What went wrong: Egypt’s political landscape and the impact of the youth
“Kefaya!” (Enough!) screamed the Egyptian youth as Hosni Mubarak planned his fifth six-year presidential term. “Kefaya!” they said to their parents and grandparents when told to sit back down and wait for time to mend their country. “Kefaya!” they yelled to the painfully familiar corruption and manipulation. “Kefaya!” became the motto of the Egyptian youth in a movement not only in opposition to the old regime but against an entire ideology ingrained in the minds of all Egyptian generations prior.
Egypt’s youth, aged 30 and under, makes up 60% of the entire population. So on Jan. 25, 2011, when they stood together in Tahrir Square, they took the nation by surprise. They were the first in generations to stand united against oppression despite the insurmountable obstacle it presented: The Egyptian government comprises individuals 40 years of age and older with decades of experience in politics. So even as the revolutionaries gained more optimism and secured their first hearing with the government, who could they have sent to make negotiations? The fight came down to some naive 20-year-olds trying to negotiate with military strategists who had years of experience in feigned appeasement.
There is a false dichotomy when it comes to analyzing the political and economic reasons behind the revolution. The Egyptian people spent 30 years under Mubarak’s inefficient, irresponsible and corrupt regime. One cannot group the protestors’ grievances under either politics or the economy as the citizens endured low wages, collapsing health care and a failing education system to the point that other nations began to know Egyptians as apathetic and apolitical. The Egyptians needed a revolution to restore their dignity, stolen by Mubarak’s 30-year-long tyranny.
Nonetheless, these protesters made the mistake of listening to the older generations, who told them to be “grateful that the President even mentioned, or reiterated, some of the demands” they made. So they washed the graffiti, swept the roads and left the square before securing any of their demands. Nevertheless, they were still optimistic –– after all, nothing had ever before grabbed the attention of the government or prompted the whole nation to stand together. Right after that, Mubarak stepped down and public officials speedily organized an election and several candidates were nominated on the platform of representation and democracy. However, did the National Association for Change, the Coalition of the Revolution’s Youth, independent trade unions, independent Islamists, the radical left, the March 9 Professors, human rights groups, the Constitutional Referendum and the Muslim and Christian religious establishments who came together in support of the 2011 revolution all want the same thing? Yes and no.
United in wanting Mubarak out of office, but divided by political and religious ideologies, each group was left scrambling for points of cohesion. Meanwhile, the military, on the opposing side, proposed a single man, Ahmed Shafik, to run their campaign instead of splitting their votes over multiple runners, a strategy that came at a great cost for the revolutionaries as it once again deepened the divide between the people. And although the military did not successfully elect their candidate, this divide proved insurmountable –– no one candidate seemed able to pacify the country.
These mistakes have something in common: inexperience. The revolution of 2011 was an uprising by the youth and for the people, but the youth did not have a point of reference or the guidance of wiser minds –– even the oldest generation alive was born in the midst of this corruption. The younger generation was vulnerable to the manipulation of military officials and the older politicians that made up the regime. Nevertheless, this youth would grow up and prove they have an advantage. They saw the power they had when they stood behind a common purpose with a single voice and gained an increased understanding of what goes on behind closed doors in Cairo. As they look forward, being part of the revolution of Jan. 25 against Mubarak’s regime gives them the experience they need to engage in more successful political activism in the future.
Fast forward to 2021, and Egypt is still suffering under military leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. After the mishaps of the last political revolution, Egypt was in ruins, and the fastest way to reassemble the torn country was to elect strong leadership. But at what cost? The streets may be safer now, but prisons no longer distinguish between criminals and political activists who oppose al-Sisi’s regime. As the government supposedly invests billions of dollars on projects to restore the economy, Egypt’s infrastructure and public services are collapsing. Even as the faith in the democratic system was restored after the revolution –– since Egypt saw unprecedented voter turnout and multiple parties on the ballot for the first time in generations –– this hope only lasted for a year under former President Mohamed Morsi before Sisi’s military coup –– which amassed near-unanimous support and ended any hope of political representation. Sisi learned his lesson from the events of Jan. 25 and worked harder to stifle any attempts of revolution. Unfortunately for him, the youth took their own notes.
The next step is to wait. The youth must wait for an opening to return to the square after learning from their previous mistakes. The revolution of 2011 was the first sign of the power of new ideologies and tolerance amongst younger generations, but they didn’t have the experience that only comes with time on their side. The last thing they should do is lose hope because, even if they can’t see it yet, they are now at an advantage. So they should remain optimistic and never forget how Kefaya, a single word, held so much power. This is the opportunity of a complete revamp of society, to make it better and to say Kefaya to oppression.
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