The Elders with Yousri Fouda (Image credit: Jeff Moore)
Ghada Habashy, Regional Communications Manager for the British Council in the Middle East and North Africa, reports on a unique televised debate in Cairo that gave young people in North Africa the opportunity to discuss pressing international affairs with world leaders.
On 24 October, the eve of Eid Al Adhar, a spectacular event took place at Cairo’s Opera House when participants of the British Council’s Young Arab Voices project met with three of The Elders, an independent group of global leaders. In just two hours, the audience in the Opera House’s main auditorium and those watching live on television saw a panoramic view of Egypt through both the eyes of its youth and those of the outside world.
Having decided to hold their bi-annual meeting in Egypt, former US president Jimmy Carter, former president of Ireland Mary Robinson and former prime minister of Norway Gro Harlem Brundtland agreed to meet young people from Egypt in a televised debate. We connected The Elders with the Young Arab Voices project, which develops skills and opportunities for youth to debate across the Arab region.
The event was hosted by media star Yosri Fouda and allowed debaters to discuss the political views of different Egyptian factions such as the Muslim Brothers, the liberals, the Salafis and the socialists. Participants included young people from a number of different geographic areas of Egypt, including Bedouins of Matrouh and Upper Egyptians. Copts and Muslims were both represented.
It was interesting to see the openness by which they presented their questions and viewpoints logically, boldly and respectfully. At this tempestuous time in Egypt’s history when emotions are high, it is admirable to see how these young people have learned to debate with logic. It gave me hope for the future and for an inclusive Egypt where people can live side by side.
Mary Robinson spoke of the mission Nelson Mandela had given them as elders to meet and listen to young people, and this was a chance for them to ask questions as well as to respond. Both she and Gro Harlem Brundtland talked about the need to protect the rights of women and children in Egypt’s new constitution, which is currently under development (The Elders had met with President Mohamed Morsi earlier in the day).
President Carter shared a message of hope and a call for patience, reminding everyone that America signed its Declaration of Independence in 1776, but it took a further 12 years to draft a constitution. He insisted that Egypt was in the midst of a lively debate over its future and that change on this scale never happens overnight.
For me as an Egyptian, it was a memorable night. With the aid of programmes like Young Arab Voices, which mobilizes 35,000 young people in Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Morocco, Libya and Algeria, I could see a brighter future for Egypt as the next generation of leaders take their countries forward to a democratic, inclusive tomorrow.