Syria Pulse

Third Square Youth Movement Seeks New Direction for Egypt

Article Summary
As clashes between Egyptian protesters continue, a small group of youth activists support neither the Muslim Brotherhood nor the army and are afraid that the growing tension will lead to more bloodshed.

While Egyptians against deposed president Mohammed Morsi stand in Tahrir Square, and Morsi supporters gather in Rabia al-Adawiya, another group of activists comes together in Sphinx Square. They refer to themselves as the Third Square, people who reject both the army and the Muslim Brotherhood. This group only contains a few hundred people, but youth activists expect that it will grow as more people get fed up with the current situation.

Although Amr Nazeer, 23, was not participating, he sympathizes with the Third Square. He is critical of Egyptians being forced to choose between two camps. As a young revolutionary who participated in the 2011 revolution and was a "helper" of the April 6 Youth Movement, he still remembers how Muslim Brotherhood youth supporters and young liberals were once unified. Nazeer says this has all changed.

"The last couple of days have been really scary. There is a lot of hatred between people, especially against the Muslim Brotherhood," he told Al-Monitor in Cairo earlier this month. "When I talk to friends about the racist comments they make about Morsi supporters — even well-educated Egyptians — they accuse me of being a Muslim Brotherhood supporter. I’m not. And Muslim Brotherhood supporters think I support the army, but I don’t. I just don’t support killing people. We’re turning into Syria."

A few weeks ago, his cousin was killed while walking in a Muslim Brotherhood march, but he also has friends who are liberals and embrace the army. With just a few other young revolutionaries, he now spreads posters of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s face with the word "joke" on it. 

According to him, the army is creating a violent situation by attacking Muslim Brotherhood supporters. He wonders why so many people forgot what the armed forces did before, when they killed protesters in Tahrir Square, after deposed president Hosni Mubarak’s ouster. HIs negative feelings toward the army developed earlier, however, long before the Arab Spring

"One of the reasons we wanted Mubarak to go was the army and the police. They were brutal against people, especially policemen, who were corrupt. It wasn’t about Mubarak only. It was about the whole system we had, and this system didn’t change. Morsi and Mubarak both were dictators and the army still has a lot of influence."

The Egyptian army has always played a dominant role in the Egyptian society, in part by controlling vast amounts of the Egyptian economy. Its investments and holdings include hotels and factories, and its agricultural operations make it the country’s biggest food supplier. 

This is why Zaara Ibrahim, 24, is suspicious about their motives. As an activist, she has witnessed protesters being killed by the army several times. After the attack on Muslim Brotherhood supporters by the army on July 27, when at least 72 Morsi supporters were killed, she posted pictures of earlier incidents on Facebook, including pictures of revolutionaries being killed. According to Ibrahim, not many people seem to notice the resemblance. 

"The army cannot be trusted," she told Al-Monitor. "I’m afraid that this will only lead to more violence. Morsi supporters are not going anywhere, and by attacking or imprisoning them or their leaders, the army only makes things worse."

The Muslim Brotherhood supporters have been relatively calm, although they have enough weapons to "take revenge in the future," Ibrahim and Nazeer believe. Many such incidents have already occurred, during clashes between Morsi protesters and supporters in different parts of Egypt. Some Egyptians even expect terrorist attacks, such as bombings, in the future.

A social media battle is also under way that is increasing tension among protesters. Rumors and images are being posted on Facebook and Twitter as each side uses the Internet to try to tarnish its rival's reputation. 

Nazeer contended, "The media campaign against Morsi started months before the mass protests did, so that the dissatisfaction among Egyptians grew. Of course he wasn’t a good president, but the media exaggerated it a lot, too. This was the start of the media war between the two camps. Right now, you see that people from both sides post statuses with fake information and racist comments on Facebook and Twitter."

When Sisi requested that people take to the streets to support his mandate against "terrorism," the Tamarod (Rebel) movement supported the move, but not all the revolutionary forces welcomed the call with the same enthusiasm. April 6, the youth group that played a key role in the anti-Mubarak uprising, has said that the army does not need a popular mandate to act against security threats, stating, "Any action serves to increase tension and deepen the wound of the homeland." 

The number of young revolutionaries who think that the revolution has been stolen for the second time is growing. Mustafa Farouk, 28, was optimistic about the army at first, thinking that it would only remove Morsi and would not intervene further. When the army asked the people to take the streets again, and Egyptians complied, he was very disappointed. 

"They basically said that they supported violence against Morsi supporters. It’s a dirty war. Nobody uses their brain anymore. My friends are well-educated people. How can they support this?" he said. 

Nazeer, on the other hand, was one of the first to feel uncomfortable attending the mass protests on June 30, two days before Morsi was removed.

"The army was doing helicopter tricks in the air and the people were cheering at the army the whole time. It felt so fake, and that’s why I didn’t stay there," he told Al-Monitor. "And after 48 hours, the army took over and said it was the people's will to do so. How could they have made this decision so fast?"

Tamarod is also being questioned by many Egyptians who believe that the second uprising was partly funded by rich Mubarak supporters and the leaders of the armed forces. 

"People talked about whether or not it’s a coup, while in fact it’s so obvious that it was a military coup — one to get the old system back," Nazeer explained. He thinks it is just a matter of time before people protest against the army again. 

Brenda Stoter is a Dutch journalist who writes about Egypt and Syria and about Kurds in Iraq and Turkey. Her articles have been published by Al Jazeera as well as featured in Dutch national newspapers and magazines, including Algemeen Dagblad, NRC Next, Het Parool and Elsevier. On Twitter: @BrendaStoter

Found in: youth, third square, tahrir, muslim, morsi, egypt

Brenda Stoter is a Dutch journalist who writes about the Middle East, with special attention to Syrian women and Western jihad brides. Her articles have been published by Al Jazeera as well as featured in Dutch and Belgium national newspapers and magazines, including Algemeen Dagblad, De Tijd, Het Parool and De Groene Amsterdammer. On Twitter: @BrendaStoter


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