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…

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Sisi vs. youth: conflicting worldviews


“President Sisi’s Worldview” is an analysis of Sisi’s administrative future by a former senior official at the U.S. embassy in Cairo. Sievers claims that Sisi’s priority is Egypt’s economy, while also cracking down of issues of political dissent, especially among youth activists. Sisi is trying to accumulate power by repressing alternative ideas, stabilizing the economy, and building a reputation as a strong state leader. Because Sisi favors high militarization in order to achieve these goals, he can be considered a political realist.

“The Unlikely Young Cosmopolitans of Cairo” showcases the culture of the Egyptian youth in urban centers like Cairo. Elsayed mostly identifies the lower middle class youth of Cairo as embodying cosmopolitan ideas like embracing global influences. Elsayed also describes cosmopolitanism as creating internal heterogeneity rather than viewing globalization as a homogenizing force. Residents like those in the lower middle class of Cairo are suffering the most because of their high value on education but failure to secure adequate jobs because of a lack of business connections.

The two worldviews of political realism and cosmopolitanism held by President Sisi and the Egyptian youth activists, respectively, may be able to exist in harmony if both parties are willing to compromise. However, because of President Sisi’s efforts to shut out the youth rather than embrace their innovative ideas, he is risking a loss of much needed political power. Although Sisi wants to stabilize the economy and bring growth to Egypt’s business sector, he is neglecting to accept alternative ideas, mainly held by the Egyptian youth. Because Sisi is grasping onto his power so tightly, he may end up losing it all by not compromising with other viewpoints. Sisi’s priorities of a strong state with a powerful military cannot be achieved without the youth’s support.

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Plea for support via crackdown on youth


“Sisi warns Egypt students against ‘malicious’ acts” reports on President Sisi’s speech prior to the beginning of the semester for universities. In the speech, Sisi warned the students against taking part in any political activity on a campus, which is reserved only for the purpose of education. The speech follows the draft of a new controversial law that gives the power to fire faculty members and surpassing the trial stage. Sisi promised that more state resources would be committed to university students.

“Egypt’s Student Protests: The Beginning or the End of Youth Dissent” describes the government crackdown on university campuses, initiated by President Sisi. Egyptian authorities have attempted to quell any political activity on college campuses by banning protests and reinstating the law of university president appointments. Sisi has tried to appeal to the youth by acknowledging their grievances while at the same time reminding them that they are too naive to contribute anything worthwhile to the political process. This move is a risk to Sisi’s regime because it could alienate the very support that they desperately need to gain any real political power.

It seems as though President Sisi acknowledges the power of the youth population because of his wide appeals for their support. However, he seems to have underestimated their power by simply attempting to contain them. The patronizing tone in his speech to university students is further confirmed in the attempts by the regime to suppress all freedom of students. President Sisi is almost conveying an attitude of political liberalism, by stressing that decisions made by the administration will be multifaceted. Sisi claims that he wants to work directly with the youth population to hear their opinions through special councils and committees. However, he is only using this position as a facade to further protect his image as a strong state leader. Sisi is clearly only giving “support” to the youth in order to suppress them. His appeal to scholarship and education priority is probably attractive to the youth, who may feel apathetic toward the constantly tumultuous state of politics. However, Sisi should be cautious in this approach because if no changes are made, the passionate youth may reignite the flame of protest, which will be detrimental to his authority.

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Disappointed, Disenfranchised, Disillusioned

Egyptian voter

“Egypt’s youths feel disenfranchised after revolution,” written in May 2013 in the L.A. Times, describes the disparity between the demands of the youth that lead the revolution and the mindset of the older generation in power. The youth are unable to take political action because they lack the resources to run for office and win. The older generation seems to give in to part of the youth’s requests only to pacify protesters and prevent any further disorder. However, implementation of new policies has not and most likely will not take place. The youth are feeling detached and disappointed as conditions worsen in all sectors of Egyptian society.

