CAIRO — Following her victory in the recent Egyptian parliamentary elections, Sarah Saleh, 26, became the youngest parliament member in the history of the South Sinai governorate. In an interview with Al-Monitor, she noted that while her age was the biggest obstacle she faced, she managed to transform it into one of the driving forces of her victory. Saleh said she has now become a representative for the youth of her governorate, and she will bring up their issues and demands before the parliament. She believes unemployment is the main problem facing the youth of South Sinai and fears unemployment and neglect are turning some young residents into terrorists.
The full text of the interview follows:
Al-Monitor: You decided to run in the parliamentary elections despite being only 26 years old — what are the main obstacles you faced in the electoral battle?
Saleh: My young age was the biggest obstacle in the elections, in addition to my lack of experience in politics, although I am a member of the National Council for Arab Tribes. It is through this council that I was selected to be on the “For the Love of Egypt” list as the youngest parliamentarian from Sinai. However, I managed to turn this obstacle into positives that led to my victory. I took advantage of my age to approach the youth of Sinai. It was very easy for me to communicate with them since we share the same ideas. I started touring the governorate with the support of some people from my generation who showed enthusiasm for the idea of having a young representative in the parliament. Indeed, my intensive electoral tours and the faith of young people in me led me to score the highest score on the For the Love of Egypt list in South Sinai governorate.
Al-Monitor: What are the main problems facing your constituency in South Sinai?
Saleh: The biggest problem plaguing the governorate is widespread unemployment. Facilities, hotels and petroleum companies refuse to employ the people of South Sinai under the pretext that they are not qualified. This is not true. The people of South Sinai are highly qualified and can speak many languages, but the employers are recruiting a workforce from outside the governorate. Moreover, the state does not employ them in government jobs. The Ministry of Religious Endowments, for example, announced the vacancy of 50 positions in South Sinai but chose people who do not hail from the governorate.
Another problem is that the people of South Sinai are unable to own land in Sinai and are only allowed to have usufruct rights. Add to this the health problems in the governorate. South Sinai has some of the largest hospitals in Egypt, but suffers from a lack of medical equipment and a shortage of doctors, as many refuse to work in a remote governorate. A weekly medical caravan must be allocated to South Sinai and it is necessary to employ the people of South Sinai in these hospitals.
Al-Monitor: Has South Sinai been impacted by the ongoing violence in the neighboring North Sinai governorate?
Saleh: South Sinai was certainly affected by the violent events that occurred in North Sinai. It should be noted that the South Sinai governorate is completely safe and clear of any violence, but the lack of awareness campaigns to distinguish between the two governorates affected tourism in South Sinai, not to mention the repercussions of the Russian plane crash, which contributed to the deterioration of tourism in Sharm el-Sheikh.
Al-Monitor: How can Sharm el-Sheikh, which is one of the most important cities in South Sinai, regain its position as an important tourist destination following this plane crash?
Saleh: The initiatives organized by the ministries, institutions and political parties to visit Sharm el-Sheikh and promote tourism are part of the solution to the tourism crisis in this city. However, the media should target the West and spread messages about the beauty and splendor of the cities of South Sinai, such as Sharm el-Sheikh, Ras Mohammed, Ras Shaitan and Dahab. The youth in Sinai must be employed in the tourism sector since they are the keenest on the return of tourists to their governorate. The state should know that the prevalence of unemployment among the youth of Sinai turns them into terrorists.
Al-Monitor: Given that you yourself are a young woman from South Sinai, what are the most prominent demands of the youth in your governorate?
Saleh: The most important demand is combating unemployment and engaging the young workforce by issuing resolutions requiring employers to hire the people of the governorate for their projects. Moreover, a law must be passed allowing the people of Sinai to own lands and attention must be given to health and education services in the governorate.
Al-Monitor: You’ve stated that you seek to create a training institute for young people in South Sinai focusing on the fields of mining, tourism and the petroleum industry. What is your plan to make this a reality?
Saleh: I submitted to Maj. Gen. Khalid Fouda, the governor of South Sinai, the project to establish an academy to train the people of the governorate and prepare them for the labor market. The governor welcomed my proposal and confirmed that immediately upon his return from his current travels, he will implement this project. He also promised to hire the youth of the governorate in the vacant governmental jobs within the South Sinai governorate.
Al-Monitor: What are the demands of Bedouin women in your governorate?
Saleh: Women in general, and Bedouin women in particular, contributed significantly to the success of the elections and effectively participated in these elections. It is necessary to solve their problems and see to their demands to encourage them to actively participate in all elections in Egypt. The initial demands of the Bedouin women are to have job opportunities and to be trained to fit the labor market in the governorate. Awareness campaigns must be organized to combat the phenomena of early marriage and female genital mutilation, and health care must be provided to Bedouin women and their children.