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