“Egypt youth disappointed ahead of anniversary” showcases similar sentiments from some leading youth activists about prospects of positive social change that remained in January of 2014. During the constitutional referendum, a large portion of the youth boycotted the vote and have began to embrace an attitude of apathy toward the political process. The Egyptian media have been accused of leading smear campaigns against the most popular activists from the revolution, in an attempt to discredit them. A blogger, who goes by the name “Sandmonkey” ended the article by claiming the older generation in power is resisting change. He points out that 70% of the Egyptian population, made up of the younger generation, is not being represented politically. Because of the three factors of political apathy, media intimidation, and political stagnation led by the older generation, the Egyptian people remain stuck in their cycle of change and cannot seem to move past the age of protests.

As the political landscape in Egypt seems to remain stagnant, it is possible that the youth will push for a more radical view (globalization) if they can escape from the political apathy they feel in the present. This is because they feel as though a representative democracy cannot fulfill their needs. A strong military or state representatives will not concede to their demands but will push their own agenda. Therefore, in a radical version of democracy, people will be represented at all levels of governance. If the people are able to participate directly in the decision-making process, it may combat apathy and contribute to more appropriate policy changes. However, the problem seems to lie in the concentration of undeserved power in the hands of the state government that cannot be dispersed. Unless the youth can defeat the underlying power structure and purify the government, they will not feel the changes they demanded in their protest. This process would be supported by political liberals who see the value in building a pure, strong democracy from the ground up in order to create a long-lasting effective government. Although the Egyptians may be forced to wait this long, it is unfortunate that the deteriorating conditions may not allow this time-consuming process to take place.

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Egyptian youth push a new “revolution of the hungry”

Protesters hold pictures during a protest in support of imprisoned activists who are in a hunger strike at prison, in front of the Press Syndicate, in Cairo

In the article, “Egypt’s youth ‘have had enough’,” author Fouad describes the new revolutions that have arisen during Sisi’s presidency. The new campaign called “We have had enough” demands that anyone responsible for the murder of any Egyptians be held accountable. In addition, the group insists on a debate for the separation of powers, amendment of the protest law, implementation of human rights amendments, and setting minimum and maximum wages. Also, a new “Dhank” movement has been inspired by Sisi’s poor treatment of the lower class, which included removal of subsidies and raising prices of commodities. Youth groups remain suspicious of the state and feel their demands will likely not be met. There is no concrete strategy for ending the tension between youth groups and the state.

Blogger Sarah Moawad outlines the new wave of discontent in Egyptian politics in “Egypt’s ‘Poor Revolution’.” Egypt’s judicial system was recently scrutinized after refusing to reinstate state prosecutors who graduated from law school, but whose parents lacked university degrees. This ruling displays the institutionalized classism in Egypt that is causing a new uprising. The ruling is also a reason for the creation of the Dhank movement, which has been scrutinized because of suspicion of a connection to the Muslim Brotherhood. A leader of the movement warned that there could be a “revolution of the hungry” if the president ignores the people’s demands once again.

The events and movements outlined in these recent articles (October 2014) shows the unstable political culture in Egypt. Because protests and revolutions are the only way the youth leaders know how to get their demands met, they feel they must employ thousands of protesters in order to be heard by state leaders. It also shows the more discrete strategy of the Muslim Brotherhood to re-establish themselves into the political system in alignment with the population. Although these movements are not clearly organized, their structure can be compared to political groups with representatives. The leaders of these organizations represent a demographic of the population and attempt to enact change by publicizing their demands. If these leaders could have a viable role in the government, they may be able to please the most immediate demands of the population.

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Youth in modern politics


In “Party payments squeeze out Egypt’s youth candidates,” current position of the youth in the Egyptian political scene is recapped. Because of the high payment for inclusion in a party’s electoral list, many of the youth that participated in the revolution are unable to run for any position in political power. The Egyptian president claimed that the youth were not prepared to participate in political action. Other critics claimed that although many members of the youth revolution would be adequate candidates, they missed their opportunity for political involvement early on.

