Al-Ahram Weekly Online   26 January - 1 February 2012
Issue No. 1082
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875


Mohamed Abdel-Baky reports on the marginalisation of the youth movements that toppled Mubarak

"Tunisia did it on 15 January; we can do it on 25 January, if all the Egyptian youth took to the streets, nobody will stop us," read the first post calling for the Egyptian revolution. It appeared on Facebook on 15 January 2011.

Millions of Egyptians eventually rallied behind that call. The result was that Hosni Mubarak, for 30 years the figurehead of an entrenched and brutal regime, was forced from office. The building of solid, democratic institutions was supposed to follow. Yet following the elections that ended this month the youth coalitions that had successfully felled one dictator won less than 10 parliamentary seats. The benefits of what they had achieved instead went to the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, and to the Salafist Nour Party. Together they will command two thirds of the new People's Assembly. Yet neither party had played any direct role in initiating the events that led to Mubarak's ouster, though both would later become involved.

"The psychological state of the youth at this stage is not stable. A year ago they led the revolution. Now they are totally out of the game," says psychologist Ahmed Okasha.

Realising that they had done the hardest job in toppling Mubarak, Okasha argues that the expectations of the young are much higher than previous generations who had done nothing but buckle beneath the regime. They are therefore less willing to accept any half solutions on offer.

Yet attempts to keep the fires of revolution burning have hardly been successful. Public support for the young revolutionaries, say many commentators, has proved vulnerable to the systematic campaign against them by the military council, who can command the vast resources of the state-owned media, the Islamists and other vested interests. The revolutionaries' problems have also been compounded by internal divisions and their inability to agree on a leader to speak on their behalf.

"Yes, public opinion is not in our favour now", says Youth Revolution Coalition (YRC) member Abdel-Rahman Samir. "But it will only be a matter of time before the public discovers that their revolution has been cynically stolen. They will have no choice then but to take it back."

What the youth movements must not do, says Samir, is to compromise their goals as a ploy to attract public support.

Young activists who talked to Al-Ahram Weekly complain that after 12 months of the ousting of Mubarak public opinion is still swayed by the same old claims, that the revolutionary youth movements are part of a foreign agenda to undermine Egypt.

Leader of the 6 April Movement Ahmed Maher explains that the relation between the youth coalitions and the wider public has passed through two phases since the revolution. During the first, which began with the euphoria that greeted Mubarak's removal from the presidency on 11 February, the people gave the youth movements their trust, fully embracing the goals of the revolution.

"The public realised that the young were the nation's conscience, and that conscience was stronger than Mubarak, the SCAF or any foreign power."

In the weeks that followed Mubarak's ouster the focus of the revolutionary movements was how to protect their goals from the forces of counter-revolution. Movements represented by the YRC were able to manage their relations with SCAF by holding weekly meetings with Egypt's new military rulers. The honeymoon, though, quickly ended. In March the YRC announced they were boycotting future meetings after SCAF failed to comply with demands including the freeing of political detainees and a radical overhaul of the State Security apparatus.

Following March's referendum on constitutional amendments tens of thousands of young protesters returned to Tahrir Square demanding speedier prosecution of Mubarak and his henchmen and an end to the trial of civilian protesters before military courts. In the months that followed the protesters attempted to up the pressure on the military council by holding more protests. SCAF responded in the same way the Mubarak regime had. It attempted to discredit its critics by accusing them of being funded by Western countries intent on destabilising Egypt.

"The 6 April Movement is attempting to incite the Egyptian people to turn against its army," claimed SCAF in communiqué 69, issued in June.

The communiqué was followed by a concerted media campaign accusing the opposition of being agents funded by Western intelligence organisations.

Emboldened by the belief its campaign had swayed the public, SCAF upped the ante. In recent months leading activists have been questioned or detained after being accused by the military prosecutor of incitement of the public and of attempting to destroy public property. Alaa Abdel-Fattah, detained for two months, was among the most prominent activists charged.

This unrelenting campaign of defamation, combined with brutal aggression against protesters at Maspero, Mohamed Mahmoud Street and Qasr Al-Aini Street, has led to depression, frustration and disappointment on the part of young activists, says Okasha.

"I think most of the young people who participated in the 25 January protests feel betrayed. They did not, after all, face down the security apparatus and topple the regime so that a new group of people over 65 years of age could rule."

"Neither the SCAF nor established political parties have taken our demands for a modern state seriously," says Mahmoud Lotfi, a 26-year-old who participated in the protests against civilians being referred to military courts. "Corruption is still everywhere you look. Ordinary people are still crushed beneath the weight of economic oppression."

In a poll conducted three months ago by the Egyptian University for Science and Technology 75 per cent of young respondents said the revolution has yet to achieve its goals and 52 per cent said they would support more mass protests.

Many commentators, though, say the youth movements' focus on protests, at the expense of organising for parliamentary elections, was a strategic mistake.

"While young Egyptians were galvanised in rejecting elements of the political and economic status quo, they have been less able to articulate their vision of Egypt's future," says Diaa Rashwan, director of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

The result is the youth movements that inspired the revolution remain outside the political game which is, says Rashwan, a "disaster".

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