was this youthfulness of the revolution that took me to Egypt this past week, for the second time in 11 months, to attend the second World Youth Forum (WYF).
Another dimension of the Arab Spring in Egypt was feminism.
Both youth and women were evident in the WYF, held in Sharm El-sheikh. For instance, of the 10 people who co-ordinated my travel, accommodation, programme preparation, briefing and so on, only one was a man. Game, set, match, women of Egypt.
Police presence, the symbol of repression during the Arab Spring, was still visible but more to secure the delegates and maintain order. More than 6 000 delegates from various countries honoured the invitation of President Ahmed Fatteh El-sisi to participate in discussions about the future of Egypt and Africa.
My panel discussion was titled: Agenda 2063 – the Africa we want. Throughout the four days, El-sisi was visible and convincing in his intent to make the voice of youth and women heard. To his credit, El-sisi appeared “woke” – to quote the slang of today’s youth – to the urgency of generational and gender mix.
Not many African heads of state are responsive to this global megatrend. Except for Rwanda, there are not many other African countries on my radar for their active involvement of young people in the affairs of their governments.
Not that young people inherently make better leaders; and they could always use counsel from elders.
Still, by making sure that they are as active as they are in the business of their country, El-sisi probably distinguished his legacy and set his country on an irreversible path to a younger president when he leaves office – both as head of state and when he takes over from Paul Kagame at the helm of the African Union. We could use more like him.
Africa is Open for Business,