“Egypt’s Counter-Revolution Youth” discusses the political history of Suleiman al-Hout, a new political candidate. In 2007, Hout was denied licensure for his food cart, similar to Mohammed Bouazizi. However, Hout responded in an entirely different way, by going directly to the source of Mubarak’s regime at the National Democratic Party headquarters. He made a deal that allowed him to get a food cart license in return for his vote. From that point, Hout became an avid supporter of the NDP, spreading their message and building his own political network through wealthy businessmen. In the process, Hout decided to make a run for a parliamentary seat, and will likely win because of his use of Mubarak-era political networking strategies.

The youth of the revolution took a more radical approach to government creation. Through their protests and political activism, they sought to gain more direct democratization of their political system. Although the youth of the revolution did not desire a radical direct democracy, their approach to the revolution was influenced by their lack of strong political figures as support. They had no choice but to make a difference through political protests rather that broader policy choices by supportive politicians. Although members of the NDP do not concisely fit under one category of globalization, they do not employ the radical approach that the youth used. Members of the NDP like Mubarak and Hout direct change by building networks of wealthy businessmen. They realize that this circle of people can give them the most support through their economic influence. Although these politicians may not be widely popular with the youth, they still win political seats because of their business connections. In order to transition from revolutionary action to political integration, the leaders of the youth revolution must channel their “radical,” revolutionary thoughts into a pragmatic political strategy. Although they may still rely on the power of the people through citizen mobilization, a variety of political strategies must be used to grow a political support network that can help them achieve their goals.

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Move toward secularism or Islamism


In the article, “A Look At The Youth Of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood,” a journalist describes the role and strategy of the Muslim Brotherhood in the revolution. The Brotherhood did not want to be the sole identifier of the revolution because it was not their revolution. However, the Brotherhood did take this opportunity to gain popular support by providing organizational strategies to the revolution. The youth in different groups were responsible in unifying all members of Egyptian society.

In the post entitled, “Is Egypt Moving Toward Secularism?” the author analyzed the progress of the political process in Egypt. There is tension in the society because groups want to break away and establish authority over the government structure. However, these groups are in heavy opposition about the best direction for Egypt’s political future. Islamic groups are fighting within themselves about the best way to incorporate Islam into the Egyptian society. Secularists are strongly opposed to any Islamic legislature. Because of this, the process of political change in Egypt has hit a standstill.

Under Mubarak’s regime, Egypt lost its identity. The people became one under the identity of struggle and oppression. Now when trying to moveforward in the political process, they must decide what role religion will play in their political parties. Although religion is separate from politics, is it realistic to expect groups to distinguish their political life from their religion?

The political groups fighting for power in Egypt will gain dominance if they gain the support of the military. Because Egypt is still a deep state, military support will garner success in its favored groups. In this aspect, the groups trying to access military favor are favoring a political realist perspective. Because of the military’s power, groups almost must adopt a realist point of view in this factor. The political group that joins with the military will represent Egypt as a dominant force in domestic and international political moves.

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Youth activists’ unity and division


In the article, “Lack of unity stalls Egypt’s youth revolution,” the divisions of the revolution are described as a reason that the process of democratization has lagged. Although once unified as the Revolution Youth Coalition in 2011, the different sects of youth politics have branched off to build unique identities. Although this is a necessary step, it is causing the revolution to stall because of disagreements on the role of protests and potential policy. The conflict with Morsi’s constitutional referendum has unified the public, but other disagreements are stalling any real change from occurring.

In the article entitled,  “In Blow to Leadership of ’11 Revolt, Egypt Activists Are Given 3 Years in Prison,” the transgressions of youth activists are described. Because of the new protest law aimed at former Morsi supporters and Mubarak revolters, three of the leaders of the revolution were given prison sentences. One of the jailed activists wrote a letter from prison describing the lack of change that has occurred in the political system. He complained about existing police corruption, the Ministry of Interior, and oppression of freedoms.

As illustrated by the protest law, the history of government in Egypt has challenged progressive forces that the youth promotes. The youth activists promote cosmopolitan views of network connections for widespread learning. The information used by other activists in the region was picked up by the Egyptian activists who recognized the parallels between them and other countries.  These activists also promote civil society within Egypt and they strive toward political progress through democratization. However, the way in which they pursue political goals is a topic of contention among the Egyptian youth. With this in their way, and with a government who will stop at nothing to hinder their progress, the Egyptian youth have struggled to make changes in their country. Theyrecognize that they must remove the source of oppression and corruption, which seems inherent to the system at this point. Because of this, the Egyptians have different views on exactly how to wipe the slate clean.

