To Egypt’s Youth: The Revolution is Still Yours to Reclaim
by Alon Ben-Meir
In the past few weeks, the Egyptian revolutionary youth’s worst nightmare has come to pass: they have been caught in a horrifying struggle between the old regime and the Islamists amidst chaos in every aspect of Egyptian life. Before the transitional period deadline of June 30 of this year, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) (once thought of having reached a power-sharing understanding) are squabbling as to who will have the upper hand after the transition. The secular forces, meanwhile, are divided over every single aspect of the political process, all amidst a crushing economic crisis that risks the bankruptcy of the country.
At stake is the survival of the revolution itself. Egypt’s youth should re-take the lead (as they courageously did in January 2011) and form a unified front to usurp from politicians the ownership of the country’s transitional process to democracy, and ensure the achievement of its central aims: “food, freedom, and social justice.”
Ostensibly intoxicated with its landslide electoral victory, the MB broke its earlier promise not to monopolize the political process, attempted to dictate the makeup of the constitutional assembly and nominated a presidential candidate in the elections scheduled for next month. But the judiciary, suspected to be under SCAF influence, disqualified both the constitutional assembly as well as the MB’s principal presidential candidate, Khairat El-Shater, along with others, including the former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman whose candidacy was an anathema to the MB and the public at large. The MB is still running an alternate candidate, Dr. Mohamed Morsy, and appears ready to defame the victory of any other as a “forgery“. In the meantime, the SCAF is tacitly communicating its readiness to dissolve the parliament or even delay the presidential elections altogether if an agreement is not reached on drafting the new constitution that would ensure the independence of the military decision-making and the budget.
As the two titans clash, the secular forces appear to be in disarray and more divided than ever. The liberals’ favorite, Mohamed El-Baradei, has withdrawn his presidential candidacy. The efforts by the Committee of 100, the self-appointed group of prominent figures from Egypt’s elite, to convince those presidential contenders not from the old regime to form a single team have failed, while several revolutionary forces are even calling for a boycott of the presidential vote altogether. Indeed, factionalism is what characterized last Friday’s millionyya – or a million-people protest – in Tahrir Square, where dissenting demands dominated the numerous stages that were erected in the square. The inevitable result of these divisions and the alienation of the liberal and secular youth that was behind this promising revolution is a prolonged state of uncertainty marked by chaos and violence.
To avoid these developments from becoming the albatross that will choke the revolution, there is an urgent need for the Egyptian youth to re-take the initiative and mobilize all of their energy and resources to create a single party made out of a coalition of all non-Islamist, non- old regime parties to represent the young revolutionaries and their aspirations. Liberal political leaders and intellectuals do recognize the fact that it is the democratic and civil nature of the state (neither theocratic nor military) that distinguishes the revolutionary forces from the rest. Therefore, as much as they have unity of purpose, they are in dire need of a structurally-sound political unity.
A glimpse of hope appeared recently with the declaration by Mohamed El-Baradei to establish the al-Thawra (Revolution) party to serve as a coalition unifying all civil political groups. If the liberal political leaders do not join such efforts, they risk missing perhaps the last chance to restore the initial objectives of the Egyptian revolution. Secular revolutionary presidential contenders must be governed by, and act on behalf of, the national interests and run as a presidential team (a president and a vice-president) to be supported by the significant voting bloc that the new party could engender.
In preparation for this ambitious political unity, the Egyptian youth should organize itself and mobilize the masses (as they did in the initial stages of the revolution) to take to the streets in the millions in support of a single motto: save the revolution. If the entrenched Mubarak regime could not withstand an 18-day millionyya protest, no government or political movement in Egypt, regardless of how powerful they may be, would be able to reject the legitimate demands made by massive, persistent and non-violent protest. To that end the youth movement must insist on the following:
- That the constitutional assembly be representative of the entire Egyptian political spectrum, and not dictated by the parliament, even though it is democratically elected (i.e., this should not be the dictatorship of the majority — to ensure the civil nature of the state).
- For the elections to be fair, the SCAF and the government should enforce the articles of the current constitutional declaration that forbid the use of religious references in electoral campaigns. Ironically, the MB presidential candidate, Mohamed Morsy, has explicitly stated that he is running under the maxim of: Islam is the Solution.
- An immediate restructuring and overhaul of the Ministry of Interior and its intelligence branch, the “National Security Service”, to ensure their full compliance with human rights while focusing on serious national security threats and not democracy-promotion, NGOs and youth movements as they have in the recent past.
- Finally, full respect of the transitional period timeline, ending on June 30, 2012, that would ensure the world’s confidence in the path Egypt is taking and restore foreign investments.
Some might argue that the youth might not be able to mount such a campaign to resurrect the basic tenants of the revolution and mobilize the public at a time when the average Egyptian is simply exhausted and suffering from a crushing economic crisis, security vacuum, and rampant unemployment (now approaching 25 percent). No one can question this dismal reality and deny these daily hardships, but the revolutionary youth’s call to the disgruntled public to awaken to their bitter reality might still resonate as long as: a) they remain truthful to their national inspiration and b) accept the fact that any revolution will encounter a messy transitional period and will only worsen if nothing is done to stop it.
Unity of purpose, a unified political structure and mobilization of the masses represent the immediate tasks. In the longer term, however, the revolutionary youth’s greater challenge is to turn from an elite movement into a grassroots one. This is the lesson that they should learn from their mistake in the 2011 parliamentary elections which were won by the Islamist parties. Although the MB and the Salafists were better financed and better organized, they more importantly spoke the language of the average Egyptian and understood the importance of working on the priorities of the local communities. Reaching out to Egypt’s poor, which constitute almost 40 percent of the population, is the revolutionary youth’s major challenge. Most of these young men and women are well-qualified to meet this challenge. Many are already involved in volunteer work that can be re-directed to focus on addressing illiteracy, providing healthcare services and job training, and offering micro-finance – all within a sustainable development and de-centralization model that would certainly secure the revolutionaries a decisive voting bloc in all future elections.
The only loser from the clash between the MB and SCAF is the Egyptian youth and what their revolution stood for. The revolutionary liberal leaders and youth share the responsibility of saving what is left of their revolutionary zeal by closing ranks, running united, and embarking on a massive campaign to protect the democratic, civil nature of the new Egypt by engaging the vast majority of the Egyptian people.
You, the youth of the great nation of Egypt, remember that you do not stand only for your country but for the whole Arab world. What you will do and the zeal with which you carry on the revolutionary process will have a direct impact on every Arab state and the aspiration of more than two hundred million Arab youth who yearn to be free and live with dignity.
Unless you assume this fateful mission and do so now, Egypt will undergo an unending period of chaos and instability, only to be followed by a military dictatorship or theocratic tyranny, and the Arab Spring will have become the cruelest winter of all.