After Mubarak Stepped Down
After the fall of Mubarak, demonstrations and strikes continued, including the hated police demonstrating for higher wages. Without government oversight, Coptic Christian churches were burnt and corruption increased at the local level. When Mubarak resigned on February 11, pressured by the generals, but he said his resignation was voluntary and altruistically meant to prevent bloodshed. Youth felt victorious and trusted the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to lead the country until elections. They chanted, “Hold your head up high, you are Egyptian.” Youth were empowered, convinced they could reform their country, that “It’s up to us to fix this country,” as an 18-year-old student told CNN.
On May 7 the Egyptian Congress to Defend the Revolution was organized by thousands of delegates in Cairo as an umbrella group. It included the January 25 Youth Coalition, the April 6 movement, the League of Progressive Youth, the Upper Egypt Youth Platform, and new parties such as the Karama Party as well as established parties like Wafd and the Greens. The April 6 movement referred to itself as the Egyptian Resistance Movement and continues to send out requests for actions from its Facebook page.[i] One of the suggestions on their webpage was to lower the voting age to 16. It was critical of the SCAF’s “lack of open discussion with the youth.” Formerly apathetic university student elections galvanized young people. After the revolution, people gathered in cafes to watch parliament in action, whereas before soccer dominated the TV screen. The growing faith in fair elections and peaceful change was a tectonic shift in Egypt where three-fourths of both genders believed they have to power to create change.
SCAF met with youth groups that included Wael Ghonim and Ahmed Maher, co-founder of the April 6 Movement. Maher arrived at a meeting with the military council wearing jeans, chewing gum, and carrying a can of Coke. But other youth activists rejected them as spokespersons including Ahmed Salah, another founder of April 6, who said, “Those guys don’t talk on behalf of anyone. They have tried to jump on and take credit for something they didn’t have much part of,” as he doesn’t see them on the streets.[ii] Salah thought they were too soft on SCAF.
Youth were divided on many issues such as pressing for immediate elections or waiting several years for political parties to develop, and pro or con worker strikes. Blogger Gigi Ibrahim, 24, recognized that organization was the challenge so she tried to form an umbrella organization to represent the ideals of the revolutionary youth. In a video she discussed Egypt after President Morsi, where critics of his power grabs were accused of “defaming religion,” and the government didn’t prevent MB attacks on Coptic Christians.[iii]
Activists were hopeful that the military would be on the side of the people, but after about three months they lost hope and youth began a series of what they called Second Revolutions. Responding to the new demonstrations, police came to Tahrir Square on March 9 and June 28 to try to clear it, and again in August and December. Ramy Essam, a popular young singer known for his song “Leave,” reported the army detained him and beat him with whips, sticks, rods, and electric shocks on March 9.[iv]
The military leaders promised a referendum on constitutional change, which was held on March 19. SCAF established an 18-member committee of legal experts to work on a constitution, but more than 60 community and women’s groups condemned the panel for being an all-male group that “excludes half of society.”[v] A public referendum approved the constitution and then SCAF added 55 other articles that hadn’t been put to a vote. SCAF appointed Ahmed Shafik as prime minister; he had served in the same post under Mubarak in the 1990s.
On March 28, 25-year-old blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad was arrested for writing on his blog that he was “providing evidence proving that the military has been deceiving Egyptians” during and after the 18-day revolution. He was sentenced by a military court to three years in jail for insulting the military.[vi] The “We Are All Khaled Said” Facebook page reported another arrest and military detention; “Loai Nagati is a 21-year-old Egyptian activist who got arrested during Tahrir protests yesterday morning. As it has become the norm now, Loai has been sent to 15 days in a military jail awaiting a military investigation! Loai didn’t have a lawyer, has no clear accusation against him and is a computer science student. He is a civilian and shouldn’t be investigated by military prosecutors.” By July 2011, over 7,000 civilians had been tried in military courts as “subversives” while the Mubarak thugs and corrupt politicians were unpunished.
Protesters went back to live in tents in Tahrir from July 8 (when I talked with demonstrators) until August 1 when they were cleared out in an hour with tanks and rubber bullets, and as usual, the military labeled the demonstrators thugs and foreign agents. This sweep coincided with putting Mubarak and his co-defendants on trial for corruption and responsibility for the death of protesters. Omar Ahmed, the young staffer for the Egyptian Women’s Union emailed, “After Mubarak’s trial the army had gained a lot of support and the people are turning to become anti-protesters so the army is using that point very well. The army occupied the Tahrir Square by FORCE and violence,” but worked to keep public opinion on their side.
The worst violence since Jan26 took place on October 9 when at least 27 people were killed and hundreds injured in clashes between Muslims and Coptic Christians in Cairo and other cities. Muslims blew up a Coptic Christian church leading to violent clashes between the two religious groups and thousands of demonstrators marched to protest the church burning. Muslims and Christians fought each other with rocks and firebombs. The army and riot police charged at the protesters. Coptic Christians blamed the military council for not preventing anti-Christian attacks throughout the country. Coptic youth formed the Maspero Youth Union that organized thousands of demonstrators on the one-year anniversary of the massacre.
In a media campaign called “Liars,” amateur videos were collected to document the army’s violence such as driving their vehicles at high speed in crowds. Salma Said, a member of the Mosireen media collective in Cairo, said that SCAF-controlled TV reported that Coptic Christians were killing soldiers and incited viewers to go to the streets to protect the military. Her group put out a call for videos of the massacre to show that the Copts were the victims. The military responded by issuing a decree prohibiting discrimination, including religious bias, with a maximum penalty of three months in prison for violators, but the attacks on churches continued.
