Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1127, 20 - 26 December 2012
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1127, 20 - 26 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Marching to the margins

The young men and women who kick-started the uprising that led to Mubarak’s removal have been all but silenced. Mohamed Abdel-Baky lists some of the reasons why

Al-Ahram Weekly

“Please forgive us for the mistakes that we have made over the last two years. Our intention was to protect the Egyptian revolution and achieve justice and prosperity for our people.” In June, and in just two sentences, the Revolution Youth Coalition (RYC) announced the dissolution of the umbrella group whose members were widely regarded as the driving force of the 25 January 2011 uprising.

Two years after the revolution movements such as the RYC have been effectively marginalised. They have no voice within the cabinet or among President Mohamed Morsi’s advisors. In the 2011 parliamentary elections they won just five of the 508 seats.

How is it that, after successfully staging an uprising that toppled a dictator who had held near absolute power for more than three decades, these revolutionary groups have been banished to the political wasteland?  

TOO MANY PROTESTS: The call for a mass protest on 25 January 2011 — Egypt’s National Police Day — against the brutal practices of the Ministry of Interior was first made on the “Kolena Khaled Said” (We are all Khaled Said) Facebook page. Within a matter of weeks those behind the protest call were being hailed as political celebrities.

Some commentators argue that youth leaders quickly became victims of their own fame, distracted by the media attention that was showered on them.

Following Hosni Mubarak’s forced resignation Tahrir Square became the venue for endless Friday protests. According to a report by the One World Foundation NGO more than 120 mass protests were organised between 11 February and the presidential elections.

“Many youth groups appeared to believe that only mass protests could achieve the aims of the revolution,” says political science professor Hassan Nafaa. “It was always going to be difficult to convince youth leaders that there were alternative strategies.”

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ (SCAF) response to the youth groups followed the time-honoured traditions of the Mubarak-era: it used the state-owned media to vilify its critics, demonising young protesters and accusing them of being responsible for Egypt’s deteriorating economy and the collapse in security.

In July 2011 a SCAF member used a TV interview to accuse 6 April Youth Movement of receiving foreign funds and training to sabotage Egypt. No evidence was provided. In the same month SCAF issued a communiqué claiming it was in possession of proof that the 6 April was working to “drive a wedge between the army and the Egyptian people in order to implement the goals of foreign powers”. The accusations followed a call by the 6 April Movement for a campaign of civil disobedience to protest the military’s “violation of human rights”. What proof had fallen in to SCAF’s possession was never made public, though that did not deter the state-owned media from taking up the bait. The “hidden hand” was suddenly everywhere: shadowy powers in unnamed capitals were conniving to criticise the army with the sole purpose of undermining the Egyptian state. Tellingly, the hidden hand was recently resurrected by Muslim Brotherhood leaders in response to criticism from their political opponents. To insist that those who disagree with Egypt’s rulers are necessarily foreign agents appear to be the default position of the ruler, no matter what his political complexion.

According to political analyst Moetaz Abdel-Fattah, the youth movements lacked the political experience and strategy to influence either the government or SCAF.

“This led to them being viewed as an elitist group with no connection to the street and as a marginal force in the transitional period,” Abdel-Fattah wrote in an article published in Al-Watan.

 

DIVIDED THEY FALL: There are now more than 80 youth movements, the majority founded in the last two years. Many have no more than a few dozen members. They espouse a wide range of ideological and political positions and while most agree on principles they have consistently failed to come together in a convincing coalition.  

“In the presidential election the youth movements failed to agree on which candidate they would support,” says political researcher Samir Ramsi. “The wider public sees this bickering as symptomatic of weakness. It caused them to lose the public’s trust. They do not speak with a single voice and as a consequence failed to attract popular support.”

 

ISOLATION: Some analysts accuse the youth movements of courting their own marginalisation by refusing to negotiate with SCAF. In a strange sleight of hand when it comes to apportioning blame, the youth groups are sometimes held responsible for the violence that was unleashed against them because they refused to sit down with those perpetrating the violence.

“At some point, the only political group negotiating with SCAF was the Muslim Brotherhood. The youth movements may have been able to exercise some influence on the military council if they had communicated in some situations,” says Nasser Abdel-Hamid, a former member in RYC.

Following the forced evacuation of Tahrir Square by the military police on 9 March 2011 and until President Mohamed Morsi took office in July direct contact between the military council and the youth movements was practically non-existent.

The RYC did, however, communicate with the government of Essam Sharaf on several occasions, discussing a range of economic and social issues.

Of the existing youth movements, 6 April is the only one to have attracted non-metropolitan members, even though their numbers are tiny and restricted mainly to university students.

Many activists and political organisers criticise the youth groups failing to build a grassroots network.

“We made a mistake by failing to expand the RYC’s membership base,” says Abdel-Hamid. “We should have been more open to parties, groups and movements across Egypt.”

Significantly, the RYC never maintained an office outside Cairo.

ELECTORAL FAILINGS: In the November 2011 parliamentary election the youth movements secured just five seats. According to Abdel-Hamid the poor performance was a result of divisions. The majority of youth movements boycotted the polls due to the killing of 43 protesters by security forces two weeks before the election. Those that did decide to participate were divided between the Revolution Continues Coalition, the Egyptian Bloc and independents.

 

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