The youth are the ones who launched Egypt’s January 25 Revolution. Furthermore, they influenced, in one way or another, the regimes that came after the revolution, and they led the deposition of elected President Mohammed Morsi. Despite this, their turnout in the constitutional referendum held Jan. 14-15 was markedly low. This confused the state apparatus in Egypt, but was welcomed by the Muslim Brotherhood, who attempted to win the youth over in their battle with the regime.
On the third anniversary of the revolution, many youth took to the streets, protesting against the current regime with the same slogans they used on Jan. 25, 2011. These slogans include: "Bread, freedom, social justice" and "The people want to overthrow the regime." They also added chants of "Down with military rule." Yet, after violent confrontations between the police and demonstrators left 62 dead, the youth decided to protest on the anniversary of Jan. 28, 2011, which was called the "Friday of Anger."
The government rushed to discuss the issue of the low participation of youth in the referendum and how to get them on their side, amid fears that they would take to the streets in large protests against the current regime or join the Muslim Brotherhood.
Thus, this issued was discussed in the last cabinet meeting on Jan. 18. Moreover, on Jan. 20 Interim President Adly Mansour received at the presidential palace 44 young people from different political movements, after a meeting was held between the minister of interior and a youth delegation.
In his speech to the nation on the occasion of the adoption of the constitution on Jan. 19, Mansour addressed the youth, saying, “You have been the fuel of the two popular revolutions. The phase of building and empowerment is still ahead of you. Build your future and participate in political life, through enriching partisan action. You should be sure that your efforts will bear fruit.”
Al-Monitor spoke with Hassan Shahin, spokesman for the Tamarod movement and one of its founders. He, along with representatives from other groups, attended the meeting with Mansour. “We talked with the president about why the youth stayed away from the polls, and we agreed that one of the most important reasons is their frustration over the return of Mubarak-era figures, violence in universities, arbitrary arrests of students as well as tarnishing the image of the January 25 Revolution. We stressed that it is a disgrace that the state tarnishes the image of the revolution, especially since the constitution recognizes this revolution and that of June 30. Moreover, phone calls made by activists were leaked and broadcast on a satellite channel,” said Shahin.
Regarding the president's comments on these reasons, Shaheen said, “The president requested that we submit a file that includes the names of the persons arbitrarily arrested. He stressed that he is against violations of citizens’ rights and denounced the recent leaks of activists’ phone calls, pointing out that the general prosecutor started an investigation into this matter. We asked the latter to cease the publication of these recordings awaiting the end of investigations.”
Regarding the return of Mubarak-era figures, Shahin quoted Mansour as saying: “The state and the public will not allow for the return of Mubarak-era figures, but the youth must suggest replacements and alternative cadres who are not associated with Mubarak and Morsi’s regimes.”
Rami Sayed, an activist from the April 6 Youth Movement who is responsible for crowd mobilization, told Al-Monitor that the movement was not called to participate in the recent dialogue with the interim president. According to Sayyed, his movement was not invited because the group had refused an earlier invitation to a meeting with youth to discuss the presidential and parliamentary elections. “We objected to the arrest of the activists and the tarnishing of the image of the January 25 Revolution,” added Sayed.
Regarding how the security forces dealt with protests on the third anniversary of the January revolution, Sayed said that the Interior Ministry forces and the army used "excessive violence" in breaking up peaceful demonstrations. "They used live fire and some were seriously injured by live ammunition and bird-shot pellets. Many people were arrested when they pursued youth [activists]," he said.
Sayed expressed his surprise at "how [government forces] prevented the youth from demonstrating, when they were the ones who launched demonstrations on Jan. 25, 2011. Meanwhile, the police secured protests in Tahrir Square that were organized by those who had been against the revolution. We saw Tawfiq Okasha and Amr Mostafa celebrating [the anniversary of] the revolution, and they were [initially] against it. People were raising photos of Mubarak, who Egyptians revolted against in 2011. It's as if the revolution happened so that people can celebrate Mubarak and [Gen. Abdel Fattah al-] Sisi. We didn't see any photos of any of the revolution's martyrs in Tahrir Square."
He added that the regime used live ammunition to break up demonstrations, and said, "Sayyed Wezza, an official from the April 6 Movement responsible for the Zaytoun and Matria areas, was killed. He was killed by a member of the Investigations Department from the Abideen police station. We know the name of his killer, and we have a photo of him as he is firing at Wezza."
Sayed added that the recent events confirm the tyranny of Sisi and the current regime, and the return of remnants of the Mubarak regime. "This is contrary to statements made by Sisi and Adly Mansour in their meetings with the youth that these remnants will not return. It also goes against their claims that they will address the reasons behind the reluctance of the youth to participate in the constitutional referendum," he said. He stressed that the April 6 Movement regrets that it will not be able to revive the anniversary of the Friday of Anger on Jan. 28, "because we are reshuffling our cards and will return with strength and influence in the near future."
Regarding Mansour’s meeting with the youth, Sayed said, “Mansour talked positively about the January 25 Revolution, in an attempt to save what can be saved, but it was too late. I do not think that this will affect the youth. We will resume our revolutionary activities to demand that the slogan of the January 25 Revolution — 'bread, freedom and social justice' — is realized."
“Moreover, those who are invited to participate in the dialogues with the interim president do not represent the youth. They do not organize events on the ground and are not known. It is strange how the state tarnishes our image in the media, and falsely accuses us of treason and betrayal, and then calls on us for national dialogues,” he added.
