Final reflection on Egyptian youth politics


The subject of Egyptian youth politics has transitioned in many facets from before the January 25th revolution to its aftermath. The once united Egyptian community that succeeded in overthrowing Mubarak is now faced with deep divisions that have resulted in the revolution’s stagnation. In a similar way, passionate activists that led the revolution are now being disenfranchised by current powers and are increasingly disillusioned with the political process. Conflicting viewpoints on globalization between those in power and those not in power are also sources of division in Egyptian society. As conditions worsen, the Egyptian youth are struggling to find a way to compromise on the issues that are most meaningful to them.

In a timeline of revolution events, the transition from passion to apathy is…

apparent when reflecting on artifacts. Artifacts like the “We are all Khaled Said” Facebook page reveal the anger that ignited the revolution. Social media played an important role in sparking passion in the revolutionaries who were able to participate anonymously in civic engagement. Egyptians were able to share graphic photos and horrific videos that fueled an uprising. Yet, after the revolution, the once zealous activists were immediately pushed out of the political scene. The article “Party payments squeeze out Egypt’s youth candidates” describes how political parties used membership fees to repress the leaders of the revolution. Charging up to 200,000 Egyptian pounds (about $28,000) for membership was too costly for most Egyptian youth who were planning to run for the few designated seats in the parliamentary elections. This meant that young, wealthy, inexperienced politicians were able to win the seats and unable to meet the youth’s demands. “Egypt’s youths feel disenfranchised after revolution” highlights the disillusionment associated with unsatisfied demands. As conditions worsened in Egypt, the youth felt unrepresented and political hope decreased. Thousands of young revolutionaries had died for the cause at this point, but nothing was improving. Many youth even felt that leaving the country was their best option for fulfillment. Because of their lack of resources to run a political campaign, the passionate activists were unable to effect change any longer. With mainly the older generation in power, “Egypt’s youth disappointed ahead of anniversary” describes the disparity between ideas of young and old. For example, in the vote for the constitutional referendum, most of the youth participated in a boycott. They felt that the referendum was ridiculous but that their support would not matter in the end. At the same time, Egyptian media outlets were accused of running a smear campaign against the youth that led the revolution.  Even Wael Ghonim, the activist Google executive, had to address issues with his public image as he was accused of orchestrating the entire revolution simply for profit. In addition, infamous and controversial blogger, “Sandmonkey,” accused the older generation of resisting change. He noted that the youth represent over 70% of the population but receive no official representation. Because the youth cannot actively or passively contribute to the political process, the passion they once held for change has dissolved into apathy toward a hopeless political system.

In a similar transition, the united Egyptian community has become increasingly divided as the revolution stagnates. “The Factory-Revolution Through Arab Eyes” accounts the Mahalla textile factory strike in 2011, which united the Egyptian community in one cause: overthrowing Mubarak. This strike was similar to a previous strike in 2008, which united all 20,000 workers in a protest for better working conditions. This factory is often seen as a microcosm for Egyptian society, and a way for Egyptians to recognize that other community members shared their concerns. This strike propelled the revolution forward in January 2011. However, in the years following the revolution, sects began to appear among Egyptian youth. Although Morsi was elected as Muslim Brotherhood representative, “Lack of unity stalls Egypt’s youth revolution,” argues that the youth did not feel represented by the Brotherhood or any other oppositional force. As the Revolution Youth Coalition was dissolved, different groups began to develop their own opinions on the role of protests in politics and, more importantly, the role of religion in politics. Various political sects placed themselves on the spectrum between sharia law and secularism, hoping to gain popular support with their selected combination. However, no particular group emerged as the popular pick for the Egyptian youth. These divisions grow deeper as solutions continue to be unavailable for the issues in Egyptian society. “Is Egypt Moving Toward Secularism?” illustrates how divisive religion has become in Egyptian society. Every group that has come into power has pleased a small community of Egyptians while upsetting various minority groups trying to protect their own rights. Many of the Egyptian youth feel that supporting political secularism will resolve these issues that caused the once united community to come into such harsh conflict. Recently, however, new political movements have arisen that offer the possibility of a new unity of Egyptians who are tired of their poor living conditions. “Egypt’s youth have had enough” showcases the “We have had enough” campaign that is growing in popularity. This new movement gives concise demands on various issues such as treatment of activist prisoners and passage of human rights amendments. Although some politicians have addressed the movement, the leaders of the movement feel like it is mainly an attempt to appease the protesters until elections are over. Additionally, “Egypt’s ‘Poor Revolution’” describes a similar movement that has gained popularity recently. The Egyptians who joined this movement feel there must be an end to the institutionalized classism in the country. The classism was underscored in a recent ruling to remove the power of 138 state prosecutors who held degrees themselves but whose parents were not university educated. Some warn that if President Sisi does not address the new movements, he will be faced with the Egyptian youth that are once again united under a single cause and passionate in their campaign for change.

Finally, it is necessary to discuss perspectives on globalization and how they affect the future of the Egyptian revolution. A strong political realist, President Sisi represents a new focus on the creation of a stable state. “President Sisi’s Worldview” highlights his concentration on the domestic economy. With a military background, Sisi relies heavily on militarized policies to enact change. Sisi feels that creating a stable atmosphere through the economy is the most successful route to power. In contrast, the youth of Egypt represent a more cosmopolitan viewpoint on globalization. “The Unlikely Young Cosmopolitans of Cairo” describes the lower middle class urban secular youth as embodying cosmopolitan values. The cosmopolitan youth rely on networks of revolutionaries to spread their ideas. Additionally, they feel that social activism is the best way to enact change. The secular youth are open to new ideas that challenge previously held beliefs about the Egyptian political system. The contrast of these two perspectives may lead to conflict soon in Sisi’s presidency. In the speeches he has given, such as the one described in “Sisi warns Egypt students against ‘malicious’ acts,” Sisi has conveyed a condescending tone to the young revolutionaries. As Sisi tries to impose more government control on university affairs, he is risking a re-alliance of secular and religious youth. Instead of opposing youth participation in politics, he should encourage it so that students feel they have an outlet for their concerns. Otherwise, Sisi will find himself in a new January 25th revolution, one in which revolutionaries escape from apathy and find passion in a new united front against his presidency.

The transition from passion to apathy that the youth activists have experienced has accompanied the dissolution of their united front into sects that are constantly in conflict. If anything, Egyptian leaders like Sisi have benefited from the divisions between youth groups. As they continue to fight amongst themselves, many of the youth are receding to political apathy. As long as the Egyptian youth are divided, Sisi is not faced with a single threatening opponent. However, he has achieved a very fragile balance of tension between youth groups. If he continues to patronize the youth, they will soon realize that their common source of struggle is his administration that has failed to address pressing issues. Entering into the fourth year since the January 25th revolution, the youth are faced with a turning point of their revolution. If they can succeed in finding a compromise on the role of religion in government, they can present a united front on their demands and hopefully succeed in fulfilling their desires.

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