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Social media overemphasized in the revolution?

khaled said blog

“We are all Khaled Said” is a Facebook page created in 2010 to raise awareness about the brutality of Egyptian police after Said’s death, which was executed in retaliation for his posted video exposing police corruption. This page gained the support of over 300,000 followers and is a resource for raising civic engagement through an anonymous outlet.

“The New Middle East: Social Media: A Force for Political Change in Egypt” assesses the debate about the role of social media in the Egyptian revolution. This blogger argues that while social media was somewhat central, it was not necessarily imperative because of organized protests that were achieved in the past. Baiasu argues that social media aided in building a politically conscious society, allowing a lower threshold for political engagement, and giving the resources for planning protests more easily and anonymously.

The role of social media in the Arab Spring has been debated by many who disagree on how central its role was to engaging protesters. On one hand, some argue that many protests have been organized before the age of social media and that it is just the channel of communication for our times. Blogger Kira Baiasu disagrees, arguing that social media played the most important role leading up to the revolution by creating an informed population, allowing for an anonymous way for people to get involved, and by allowing a convenient and broad resource for activists to organize protests. An example of this social media support base is seen on the largest Egyptian dissident page, the “We are all Khaled Said” Facebook page. The page is still active after over four years since its establishment, still spreading awareness for police brutality and military action, as well as continuing political and economic protests in Egypt. This type of social revolution could bring a cosmopolitan appeal to Egyptian youth in how they approach future political change. These activists have relied on forming networks between themselves and other organizations separate from the government. They are in favor of change and improvisation of political powers. However, it seems that the Egyptians want to eventually hand over their power to an effective government. They were desperate for fair elections that they could use to elect a popular leader. Without the role of a stable, popular government, the population is forced to assume the responsibility of molding their society.

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Picking the right side: mobilizers of the revolution


“The Factory- Revolution Through Arab Eyes” describes the incident at the Mahalla textiles factory that sparked the revolution. These workers have fought for better working conditions continually through protest. This was one of the first signs of unity against Mubarak in the struggle against inadequate living conditions.

“Government, Brotherhood fail to attract Egyptian youth” analyzes the failure of Egyptian authorities and the Muslim Brotherhood to gain support of the youth. Mubarak’s administration still underlies the Egyptian government structure, and the revolution cannot be completed until that is purified. Many politicians and political groups are trying to find ways to persuade the youth to side with their cause in order to gain a popular vote.

The mobilizers of the Egyptian revolution were mostly the youth. However, the laborers of the Mahalla factory played a big part in mobilizing the protests. Egyptian politicians trying to win over majority vote are strategically looking at who they need to groom. The Egyptian youth is an obvious population because of their control over social media and their ability to gather and influence large crowds. However, the laborers at Mahalla are important because they also represent the struggles of the Egyptian people. Both the Egyptian youth and the Mahalla laborers were fighting for better living conditions, better wages, and better working conditions. As representative groups for society, the Mahalla laborers and youth will attract many politicians looking to gain a popular base. However, both groups did not achieve much change since the revolution besides Mubarak leaving office. On a positive note, women had a much higher turnout and higher rate of voting. In this way, the youth represents political liberals. They view the economy as in desperate need of revival. However, they are also largely concerned with social justice, which stems from the repression they had formerly faced. The direction of the new Egypt as either an international power player or an isolationist nation can be decided by the Egyptian youth and laborers. As representatives of Egyptian society as a whole, the Mahalla workers and the Egyptian youth have an opportunity to persuade voters on what political path they should take. However, it seems as though the youth cannot seem to reach their own consensus on a solid plan. If the youth embraces the idea of political liberalism, they should encourage economic growth that seeks globalized investment and trade. However, the multilateralism and human rights issues at their core should be incorporated into their plan and influence how Egypt sees other foreign powers. Mahalla factory strike, April 2011

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