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  Middle East & Africa
Tunisian President Ben Ali Calls for the Year 2010 to Be Proclaimed "World Youth Year"
The President of the Republic of Tunisia Zine El Abidine Ben Ali

The President of the Republic of Tunisia Zine El Abidine Ben Ali called Monday November 24, 2008, for the year 2010 to be proclaimed "World Youth Year," as well as for "a World Youth Conference," the same year, under the auspices of the United Nations.

The call came in the opening address by President Ben Ali of the International Conference on "Youth Issues in the Islamic World: Present Stakes and Future Challenges," held in Tunis in collaboration between the Government of Tunisia and the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
The "World Youth Conference," said President Ben Ali, "should be attended by young people from all parts of the world, and shall focus on youth issues"; it would also be "crowned with the issuing of an International Pact" uniting young people in the world in their belief" in common universal values," he added.

Noting that "the current world situation is a source of deep concern" and that "Islamic societies are faced with huge challenges in the cultural, communication, scientific, technological and economic fields," young people he said "should be in the forefront of the forces of development, modernization, beneficial action and contribution" adding that "Nothing can be done without the participation of youth."
In Tunisia , he said, "we have developed a legislation lowering the age of candidacy for municipal and parliamentary elections to 23 years and the voting age from 20 to 18," insisting that the participation of young people in public affairs is "a sign of awareness, maturity , true citizenship and sound democratic practice."

Analyzing the various means of preparing young people to be "a driving force" in society, President Ben Ali first stressed the importance of education as a tool to "instil respect for knowledge and work, commitment to dialogue and tolerance, moderation and the rejection of hatred and extremism." He also stressed the role of "culture and information," as a means to elevate "our culture from the local to the universal" and enrich it thanks to the interaction with foreign cultures. "The third sector that that deserves great attention," he added, is that of "information and communication technologies," which can foster employments as well as investments and economic projects.

"Another equally important sector," he said is, "sports that most attracts young people's attention." Sports, he added is "a means of social promotion, and one of the factors of economic development."

In this line of thought, Tunisia's President referred to the endorsement by the United Nations' 58 th session of Tunisia's proposal of a resolution to include within UN texts the right of every human being for "physical education, away from any danger or discrimination."

The fifth sector he mentioned is that of the "vital role of the family," all the more so at a time when "some TV channels are disseminating ideas incompatible with our genuine Islamic traditions and values," he said.

Finally, he highlighted the importance of employment, which is "one of the great challenges confronting our societies. Work being a fundamental pillar of dignity and true citizenship" he added.

During a ceremony that took place prior to the address he gave, President Ben Ali was awarded the special Shield of the Conference by the Secretary General of the Islamic Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (ISESCO), Dr. Abdelaziz Altwaijri. He was also awarded the Shield of the Islamic Conference Youth Forum for Dialogue and Cooperation (ICYFDC) by its president, Pr. Ali Sarakaya.

Following the full speech of HE President Ben Ali:

In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate
Your Excellency Dr. Abdulaziz Altwaijri, Director General of ISESCO, Your Excellency Dr. Mongi Bousnina, Director General of ALECSO, Your Excellency Mr. Habib Ben Yahia, Secretary General of the Arab Maghreb Union, Ladies and Gentlemen,Distinguished Guests,

It is my distinct pleasure to open today the international conference on « Youth Issues in the Islamic World: Present Stakes and Future challenges ». On this occasion, I would like to express my warm greetings and deep consideration to Their Excellencies, to the representatives of regional and international organizations, to parliamentarians and media representatives, to the representatives of NGOs, as well as to experts, intellectuals and researchers from sisterly and friendly countries. To all of them, I would like to extend a warm welcome, wishing them a pleasant stay among us.

Special thanks are due to Dr. Abdulaziz Altwaijri, Director General of ISESCO, for awarding me the Shield of this Conference, and for his kind words and noble feelings toward Tunisia, its people and its leadership. My thanks are also due to Pr. Ali Sarikaya, for commending the Tunisian experience as regards youth care, and for awarding me the Shield of the Islamic Conference Youth Forum for Dialogue and Cooperation (ICYFDC).

I take this occasion to commend the close cooperation between Tunisia and ISESCO. We indeed welcome the holding of such meetings in Tunisia, as part of the regional and international activities and events that we regularly host, with a view to promoting dialogue and mutual understanding among nations, and serving the causes of our Arab and Islamic Nation, and the issues of development and peace in the world.

