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Egypt's young people play critical role in defending rights and shaping the future

© UNICEF Egypt/2011
Twenty per cent of Egypt’s population is between the ages of 10 and 19. Here, a young girl with the colors of the Egyptian flag drawn on her face paints a wall in the capital city, Cairo.

‘The State of the World’s Children 2011 – Adolescence: An Age of Opportunity,’ UNICEF’s new flagship report, focuses on the development and rights of more than a billion children aged 10 to 19 worldwide. This series of stories, essays and multimedia features seeks to accelerate and elevate adolescents’ fight against poverty, inequality and gender discrimination. Here is one of the stories.

By Shahira Amin

CAIRO, Egypt, 2 March 2011 – Passionate, mature, dignified, inspirational. These are just some of the words used to describe the youths who led the recent uprising in Egypt. Their actions show a new generation of young people who are pro-active in defending their rights and dignity.

“Now I can dream to be part of my country’s development – we have a new spirit, a new Egypt,” said Amira, 18, a high school student. “The young people will lead this country with new minds, new ideas and by using the latest technology.”

Twenty per cent of Egypt’s population is between the ages of 10 and 19. Adolescents played a crucial and effective role, not only in the demonstrations, but also preventing looting and burglaries following a breakdown in security.

Protecting homes and heritage

After police forces abandoned their positions and withdrew from the streets on 28 January, youths protected neighbourhoods and homes from thousands of escaped prisoners.

© UNICEF Egypt/2011
A group of adolescents volunteer as members of' 'public patrol points' to prevent looting and burglaries in Alexandria, Egypt.

They organized so-called ‘popular committees’ to guard homes and properties. Some camped out at night in front of buildings and on street corners checking ID cards and keeping a lookout for thugs and criminals.

Hassan Morsi, 19, a resident of Maadi, a Cairo suburb, said being a member of the ‘popular committee’ in his district enabled him to meet his neighbours and make new friends. “It’s brought us closer together,” he said.

Clean-up campaigns

Young Egyptians also displayed great courage and pride in protecting national treasures. As the protests intensified, they formed a human chain around the Egyptian Museum in downtown Cairo to prevent looters from escaping with priceless artefacts. Youths also formed a human chain around the Library of Alexandria.

Even now that the protests are over, young people – especially adolescents – involved in clean-up campaigns have become a familiar sight all over the city.

© UNICEF Egypt/2011
Several young men and youths clean the streets of Cairo, Egypt.

Samah Yehia, 17, and 13 of her classmates and friends are one such example. They brought along brooms, mops, pails and brushes to clean up part of Cairo following a previous night’s celebrations. Samah says she dug into her savings to buy three cans of paint, in what she calls her “small contribution” to the changes happening in her country.

‘Let's unite as a society’

Volunteering isn’t new to Egyptian youths. UNICEF Egypt, along with national partners, has been supporting programmes aimed at enhancing active civic engagement among young people. In recent years, many have been advocates for behavioural change within their communities.

Now, UNICEF is seeking to further respond to the aspirations of young Egyptians by providing more tools and opportunities for networking and interacting.

© UNICEF Egypt/2011
Two young Egyptians carry the national flag during a demonstration in the city of Alexandria.

“We must capitalize on the outstanding opportunity to build on the great newfound revolutionary spirit that the Egyptian youth created,” said UNICEF Egypt National Ambassador Khaled Abol Naga. “Let's unite as a society to channel this energy towards rebuilding a free, modern, proud and socially just Egypt with the participation of our super-smart youth.” 

Dialogue for a new future
Many young Egyptians – faced with a lack of means to express their grievances and concerns – used social media, such as Facebook, to coordinate the uprising. But social media’s role is not confined to organizing and planning protests.

There are now many active youth groups using social media to discuss their vision for Egypt’s future. It is hoped that the exchange of ideas and lively debate online will translate into greater involvement of young people in building a new Egypt.



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