Five years on, Egypt's revolutionary youth abstain from elections

Saturday 17-10-2015 10:32 AM
Five years on, Egypt's revolutionary youth abstain from elections

People wait outside a polling station beside an electoral slogan for the Freedom and Justice Party that reads, "We bring good to Egypt" in Toukh, El-Kalubia governorate, about 25 km (16 miles) northeast of Cairo January 3, 2012. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh


Cairo, Oct. 16 (Aswat Masriya) Just under five years after Egypt's young virtual activists took their dreams to the street across the nation, spearheading an uprising that captivated the world, they’re back online building a parallel world - a blatant rejection of a disappointing reality they refuse to accept.

Days before Egyptians go to the polls to complete the official “roadmap to democracy” with the election of a House of Representatives, Facebook activists calling for a boycott have decided to field their own candidates:

Israa al-Taweel, a student and amateur photographer detained for five months on false charges of belonging to a terrorist organization, denied proper care for a debilitating bullet wound she ironically acquired covering protests marking the third anniversary of the January 2011 uprising.

Mina Danial, a Coptic activist killed in what came to be known the Maspero Massacre of October 2011, when the military’s armed personnel carriers and tanks crushed a protest near the national television building in Maspero killing 28 mostly Copts, a crime for which no one has been held accountable.

Sheikh Emad Effat, a popular moderate Islamic scholar shot down by a soldier during protests in December 2011 against the Egyptian Cabinet.

Shaimaa El Sabbagh, a leading member of the Socialist Popular Alliance who was shot with a pellet at close range by a policeman while carrying flowers in a peaceful march to commemorate the hundreds of demonstrators killed in the January uprising

Many more familiar faces, either killed or detained in the past four years, are being circulated with the hashtag #glory_be_to_martyrs.

"These are the only Egyptians who deserve my vote," said one commentator on the pictures.

But it wasn’t always that way. This level of youth apathy and dejection is a far cry from the hope and positivity that filled young people’s hearts and minds in the first post-uprising parliamentary elections of 2011-2012.

The highest ever recorded number of candidates at over 10,500 running for elections then, also included a strong showing by young revolutionary-minded and Islamist youth who organized for the first time in such a contest.

The results were an overwhelming victory for Islamists, with the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party gaining 47 percent of seats, the Salafi Nour Party winning 24 percent and liberal and secular parties all together raking just under 30 percent. Islamist parties also won nearly 90 percent of contested seats in the Shura Council (upper house of Egypt’s bicameral People’s Assembly), resulting in an Islamist majority in both houses.

However, in June 2012 the Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved the People’s Assembly just two days prior to presidential elections. One year after Egypt’s first Islamist President Mohamed Mursi was voted into office, he was removed by the military after protests against his rule in a move that was cheered on by liberals, salafis and leftists.

In the aftermath, hundreds, if not thousands of youths affiliated with parties and movements belonging to the full political spectrum, but mostly Islamists, have been detained and face trials described by local and international human rights organizations as lacking due process.

The political space has been all but closed off to supporters of the current regime and all observers of election campaigns have noted the predominance of candidates who belonged to the now defunct National Democratic Party which ruled under the ousted Hosni Mubarak, among the approximately 5,500 candidates running in the 2015 polls.

The youth’s virtual calls for a boycott of the vote have not only targeted voters, but also affected potential candidates. Many of those who actively participated in 2011-12, door-knocking and campaigning vigorously to have a say in their country’s future have decided to abstain altogether.

Maggy Mahrous, who ran on a youth coalition list in 2011-12 will neither be running nor voting this time.

“Last time there was hope,” she told Aswat Masriya, “but this time it’s not a fair fight. This is not my fight.”

She believes that before elections Egypt should stand on solid ground and set a foundation for true progress. “What we need is to work on democratization rather than use the tools of democracy without basing it on actual understanding," she said. 

Even though she is an active member of the Social Democratic Party, she says that she does not even know who is running in her constituency this year. 

Hesham Khalil, who was the campaign manager of a youth coalition list called Sahwet Masr (Egyptian Awakening), which failed to make it to the race this year, explained that there were many factors contributing to their inability to participate.

"We wanted to gather a group of competent non-politicized technocratic candidates that would add value to parliament," he explained.

Of the six lists running this year, the clear front-runner is For the Love of Egypt, an alliance of old and new parties brought together by ex-military intelligence general Sameh Seif Elyazal. The alliance is running in all constituencies with plans to rake all 120 seats allocated for lists according to the new electoral system, eyeing to form a powerful bloc to lead the house.

Khalil said that the postponement of the elections, which were supposed to be held last March, was one of the factors that led to their withdrawal from the race, as well as limited budgets. 

He cited security pressures on candidates and politicized court rulings that led to their understanding that the elections were neither going to be fair nor transparent.

"As a result we decided to withdraw as a political statement," said Khalil. "Many of us didn’t want our participation to be used as window-dressing for the government." 

Indeed 15 members withdrew from the coalition in a single day.

Both Khalil and Mahrous believe that this will be a pseudo House of Representative whose only aim is to abolish the 2014 constitution.

The upcoming parliament has been assigned many powers including the authority to withdraw confidence from the prime minister, other ministers or even the president. Article 161 of the 2014 constitution allows a supermajority of two thirds of parliament to call for a public referendum to end the president's term and organise early presidential elections. 

Ziad El-Eleimy, is one of the founders of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and member of the Executive Bureau of the Revolution Youth Coalition, which disbanded in July 2012.

The former member of the dissolved 2012 has not only decided to refrain from contesting a parliamentary seat this time, but he is insisting that he will go to polls to spoil his vote to ensure that it doesn't get rigged.

“I made the decision not to run on the day Shaimaa al-Sabbagh was killed, on the fourth anniversary of the uprising,” said El-Eleimy.  

Any form of participation would mean "sacrificing people", he added.

“It can get really bloody, but they do not target the active politicians directly, they get the ones close to them,” he said, explaining that any opposition that is politically active will either be imprisoned for 15 years or “killed like Shaimaa.” 

Even if he had wanted to participate El-Eleimy said, the obstacles were huge. “We would not have been able to hold a conference or a campaign rally without a prior authorisation from the interior ministry,” he said, adding that the single most important goal of the next parliament is to lift subsidies.

Hossam Mostafa and Haithma Hariri may agree, but have decided to take a different tack.

Mostafa is running for a single-member constituency seat in Upper Egypt’s Assuit province. He told Aswat Masriya that it is important for the youth of the revolution to be present.

“We must do something because the picture is gloomy,” he said.

Hariri who is running in Alexandria believes that "the youth’s presence is important, at least to observe at close range what is going on inside the House."

Reporting by Gehad Ebada

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