The United Nations' Development Program says Egypt has kept its young people from taking part in the political process, alienating a large swathe of the population. The UNDP's annual report on Egypt comes as the government faces growing protests over the death of a young man, allegedly at the hands of undercover police.
The U.N. report says the Egyptian government is at a crossroads: either it can include its youth in the political and economic system and advance, or stay on its current path of repressing the young and push a generation into apathy or extremism.
The choice can come as no surprise to the government, which helped prepare the annual report released this week. But it coincides with another round of protests of the heavy hand of officialdom, this time over the widely published case of Khaled Said, a 28-year-old who died in police custody earlier this month in Alexandria.
A government report concluded Said died after trying to swallow a large packet of marijuana. But photographs of the young man, his face severely bruised and teeth missing, have helped support accounts by witnesses and family members who say he was beaten to death by police.
Hafez Abu Saada is the Secretary General of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights. He says the fact that Said's death occurred just days after the government's latest pledges to Egyptian human rights group's indicate the issue is not on the government's agenda. He also echoes the UNDP's findings that the question of help for the nation's young people - nearly a quarter of the population is between the ages of 18 and 29 - is not limited to political and human rights.
"Education is one of the main problems for all people, even the government is talking about education as a way to make progress in Egypt, as a way for real human development in Egypt, but there is no strategy for changing the educational curriculum," Saada said.
The report finds systematic failures in the education and training systems. It also finds stagnation in the economic sector, and a corresponding high rate of unemployment. Some 10 percent of the workforce is unemployed, with 90 percent of those without jobs under the age of 30 unable to find jobs. This, in turn, makes it harder for young people to save up for marriage, all factors in what the UNDP calls social hopelessness that makes young people easy targets for exploitation by extremist groups.
The government has recently undertaken several high profile projects to improve economic, social and educational conditions in rural areas, including the renewal of some 1,000 villages.
But the UN report concludes that what is needed is a complete reorientation of the government and civil societies. It urges the creation of a "new paradigm" so that young people are included in national planning, that education system failures are overcome, and poverty and its root sources are addressed.
With security forces breaking up what limited protests there are about these issues, it remains far from clear how seriously the government will take the UNDP recommendations.