Al-Ahram Weekly Online   15 - 21 September 2011
Issue No. 1064
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

In search of a strategy

The country's political forces have been trying to distance themselves from last Friday's protests, looking for other ways to influence the country's future direction, reports Mohamed Abdel-Baky

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Youth movements and secular political forces are yet to play a clearer role in shaping Egypt's future

As Egypt's transition to democracy in the wake of the country's 25 January Revolution seems to be entering an impasse, the country's youth movements and other secular forces are looking for a clearer role to play in order to have a seat in shaping the new political system.

However, last Friday's protests, which degenerated into violence, came as a sign to some observers that such political forces have little effective influence over the Egyptian public and that they are concentrating their efforts instead on trying to find ways to increase their influence with the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the Islamists.

Since March, there has been almost no direct contact between the SCAF and the youth movements behind the protests organised over the past six months across Egypt, with the youth movements suspending dialogue with the SCAF after military police evacuated Cairo's Tahrir Square by force on 9 March.

Tensions then grew between the two sides, with the military accusing some of the youth movements of encouraging foreign interference in Egypt's internal affairs and the youth movements calling for the SCAF to step aside.

After last Friday's protests and the raid on the Israel embassy in Cairo, the country's political forces started to accuse each other of being responsible for the instability in the country.

"It is Gamal Mubarak and Habib El-Adli who were behind last Friday's riots," said Mohamed Adel, a spokesperson for the 6 April Movement of youth activists, referring to the son of ousted former president Hosni Mubarak and the former minister of interior.

"The 6 April Movement did not take part in the Israeli embassy protests, and it only called for protests in Tahrir Square," Adel said, adding that 6 April activists had watched as groups of thugs set fire to police cars in Giza during the protests in front of the Israeli embassy.

However, the Islamists and older political parties like the Wafd and the Tagammu blame the youth movements for giving opportunities for thugs and those associated with the former regime to ignite tensions between the military and the Egyptian people by "calling for protests for no reason".

"The 6 April Movement and other secular forces have been protesting in order to try to take power without the need for elections, their main goal being to exclude the Islamists," said Assem Abdel-Maged, a spokesperson for the Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya group.

Abdel-Maged claimed that the secular forces were afraid of standing for elections, since they were worried that the Muslim Brotherhood would win the majority of seats.

Meanwhile, other youth movements have accused the military of using the threat of riots and instability to increase restrictions on activists by reinforcing the country's existing emergency laws.

"What happened at the Israeli embassy was part of a premeditated plan to justify the announcement of a state of emergency and postpone the transition of power," said Amr Hamed, a member of the Youth Revolutionary Coalition.

Observers believe that the youth movements' lack of a clear strategy or tools apart from mass protests has led them, together with the secular forces, to be perceived as an elitist group that has little connection with the wider public and has only a limited role to play in finding a way out of the present deadlock.

"Any group calling for mass protests must bear responsibility for what happens next. What took place around the Ministry of Interior last Friday was a disaster, and everyone is responsible," wrote advisor to the prime minister Moataz Abdel-Fattah in the Al-Shorouk newspaper.

Abdel-Fattah added that the forces that had called for the mass rallies last Friday were themselves disorganised and that they could bring chaos to the country.

Political commentator Amr Hamzawy said that the youth movements and other political forces should carefully consider any calls to take to the streets to protest in the light of last week's events.

These had fuelled anger at the apparent indiscipline of the revolution, Hamzawy said. "It is time that all the political parties and movements start looking for other tools apart from protesting in order to push the government to respond to the Revolution's goals. It is wrong to think that this can be achieved simply by taking to the streets."

The Youth Revolutionary Coalition has recently adopted a strategy that may bring it closer to public opinion by announcing that it will be fielding candidates in the forthcoming parliamentary elections, possibly scheduled for the end of November.

Sources at the coalition told the Weekly that it would field at least 150 candidates in different governorates. Most of these would be on secular party tickets, like those of the Egyptian Social Democratic or Misr Al-Hurriya parties.

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