ISESCO has chosen to address in this Conference a topic of crucial importance, namely "Youth Issues in the Islamic World." This sound choice reflects the Organization's awareness of the major social status young people are now enjoying in our Islamic countries, and of the vital role they have to assume, in order to take the torch and carry on the progression with confidence and capability.Ladies and Gentlemen, The current world situation is indeed a source of deep concern, with a widening disparity between the North and the South, an increasing indebtedness, growing manifestations of poverty and marginalization, a serious deterioration of the environment, unstable financial markets, rising trends of hatred and hostility, and a persistent defamation of religious symbols and the religiously sacred. This in addition to the absence of dialogue and consensus in the settlement of conflicts, the imbalanced treatment of international problems, and the inadequacy of human solidarity in the face of natural disasters and social crises.

Our world presents Islamic societies with huge challenges in the cultural, communication, scientific, technological and economic fields, which further deepens the civilizational disparity separating us from advanced societies.

These conditions can only shock consciences, and are indeed a source of deep concern and worry, especially for young people who are, in every nation, the vulnerable category most exposed to the effects of the conditions surrounding them.

Our Islamic Nation is a nation of peace, entente, right and moderation; and if we seriously take our affairs in hand, unify our positions, and provide propitious conditions for progress and invulnerability, then and only then will we become an influential partner on the international scene, and contribute, in cooperation with the forces of good and peace, to settling many of the world's problems.

At a time when our Islamic countries are exerting great efforts to join the ranks of civilized and advanced nations, young people should, at this stage, be in the forefront of the forces of development, modernization, beneficial action and contribution.

Nothing can be built without the participation of youth; and it is only with its youth that our Islamic Nation can take back the reins of initiative, interact positively with its time, and successfully prospect its future. In our view, education is the principal sector that can help us prepare our youth to be a driving and inspiring force in our societies; this sector being the means to instill in our youth our civilizational, cultural and religious constants, and the noble universal values.

In this context, education curricula are the most appropriate tool through which we instill our youth with the sense of rights and duties, the respect for the values of knowledge and work, the commitment to the virtues of dialogue, tolerance, enlightened thinking, respect for different opinions, moderation and the golden mean, the rejection of hatred and extremism, and the mastery of modern knowledge, sciences and technologies with a high degree of openness and creative interpretation.

We should also instill our youth, since the early stages of education, with the sense of commitment to their identity, heritage and specificities, while deepening their sense of national, cultural, civilizational and religious belonging, without detaching them from their time, and while consciously maintaining them in contact with the other. The second sector which, in our view, commands great attention is that which combines two complementary fields, namely culture and information. Granting due attention to these fields is, in fact, a national affair and a right to which all individuals, generations and social categories are entitled, as it offers them opportunities for production and creativity, and for the free expression of opinions, away from any prior instructions or bans.

It is high time that our youth elevate our culture from the local to the international level, by enriching it with quality and authentic production that is in tune with the time which presents new modes of literary, intellectual, musical, theatrical, cinematographic and artistic production, and advanced techniques and industries for marketing and dissemination.

In this context, it is our responsibility to provide adequate conditions, spaces, institutions and industries that encourage production and creativity, in a way that meets the requirements of progress and the huge challenges posed. In fact, no economic and social development can be achieved without a dynamic and ever-renewed cultural development that respects national constants and interacts with foreign cultures.

Given the importance of information in enriching youth participation in all current issues, we have endeavored, in Tunisia, to offer our youth special spaces in our national media. We have also created a radio station and a TV channel catering to youth audiences.

Moreover, we have opened up the audiovisual sector to private broadcasters, so as to enrich the national media landscape, diversify its sources, enhance its performance, and offer more opportunities to take in talented young people who wish to penetrate the various fields of production, animation, expression, communication, mind cultivation, and leisure.

The third sector that merits great attention is that of Information and Communication Technologies. We, in fact, need to invest in intelligence and knowledge, so that we can, in our turn, master modern sciences and technologies, and take best advantage of the prospects they offer in terms of enhancing investment, launching economic projects, and increasing job opportunities. We should also offer our youth the largest number of opportunities to embrace digital culture, to master information-creation, programming and new electronic services, the latter being one of the major present stakes and future challenges.

Another equally important sector which commands attention, and in which investment should be encouraged, is that of sports, the sector that most attracts youth's attention par excellence. Sports are now an integral part of people's life all over the world, a means of social promotion, and one of the factors of economic development. Besides, belonging to sports national teams does stimulate, in young people, a sense of devotion and competition that involves a high degree of fervor and enthusiasm comparable to any other form of national belonging that offers the opportunity to honor the country and raise its banner high in international events.

