IN­TER­NA­TIONAL

Egypt’s youth de­nounces old po­lit­i­cal par­ties as it takes the first steps to­wards a tran­si­tion to democ­racy.

Southasia - - Contents - By Arsla Jawaid

Egypt takes the first steps to­wards a tran­si­tion to democ­racy. Will it suc­ceed?

For all the odds pit­ted against it, the first phase of elec­tions in a post-mubarak Egypt has proven many wrong, sim­ply by tak­ing place. Three sep­a­rate polls that will com­mence with elec­tions to a 508-mem­ber Peo­ple’s Assem­bly (28 Nov-10 Jan. 2012) will progress to elec­tions for a 270-mem­ber Shura Coun­cil (29 Jan-11 March 2012) and fi­nally con­clude with Pres­i­den­tial elec­tions slated for mid-2012. With over 40 po­lit­i­cal par­ties field­ing more than 10,000 known and un­known can­di­dates, Egypt’s elec­tions are bound to be com­pli­cated, cum­ber­some and pro­longed, but in­ter­est­ing and ground­break­ing.

Change has gripped Egypt and the youth that was at the fore­front of the cam­paign to top­ple the Mubarak regime, has now re­turned to the streets, geared with ev­ery ounce of rev­o­lu­tion­ary zeal. With re­volts and vi­o­lence erupt­ing all over Egypt, it is ironic that the army, ini­tially seen as the sav­iors of the re­volt, has now re­sorted to vi­o­lence to quell the very voices that it once col­lec­tively chanted slo­gans with. The BBC re­ports that at least 42 de­mon­stra­tors have been killed while 2000 have been in­jured. How­ever, tar­geted eye in­juries, blood­shed and tear gas have not bro­ken the spirit of the brave and young Egyp­tian pop­u­la­tion that re­mains re­silient and ded­i­cated to es­tab­lish­ing a demo­cratic Egypt, even if it comes at the cost of a vi­o­lent strug­gle.

How­ever, the re­cent elec­tion polling is an­tic­i­pated to il­lus­trate a record turnout. With long queues, some up to 3 miles long, and sev­eral women com­ing out into the pub-

lic sphere to vote for the first time, these elec­tions are al­ready dif­fer­ent. Po­lit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion of the youth, by its own choice, has also trig­gered a domino ef­fect through­out the coun­try. The gen­eral mood has been pos­i­tive so far with a num­ber of independent for­eign elec­toral mon­i­tor­ing bod­ies al­ready func­tion­ing in Egypt. Apart from a few vi­o­lent erup­tions, over­all “What they’ve been able to see so far has been quite pos­i­tive,” US State Depart­ment Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner told re­porters in Washington.

But the chal­lenges are im­mense. With 60% of the coun­try un­der 24, half the young are un­em­ployed. Po­lit­i­cally charged and cog­nizant of the fact that their gen­er­a­tion will build a new Egypt, many young men and women in the coun­try feel a po­lit­i­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity to their fu­ture. Feel­ing un­rep­re­sented by ex­ist­ing po­lit­i­cal par­ties and con­cerned about the rev­o­lu­tion they started, scores of Egyp­tian youth are run­ning for elec­tions. To some it doesn’t mat­ter whether they win or lose, what is im­por­tant is to keep the process mov­ing for­ward. “Whether we win or lose in this elec­tion, we’ll keep go­ing. We will eval­u­ate our mis­takes, learn from them and pre­pare for the next bat­tle. There are still many to fight,” said youth ac­tivist and par­lia­men­tary can­di­date Shahir Ge­orge, while speak­ing to Reuters.

With a num­ber of un­known youth rep­re­sen­ta­tives run­ning for Par­lia­ment, the Mus­lim Brother­hood’s Free- dom and Jus­tice Party emerges as the most likely win­ner of the elec­tions. The Brother­hood which has ex­isted for 83 years now, is lob­by­ing hard for FJP, its po­lit­i­cal prog­eny. Many be­lieve that its mo­ment is fi­nally here.

For a coun­try that has never seen a ‘free and fair’ elec­tion, the process, tak­ing place for the first time in thirty years, is al­ready new. As many con­gre­gate ev­ery night at Tahrir Square, the sym­bolic venue of the rev­o­lu­tion that caught the world’s at­ten­tion, the ded­i­ca­tion and re­silience of the youth is ob­vi­ous, de­spite the anx­i­ety that stems from a govern­ment crack­down on de­mon­stra­tors.

The upris­ing this time is, how­ever, dif­fer­ent. A tough pop­u­la­tion of the youth that is am­bi­tious and un­em­ployed, has lit­tle to lose and big po­lit­i­cal dreams to ful­fill char­ac­ter­izes the whole strug­gle. The mo­men­tum has changed and the stakes are higher. Many right­fully feel that apart from re­mov­ing Mubarak, lit­tle change has emerged in Egypt and vot­ing for tried po­lit­i­cal par­ties run by old men is not the an­swer to a vi­brant and po­lit­i­cally rep­re­sen­ta­tive Egypt. Anger di­rected at the mil­i­tary, in par­tic­u­lar the Supreme Coun­cil of the Armed Forces and its leader, Field Mar­shal Mo­ham­mad Tantawi, who rep­re­sents the old or­der, is un­prece­dented. Tantawi, who leads the mil­i­tary coun­cil, is 76 and Ka­mal Gan­zouri, the coun­cil’s pick for Prime Min­is­ter, is 78. Egypt’s

… it is ironic that the army, ini­tially seen as the sav­iors of the re­volt, has now re­sorted to vi­o­lence to quell the very voices that it once col­lec­tively chanted slo­gans with.

youth re­jects both of them. Most are con­vinced that “The new Egypt will be more youth­ful be­cause youth have thrust them­selves upon the po­lit­i­cal scene. All po­lit­i­cal groups are now rac­ing to strengthen them­selves with those youth.” Ab­dul­lah Helmy, a mem­ber of the newly-formed Re­form and De­vel­op­ment Party, told Reuters.

A few pro­tes­tors claimed that anger against the mil­i­tary, se­ri­ous con­cerns about un­em­ploy­ment and a stag­nant econ­omy prompted them to at­tend demon­stra­tions. For oth­ers, it was watch­ing their fel­low broth­ers dragged along the streets by the mil­i­tary. The civil-mil­i­tary di­vide has never been as dis­tinct.

Egypt to­day has a more youth­ful global im­age and its politi­cized youth is des­per­ate to show the world that not only is it ca­pa­ble of top­pling a regime, it is also vi­sion­ary enough to usher in a demo­cratic change. Egypt is see­ing a re­mark­able trend of po­lit­i­cal mo­bi­liza­tion for the first time as civic par­tic­i­pa­tion in­creases, elec­toral bod­ies emerge, en­dorse­ments and po­lit­i­cal de­bates take place and vot­ers for the first time make a choice to get their voice heard.

Though the fi­nal re­sults of the elec­tions re­main un­pre­dictable as the sys­tem moves through a un­wieldy and stag­ger­ing process, what is cer­tain is that long, vol­un­tary vot­ing queues in a coun­try that has only known mil­i­tary rule for the past thirty years, is prov­ing that its rev­o­lu­tion has suc­ceeded. De­spite a cum­ber­some elec­tion process ahead, there is lit­tle doubt that the youth will be able to usher in a new change, in the young and emerg­ing demo­cratic Egypt. The writer is As­sis­tant Editor at Southa­sia. A Bos­ton Univer­sity grad­u­ate, she holds a Bach­e­lors de­gree in In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions, with a fo­cus on for­eign pol­icy and se­cu­rity stud­ies.

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