Sayed noted that the youth did not take part in the referendum for a number of reasons, including frustration, the arrests of activists — such as Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma and Mohamed Adel, who have been sentenced to three years in prison for violating the protest law — the return of the Hosni Mubarak regime’s icons, the tarnishing of the image of the January 25 Revolution, the restraining of the youth, the restrictions on freedoms and the arrest of every person calling for a “no” vote on the constitution. This shows that the regime wants the constitution to be approved in any way possible, and does not allow any opposition to it. Thus, the youth have no reason to rush to the ballot boxes in the first place, according to Sayed.
Commenting on the turnout in the constitutional referendum — which reached 38%, the highest turnout in history for a referendum in Egypt — Sayed said, “The millions spent on the crude propaganda calling for a 'yes' vote went down the drain, because more than 60% of the people boycotted the referendum.”
The Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement on Jan. 21, marking the upcoming occasion of the third anniversary of “the great January 25 Revolution.” The statement noted: “There is no doubt that we have all learned the lesson. We have all come to realize that we can only manage this homeland for all its people, all citizens, factions and forces, through genuine participation of all segments.” On the same day and occasion, the Muslim Brotherhood Students Association addressed “Egypt’s students” in a statement: “With complete courage, and in the spirit of taking a historical responsibility, we admit that we have done wrong to the revolution, in which we participated and made great sacrifices. We admit that we have done wrong, as we thought that there is one path to continue the revolution, and we have done wrong when we started to build after a revolution that was not completed. Yet, God knows that we worked hard for the sake of our people. We still have a chance to reconsider our calculations and unite our ranks to retribute for the martyrs that fell from Jan. 25 until today.”
The Brotherhood’s apology was rejected by various revolutionary movements, which affirmed that they would not be participating in the Brotherhood’s protests. They did, however, note that they would hold demonstrations against the current authorities on the revolution’s anniversary.
Mohamed al-Kassas, one of the founders of the Road of the Revolution Front, told Al-Monitor, “The youth need time to restore confidence in change, to start unifying their ranks and resisting frustration. They should necessarily know that they were influential. At the same time, the authorities need to refrain from tarnishing the image of the January 25 Revolution, pave the way to the active participation of the youth and abolish oppressive laws, such as the protest law.”
There was a very high turnout of women in the referendum, compared to the low youth turnout. In a speech addressed to women on the day following the issuance of the referendum results, Interim President Mansour said, “You have become a symbol of political awareness, which started with your active participation in the January 25 and June 30 revolutions and was concretized in the queues to the polling stations.”
Commenting on the referendum results, Information Minister Doria Sharaf al-Din said during a news conference on Jan. 20, “The media has focused on encouraging Egyptian women to participate in the referendum and has been keen to shed light on more than 20 articles that women have benefited from in a direct way.”
Azza Kamel, director of the Appropriate Communication Techniques for Development Center (ACT), told Al-Monitor that the high rate of women’s participation in the referendum is due to women looking for safety and stability, for they were the most affected over the last three years. Women lack social justice and security, and the road map — should it be implemented — prevents terrorist attacks.
Concerning the interim president’s talk about women, Kamel said, “All political regimes in Egypt praise women, yet end up treating them with injustice. Society is still patriarchal and backward. Judges are currently refusing to appoint the best female graduates of the Faculty of Law as judges, despite that Paragraph 2 of Article 11 of the amended constitution states 'the state guarantees women the right to hold public positions and senior management positions in the state, as well as the right to be recruited by agencies and judicial bodies without being discriminated against.'”
She said it is going to be a while before we change our concepts, and we have a long battle to fight, because we need to change laws and this will not happen overnight.
The chairwoman of the National Council for Women, Mervat Tallawy, said the Council of State is biased against women and violates the constitution that was approved by the people with a majority of 98.1%, due to the lack of equality between men and women in the appointment of the best graduates.
Tallawy sent a letter to the Council of State, demanding that it investigate the complaints received by the National Council for Women about the Council of State’s failure to appoint graduates who applied for positions in the judiciary of the Council of State. The council’s judges issued a statement on Jan. 21 in which it deemed Tallawy’s comments as “a sin that disrespects morality,” and demanded that Tallawy be tried on charges of insulting the judiciary.
Sameh Rashid, a researcher at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, explained to Al-Monitor the relatively large participation in the referendum by saying, “Various segments of Egyptian society, regardless of age, often tend to prefer peace and tolerance. Thus, the turnout increased by about 5% compared to the last referendum, given that the constitution was considered a way to restore stability; regardless of its legality, legitimacy or the availability of both integrity and a sound environment for participation.”
Rashid explained the significant participation of older groups by saying, “Those aged 40 years and above viewed this as a referendum on the phase that the country is going through, including the person in charge of leadership represented by Defense Minister Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, even if he made a mistake. They are looking for someone like [former President Gamal] Abdel Nasser, because they are still looking for a leadership in the patriarchal sense to manage the state, unlike the youth who are looking for new faces.”
He said the youth’s low participation rate did not result from a general reluctance to participate, but rather it was “a silent protest to abstain from taking part. The youth are fast when it comes to taking action and they are even faster when it comes to participation, be it in number or quality. Thus, their reaction to the referendum was clearly [demonstrated through their decision not to participate].”
Rashid said, “The youth were more responsive and more affected by the developments and political events, and they were the fastest and most present on the scene during the last three years, as the developments that have taken place starting June 30 showed the futility of political participation after the overthrow of the elected civilian president. The youth were also the fastest and most numerous to boycott the recent referendum. Add to this the arrests made in the ranks of the revolutionaries and the youth.”
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