In this context, we submitted, in 2003, to the United Nations a draft resolution that anchors, within UN texts, the right of every human being to practice sports and physical education, away from any danger and discrimination, and in adequate social and educational conditions that strengthen the mechanisms of education, health, development and peace in the world. This proposal was unanimously approved during the 58th session of the United Nations.

On the other hand, we should not lose sight of the vital role of the family in the education of young generations, at a time when modern means of information and communication, particularly satellite TV channels, are multiplying, especially that some of them are disseminating ideas and patterns of behavior that are incompatible with our genuine Islamic traditions and values. This is indeed a matter of crucial importance, for our societies tomorrow will be a reflection of the way we educate our young generations today.

We should, therefore, spare no effort to enhance the role of parents in our societies, so that they show more vigilance and constitute for their children, in addition to the school and civil society, an impregnable rampart against outdated ideas and fossilized mindsets, and against the various forms of reactionism, estrangement, laxness and excessiveness.

We should also find the most efficient ways and means to strengthen cooperation and complementarity between the family, the school, organizations and associations, so as to provide further protection to our sons and daughters, and to help them deal lucidly with their environment and with the culture of their time, without relinquishing their social heritage in terms of interpretative thinking, enlightenment and development, nor their reference religious values which advocate tolerance, openness and moderation, and reject all forms of excessiveness and negligence.

Determined as we are to improving and promoting our social conditions, we need to grant more attention to employment, one of the greatest challenges confronting our societies. Work being a fundamental foundation of dignity and true citizenship, it is the duty of the state to explore, jointly with all professional and social partners, all opportunities, prospects, means, mechanisms, measures and solutions that enable young people in general, and university graduates in particular, to engage in self-employment, to launch economic projects, and to create jobs and sources of income, according to the available means and the specific conditions of each country.

Ladies and Gentlemen, In our view, the relations that generally unite the members of a given people, with all its political, social and cultural components, can grow and prosper only within a context of participation, dialogue, consensus and mutual respect, with no exclusion or distinction. In this context, wisdom requires that we trust our youth and encourage them to have confidence in themselves and in their society, and to be concerned with their country's public affairs. Reality, in fact, dictates that we constantly listen to our youth in an everchanging world, and address them using an ever-renewed discourse that reconciles between the constant specificities and the requirements of modernity, and that prepares them to exercise genuine citizenship and to be responsible for their countries and their world.

That all generations and social categories take interest in public affairs is, in our view, a sign of awareness and maturity, of progress and evolution, and of true citizenship and sound democratic practice. In Tunisia, we have insisted on anchoring this orientation for our young men and women, in cooperation with consultative bodies and all civil society components. We have developed legislations toward lowering the age of candidacy for municipal and parliamentary bodies to 23 years, and the voting age from 20 to 18 years. We have also organized youth consultations on a regular basis, in order to take cognizance of our youth's concerns, aspirations and positions, and take into consideration the results of these consultations in preparing development plans.

In line with this choice, we proclaimed 2008 the year of comprehensive Dialogue with Youth. This Dialogue, which involved all youth categories in Tunisia, was crowned with the drafting of a Youth Pact that was signed, on November 7, 2008, by all the concerned national organizations and an elite of Tunisian youth.

To materialize our str ategic choice in terms of providing care to youth and to their issues, and promoting dialogue with them in all fields and at all levels, and keen on involving the international community in anchoring and enriching this orientation, we seize this occasion to call for proclaiming 2010 a "World Youth Year," and for organizing, during the same year, a World Youth Conference, under the auspices of the United Nations, and in cooperation with the concerned international organizations.

This conference, which shall be attended by young people from all parts of the world, shall focus on youth issues, and shall be crowned with the issuing of an International Pact, to serve as a close tie uniting all young people of the world in their commitment to the common universal values.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The successive generations of young people are our wealth with whom we build the present and future of our societies. This future depends, in large part, on the attention we grant our youth, the education we offer them, and the prospects we open up for them so that they assume their share of responsibility and decision-making. In fact, role alternation from one generation to the other, at all times, is part of the nature of human existence, and is the very foundation of civilizational construction.

I am convinced that the recommendations and suggestions this Conference will come out with will help deepen our Islamic Nation's awareness of the status that should be accorded youth in our societies, and of the heavy responsibility incumbent upon all of us, to build a secure and prosperous future for our youth, and to prepare them to meet this future with the highest degree of confidence, optimism and ambition. To conclude, I once again extend to you a warm welcome, wishing your Conference full success.

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