Sisi victory deals 'deadly blow' to revolutionary youth movement

The leaders of Egypt’s revolutionary youth movements anticipate a long-term struggle to regain some sense of unity.

al-monitor A billboard of president-elect and former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is seen atop a building as sandstorm hits Cairo, June 4, 2014. Photo by REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh.

Topics covered

youth, revolution, hosni mubarak, elections, egypt, april 6 movement, abdel fattah al-sisi

Jun 5, 2014

CAIRO — As Egypt's military strongman Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was declared president with a landslide 96.9% of the vote, and as the ailing nation prepares an inauguration ceremony that will cost millions, the revolutionary youth are contemplating a grim political future wherever they are — in jail, in exile or occupying opposition seats expected to be extremely vulnerable to the highly anticipated wave of oppression.

Egypt's revolutionary youths who represent different ideologies, political parties and movements have gone from a fragile coalition to an opposition front torn by internal divisions, and finally agreed — for the first time since January 2011 — that the revolutionary front "has been dealt a deadly blow by Sisi's rise to the presidency in Egypt." Yet, that agreement does not mean they learned from their past failures, or became united. 

Bassem Kamel, a high-level officer of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, and one of a few revolutionary youth who scored a seat in the dissolved 2012 parliament, believes that the "near future will be a difficult time but it still is far better than Hosni Mubarak's pre-2011 days."

"We have political parties, we speak to the public through the media and we have popular support, while under Mubarak we used to celebrate whenever one person joins our efforts through the opposition campaign led by Mohamed ElBaradei. Back then, having only one more person aboard was a victory," Kamel told Al-Monitor at his office in Cairo.

Kamel was a member of the Revolutionary Youth Council that was formed on Tahrir Square during the 18 days of the January 2011 revolution and was dissolved a few months later. The council included defected Muslim Brotherhood members, Copts, leftists, nationalists and independent youth.

"I believe that our main struggle is with ourselves and the people, not with the ruling regime. We are politically inexperienced and the people of Egypt have a long way ahead of them to understand the politics we are talking about. I am not blaming the people or criticizing them, but rather advocating for them," Kamel said.

Hence, Kamel was focusing his efforts on political training and education for the members of his Egyptian Social Democratic Party, whose top official Hazem el-Biblawi was appointed prime minister in the aftermath of Mohammed Morsi's ouster in July 2013.

Kamel's optimism do not rhyme well with his fear of the parliamentary election laws about to be passed by the government. "It is an opportunity for Mubarak's men to control parliament once again, and those laws will be passed despite our objections."

Amr Ali, the official spokesman of the once revolutionary and now-outlawed April 6 Youth Movement, who is fortunately not in jail, expressed his own view of the parliamentary elections to Al-Monitor.

"It’s a whole package, you win the presidency and the parliament together," Ali said.

Ali, who does not have an office to operate from since the movement was outlawed by an Egyptian court, said the public has grown disillusioned with the political elite and the revolution in general, not only because of the relentless smear campaign, but also because stability and the economy are more urgent issues after three years of chaos and inflation: "Yes, the people want democracy and freedom, but only after the stability Sisi and the military-backed regime is promising to provide."

"Both the economy and stability are issues the state institutions have intentionally ignored, and then blamed the result on the revolutionary fronts, including April 6. It was their way to portray the January 2011 revolution as a crisis," he said.

For Ali and the April 6 Youth Movement, whose founder and former leader, Ahmed Maher, is in jail, Sisi's presidency is the beginning of a new phase of oppression and violations on freedoms, and human and personal rights.

"They saw April 6 growing on the street, so they passed the protest law for us and everyone who might follow; they saw social media as an important tool for advocacy and actual street mobilization. They are now passing laws to monitor and stifle it — all this while courts are outlawing us, and this is just the beginning," Ali said.

He said it is the beginning of an era of oppression that will soon stifle the very supporters of the regime and its President Sisi. And that moment, Ali believes, "will be when the people will call for freedoms, justice and democracy over the economy and stability."

Meanwhile, Mohamed Abbas, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood who defected in 2011 to become a member of the Revolutionary Youth Council alongside Kamel before establishing the Egyptian Current Party, believes "there are actual opportunities amid this oppression."

"Sisi has unleashed the oppression since the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins. He successfully put the opposition back where it was under Mubarak, at the press and lawyers' syndicates. Whoever steps outside those boundaries will land in jail or worse," Abbas told Al-Monitor from Doha, Qatar, where he has been living since September 2013.

“The political arena was filtered: Some chose Sisi and others chose the Muslim Brotherhood, which I believe has also committed crimes against the January 2011 revolution. But this filtration is a precious gain for the revolutionary front," he said.

"Others have shown their naivety and ignorance by thinking that a military regime will apply democracy, a hope proven to be false decades ago, which leaves us with the younger generation that stuck to its principles no matter what the price was," Abbas said.

Those genuine revolutionaries, according to Abbas, are vividly seen in the defaced ballot forms and those who boycotted the presidential elections.

"We are speaking of more than 1.5 million people who damaged their votes in opposition of the whole process, and millions more who boycotted. This is a good enough number to reach out to, work with, capitalize on and build a new powerful opposition front."

Again, despite his optimism, Abbas believes that such an evolution will take at least four to five years of actual political work and a lot of learning from the past three years: "The first actual battle we can take on will be the next presidential elections."

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