Could Egypt’s revolution be stolen?
As the military continues suppressing protesters, youth groups worry they are being marginalised.
|Growing animosity between Egypt’s military and youth movements, and continued violence against protesters in the name of stability, are leading to worries about a return to the status quo [CC – Maggie Osama]|
Only a romantic would expect marriage between revolutionary youth and military government to be a bed of roses, and Egypt’s honeymoon is ending rapidly.
“We don’t trust the military,” says April 6 movement spokesman Mohammed Ekol. “They pretend to listen but are not acting.”
The dust has not yet settled after the uprisings which swept president Hosni Mubarak from power, but already the revolution has entered a delicate and critical phase.
There are real fears among the youth movements that military and religious leaders are attempting to exploit the power vacuum their efforts created.
The army’s public face, the Supreme Council, continues to hit the right public relations notes. Their move to arrest ex-president Mubarak and his sons has gone down like a treat, while public announcements make great play of claiming they are the people’s faithful representatives.
An ominous sign
Away from the cameras it is a different story. A series of disturbing events over the past week suggest it is business as usual for the old regime’s enforcers.
On April 10, pro-democracy blogger Maikil Nabil received a three year prison sentence for saying as much. It came from a military trial which convicted him on the Orwellian charge of “disturbing public security”.
Nabil had criticised the violent crackdown on protesters two days before. On “Purification Friday” tens of thousands had returned to Tahrir Square to demand the prosecution of Mubarak. The army responded with live ammunition that killed two and injured dozens more.
There is no doubt that the routine of torturing political opponents is continuing. Numerous activists, including minors, have suffered abuse in the Egyptian Museum, which has become a makeshift detention centre.
On April 14, a conference was held in Imbaba protesting against such brutality, but was itself violently broken up by security forces.
Such scandals are damaging for the youth movements who, having become the de facto voice of the revolution, are now compelled to deal with the military’s Supreme Council.
The April 6th group, representing over 150,000 supporters, is among those charged with safeguarding the transition to democracy but their founder and leader Ahmed Naher is becoming uneasy.
“The army used to take us seriously,” he says. “We would have meetings and there would be a response to our demands. Now communications have been cut off for a month. At times they regard us as kids. All they care about is stability and image, which is why they continue with the military trials. We will pressure them to stop.”
Yet Naher feels that at this delicate time the youth groups cannot overplay their hand.
“We wouldn’t compromise our values, but we wouldn’t call for huge demonstrations while the economy is unstable. We need time to evaluate the situation.”
Reaching the ‘promised land’
In the past week the youth movements – including April 6th, Jan 25th, Muslim Brotherhood youth and others –have been promised just five to eight seats in the new parliament to be elected in September.
While that would appear to leave the way open to military figures and the senior Muslim Brotherhood, Naher believes youth groups can better serve the public as lobbyists.
“We should not fill the vacuum; we will give our support to other parties and candidates. It will be better for people if we work as monitors to keep the process fair, rather than become a party fighting for power, which could lose our credibility.”
While the youth movements enjoy huge popular support, they are still in their political infancy, born out of Facebook groups with the singular intention of overthrowing the hated Mubarak regime.
Having reached that promised land, they are hastily developing new policies, including wage equality and an end to military trials.
Still they have nothing like the infrastructure of the military regime, or the Muslim Brotherhood, which recently broke cover from a charm offensive to suggest they could win 75 per cent of seats in the new parliament.
April 6th spokesman Ekol says they are “not worried” about a Brotherhood takeover. “We know them well and we know their weaknesses.”
He claims there is an agreement that the Brotherhood will have no more than 35 per cent of seats, albeit an informal one.
Such arrangements are fuelling fears that youth movements are being strung along by more experienced powers, which are willing and able to exploit their naivety.
Ahmed Ezzat of the Socialist Workers Party believes it is a strategic error to be dealing with these institutions at all. “There should be no dialogue with the (Supreme) Council because they are part of the Mubarak regime,” he says.
Instead Ezzat feels Egypt must build from its strength, using the “revolutionary committees”, who protected and cared for individual neighbourhoods throughout the recent turbulence.
He claims over 50 are still operating throughout the nation and that their numbers are growing. “The solution must come from working-class community projects. This is the only way for real equality.”
Ezzat highlights a “lack of vision” from the youth movements which makes them vulnerable. By contrast the revolutionary committees have clear objectives, such as free education, subsidised housing for the poor, equal distribution of public funds and nationalising industries that had been sold off to foreign interests.
Yet for all the justified concern over the next phase, the willingness of youth movements to take a relative back seat at this stage are borne out of confidence more than naivety.
“Whether the army want true democracy or not, it will happen,” says Ahmed Naher of the April 6 group. Close communications between all of the youth movements, including those with an Islamic mandate, have enabled them to establish common ground that should withstand any attempt to divide and conquer.
The threat of Islamist bogeymen has been overplayed and it should be remembered that the Muslim Brotherhood Youth, rather than their senior counterparts, were an integral part of the revolution, activists say.
Eighteen year-old Sara Mohammed of the Muslim Brotherhood youth does not believe in conflict between secular and religious entities.
“I remember in Tahrir Square when I stood with liberals, social democrats and atheists. We have the same goals, the same desire to do the best for our country. Before I had only read about them in books and now we are all working together. Democracy is the most important power to make justice. I don’t think religion should be used as suppression, it should be used to inspire moral values,” she said.
There will be attempts to derail the revolution and there are current and future battles to be won and lost.
Yet despite the very real threats, there is assurance among the youth movements that Egypt has been carried too far, by too many to be allowed to return to the dark ages.
Kieron Monks is content manager of This Week in Palestine magazine. His freelance articles have appeared in The Guardian, Observer, New Statesman, Tribune, Ma’an News and many others.