CAIRO: Despite being credited for sparking the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s youth are struggling to carve a place for themselves in the political scene. What’s worse, they’ve also become the target of smear campaigns.
A year after the revolution, the youth’s presence remains minimal in the government and in legislative bodies. Their main tool thus far has been lobbying decision makers through calls for demonstrations and protests and media campaigns.
Forty percent of Egypt’s population is aged 10-29, according to the Cabinet’s Information and Decision Support Center.
Some of the “revolutionary youth” who were considered an integral part of the uprising and lauded for bringing the country into a new age of democracy, were soon after February 11 blamed for the country’s economic and security turmoil.
Smear campaigns against young demonstrators blamed them for bringing the “production wheel” to a halt, deeming them thugs who incite violence as well as claiming that they are agents of countries that want to destroy Egypt.
One youth movement in particular has been targeted: At home, members of the April 6 Youth Movement are labeled by some as spies, while internationally, they are recognized for their vital role in the revolution and were even rumored to have been considered for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Ahmed Maher, founder of the movement says he is “not surprised” at the continuous attempts to tarnish their reputation nor at the youth being sidelined in the political scene.
“We are still in the pre-January 25 mindset, the former regime still hasn’t fallen so it’s not surprising that the youth are not given an opportunity and are not being appreciated,” he said.
Maher said that the movement continues to work on the ground as they have done before 2011. “The most important thing is to be present on the street and communicate our thoughts and ideas to the people,” he said.
He also finds that the youth’s role post-Jan. 25 should be to monitor the performance of the political process, be it elections, parliament or the government.
April 6 was not the only victim of smear campaigns. The Revolutionary Socialists were accused of plotting to topple the state, while football fans Ultras Ahlawy and Zamalek’s Ultras White Knights were repeatedly detained for rioting.
Prominent activist and blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah was also detained on charges of stealing weapons and planning a terrorist plot along with 29 others in connection with the Maspero violence on Oct. 9, which left 27 people dead.
Given their role in the uprising, young Egyptians were expected to dominate the political scene either by establishing their own political parties or acquiring leading positions in already existing ones.
However, as early as March, internal conflicts between the young members and the leaders started plaguing the Muslim Brotherhood, the most organized political power.
“I believe that if any organization, whether it is official or unofficial, doesn’t open the door for the youth and accept their full participation as decision makers and opinion leaders then they will be nonexistent in the upcoming period,” Mohamed El-Beltagy, leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, told Daily News Egypt in March.
However, many young members of the group felt sidelined and, in turn, quit.
“We wanted a party that reflects the objectives of the revolution and is representative of it, so I decided to leave the Muslim Brotherhood and establish a party with young fellow revolutionaries,” said Mohamed Abbas, member of Al-Tayyar Al-Masry Party.
“We wanted it to be a party that represents everyone,” he added.
The minimum age for parliamentary candidacy was cut to 25 from 30 to give younger people a chance to formulate legislation.
However, this did little to influence the voters as they cast their ballots in the parliamentary elections, showing little faith in young candidates.
“The youth have become ‘the kids’,” said activist and blogger Mahmoud Salem.
Salem contested the elections as the Egyptian Bloc’s individual candidate for the professionals seat in the Heliopolis constituency.
“People voted for those who will provide them with food and services [which the] youth can’t provide,” he said.
Salem, who is known on the blogosphere as Sandmonkey, said the elections process itself hindered the youth; whether it was due to the tight timeframe or the lack of financial support, people voted for candidates they already knew.
“Even the young didn’t vote for young candidates. They didn’t feel the need to be represented by youth like themselves — how do you expect them to win?” he said.
But Mostafa El-Naggar, a young member and founder of the Justice Party, managed to win a seat. He said he caries a huge responsibility as “the voice of the revolution inside parliament.”
El-Naggar, who won by a landside against a Salafi candidate in Nasr City, explained that the youth were faced with obstacles in the elections including “financial support and lack of experience in campaign management in addition to the behavior of some youth, which made people afraid to give them their vote.”
“I must have a revolutionary performance presenting innovative ideas that reflect the revolution, and it must be exemplary in order for the public to trust and support the youth,” he said, adding that the most important thing is “the effectiveness of youth inside the parliament and not their quantity.”