By Marina Makary
Did the revolution lose its direction on the course of the years, or did it fail from the very beginning? Looking at the current political scene, Egypt is ‘back to square one’. More than four years after the 25 January Revoltuion, Egyptians stand at different sides. But the only consensus that revolutionary youth, who chanted in Tahrir Square, have, is that Egypt today is not the one they were dreaming of back then.
Egypt’s diversity is depicted in the people’s diverse political views. Although the priorities of the different generations differ, the goal is one: advancement of Egypt. Ironically, even though the current regime came to power after mass protests were held in support of the army to move against former president Mohamed Morsi, the regime has issued a “Protest Law”. The law requires permission from the Ministry of Interior to organise demonstrations. Since then, the crackdown on activists, journalists, and peaceful demonstrators has increased.
Since the youth were the first to take to the streets and participate in mass protests, many of them disagree to the presence of a Protest Law. Wael Eskandar, an independent journalist and commentator on Egyptian politics, emphasised the importance of protests. He argues that aside from being “a constitutional right”, “protesting bad policy is constructive to any government, it is an active act that builds for a better country with better rights”.
According to a study conducted in 2012 by the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), over 60% of Egypt’s population is below the age of 29. Egypt’s youth make up a huge portion of its total population, yet, they are rarely seen in the political scene or in any cabinet positions. Youth unemployment has reached 30%, according to a study conducted by the International Labor Organization in Geneva in 2012. Mina Fayek, a Cairo-based blogger and activist said that, in Egypt, the people in power remain in power, leaving “the country stagnated with no room for youth”.
“The state does not trust young people enough to let them lead.”
Eskandar echoed Fayek’s opinion that the youth are constantly looking for job opportunities, but are not finding any, since “much of the economy is being hegemonised by the army”. Although some estimates claim that the military’s involvement in Egypt’s economy reaches 40% of GDP, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has denied those claims saying that it is no more than 2%.
Under Islamist Morsi, Egypt saw killing of protesters at Itihadiya palace, attacks on the St. Mark Cathedral and several churches, a Brotherhood-dominated parliament, and a number of violations of the constitution. Al-Sisi, then defence minister and chief general of the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF), overthrew Morsi on 3 July 2013 after massive protests demanding his resignation. Consequently, the media praised Al-Sisi and glorified the state’s actions against “enemies of the nation” and “terrorists”. This, in turn, led to major support for Al-Sisi, which was understandable, considering the chaotic, polarised situation Egypt witnessed under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Hisham Helmy, a 45-year-old computer programmer who describes himself as “a patriotic Egyptian citizen”, thinks that in a country like Egypt, one of the most essential factors leading to stability is control. He said it is important for youth to take official positions in the state, but clarified that “now is not the right time”. Helmy added that when the youth went out, “all they created was chaos, and control over the people was lost”.
“The youth can take positions only when we achieve stability in the country”, he said.
Since the ouster of Morsi, a number of deadly attacks have taken place, especially in Sinai. Bombs are implanted in the streets almost daily and attacks on security checkpoints and public facilities have increased, with members of jihadist groups claiming responsibility for most of these attacks.
Helmy claimed that “terrorist organisations” are “a result of the revolution”. He said the revolution brought to life organisations that were controlled by the police during Mubarak’s time in power. “During the Mubarak era, there was no terrorism. The last terrorist attack was in Luxor in 1992; today we have a terrorist attack almost every day.”
With the “war on terrorism” heading the state’s priority list, a number of violations are overlooked and even tolerated. Nevertheless, not everyone is bothered by the issue. “Saddam Hussein was a bit harsh, but he managed to keep Iraq under control,” was Helmy’s response in regards to complaints about human rights violations in Egypt.
He quoted former president Hosni Mubarak in his final speech as president when he said: “It’s either me, or chaos”, indicating that the revolution failed because it had no leader.
Safwat Hanna, a 58-year-old anaesthesiologist at Imbaba General Hospital, said he supports democracy and freedom of speech, but that these can only be achieved gradually, not suddenly. “You should know what is appropriate for your country at this moment in time,” he said. Hanna stressed the importance of “educating the people about political awareness” and then letting them choose. He believes that with such a huge rate of illiteracy in the country, “a fair dictatorship is better than a democratic failure”.
Helmy argued that if the youth is against a system or regime, they should provide an alternative. On the other hand, Fayek expressed his concern, stressing that the regime has been “effectively damaging every possible alternative using violence, trumped up charges or marring them in media, and of course, utilising the ‘war on terror’ discourse to do so”.
While focusing on the advancement of Egypt and its recovery from the failures of the past four years of disconnecting the youth from the political scene and giving them the viewer’s role, the current regime may be committing the mistakes of the previous regimes. By neglecting the youth and only making superficial efforts to listen to them, the youth is gradually losing faith in the entire political process and their participation rates will slowly decline.