In January, Egypt’s controversial leader Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi declared 2016 to be the ‘Year of the Youth‘ in a speech at Cairo’s Opera House. The event was dedicated to the launch of the ‘Egyptian Knowledge Bank,’ an international digital library project aimed to educate Egyptian citizens. The President’s initiative’s didn’t stop there, however, as he recently announced a series of sports complexes to be built across Egypt.
According to reports, Sisi cited the importance of sports development for Egypt’s youth and deemed it essential to increased participation in international competition. He later crafted a project with Sports Minister Khaled Abdel Aziz to develop a “sports city” in the country’s new administrative capital.
The decision to reintroduce sports into a traumatized Egyptian society affected by the residue of revolution is a strategic one on the government’s part. The use of sports by governments is a classic soft power approach to quash discontent. The development of sports complexes could benefit an entire generation of Egyptian youth, which in return would raise the nation’s image on an international stage. It would also distract a fair segment of disgruntled teenagers from their limited prospects in post-revolution Egypt.
Sisi’s sports agenda came shortly before Egypt reintroduced the Al Ahram Squash Open in an attempt to prove to the international community that the country is no longer plagued with “security fears.” Egypt also plans to host more international sports events, including the 2021 Handball World Men’s Championship in Alexandria, Luxor and Sharm El-Sheikh. It is yet another example of how Egypt has turned to sports diplomacy in an attempt to reestablish ties with the international community and improve its image in mass media.
Questions arise as to how the Egyptian government will fund this ambitious sports initiatives, given the difficult economic conditions and gradually increasing debt gathered from other expensive projects like the Grand Egyptian Museum.