On November 19 another massacre occurred on Mohammed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square on the way to the Ministry of the Interior. The Central Security Forces dispersed a sit-in organized by families of demonstrators killed in Tahrir in January and February. When others came to defend the families, more than 40 people were killed. Wounded demonstrators were carried away on motorcycles in the absence of ambulances. In this clash, Ahmed Harara, a well-known activist who lost an eye on January 28 and wore an eye patch with that date on it, was deliberately shot in the other eye. Again Mosireen collected videos of what happened on the streets.
SCAF announced parliamentary elections to be held in stages starting November 28 and ending on January 10, 2012, but many political parties announced they would boycott them due to lack of time to organize. The students I talked with in Tahrir Square told me they wanted a parliamentary coalition to prevent one party from co-opting the revolution and taking credit for it. Determined to forge a fully democratic country, they said they not worried about a bad leader getting in power as long as they have access to honest elections and can change the leadership.
Young activists worked on forming political parties to join the pack of over 80 parties. Some youth members broke away from the MB in June 2011 to form a new party called Egyptian Current, because the MB was too hierarchical and didn’t listen to youth. With the slogan of “freedom, building and pioneering,” within a year, it had about 1,500 members.[vii] Mohammed Abbas stated, “We are convinced that Egypt is currently in need of political parties that rise beyond specific ideologies. The Egyptian mainstream political current should have a real voice in the country’s politics.”[viii] Abbas represented the MB in the January 25 Youth Coalition, but he criticized the Brotherhood’s decree against participating in the Second Revolution protests in Tahrir Square in May. Even the most conservative Muslims, the Salafis, have a more liberal youth wing that values tolerance more than the older hierarchy.
Another major uprising against SCAF’s continuation of martial law took place a week before the November 28 elections. Demonstrators opposed SCAF for putting over 12,000 civilians on trial in military courts, jailing political bloggers, controlling the content of the constitution in order to stay in power and to keep control over the large military budget. Protesters again chanted “peaceful, peaceful,” but police wounded thousands and over 30 were killed.
On November 19 riot police shot live bullets into the crowds of protesters; the outrage brought tens of thousands into Tahrir to oppose military rule—but not members of the MB. They focused instead on organizing to win the parliamentary elections later in the month, which they did, followed in second place by the ultra conservative Salafist party al-Nour whose slogan was “Islam is the solution.” The Revolution Continues Alliance composed of secular activists and young Islamists who left the MB wasn’t organized enough to win more than 3% of the votes. Other youth groups were the Costa Salafis group founded in April 2011 and the Egyptian Coptic Coalition founded in January 2012. Both aimed to increase discussion and understanding among various religious groups.
An Egyptian hip-hop song released in November titled “Kazeboon,” (liars) said nothing changed in the past year and that SCAF are liars. The band’s YouTube video shows military officers beating demonstrators.[ix] During the year after Mubarak left office, around 12,000 Egyptians were put in jail and tried in shadowy military courts and more than 120 protesters were killed.[x] Yehia, a young activist interviewed by US Youth Studies professor Brian Barber In November, said despite honest elections, the police still expect bribes and people are going bankrupt.[xi] A year later Yehia reported he was fed up, things were worse, “All I want is a normal life and for things to be stable again. What has happened in the past three years got the worst out of people… very brutal and very bloody.” He felt more optimistic after Morsi was replaced. Another activist, Mohsen worried about the military’s portrayal of the youth of Tahrir as agents of foreign governments when he thinks of himself as a “member of the general assembly of the Earth.”
Towards the end of December, SCAF security forces raided offices of 17 nonprofit groups, including pro-democracy groups funded by the US, even though the military receives over $1.3 billion a year in aid from the US. (It paused aid after the 2013 coup where SCAF replaced President Morsi, but resumed it in 2015 when Secretary of State John Kerry inexplicably praised the government for “continuing to make progress in its internal relationship with the people of Egypt.”) Commandos carted off computers and boxes of papers to find evidence of foreign involvement in the December protest movements, part of a crack down in anticipation of large protests on the first anniversary of the revolution on January 25, 2012.
To calm protesters, the military released the young blogger, Maikel Nabil, who faced a military trial and jail for saying the military council wasn’t protecting the revolution. The military council ended the emergency law except for protection against “thuggery,” which could still be used as an excuse to target activists. Some protesters called for the execution of SCAF leader Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and demanded the end of military rule. SCAF refused the new parliament’s request to select a new council. For additional information about politics after the revolution, see the book website.[xii]
Although youth were in the vanguard of the Arab Spring, Nur Laiq agrees we lack “in-depth exploration of their ideas and actions.” An understanding of Arab youth’s role in the transition after the Arab Spring was “elusive,” despite the face that 60% of the population in the Arab world is less than 25. To remedy this neglect, Nur Laiq interviewed 70 youth activists in Egypt and Tunisia in 2012, ages 18 to 38.[xiii] She found key influences on youth thinking are 40% of college and high school graduates are unemployed and the divide between the MB supporters and secularists. Even Salifis and other Islamists were critical of the MB’s lack of democracy, viewed as pre-revolutionary in their desire for power. All the youth Laiq interviewed had the same revolutionary goals of economic justice in opposition to neoliberal policies, and removing remnants of the old regime including police brutality and government control of media. Their anti-MB stance dominated youth politics and distracted them from revolutionary goals. This led to fragmentation and lack of youth influence in politics although they used social media to try to share uncensored news.
Although they were critical of the MB, none of Laiq’s interviewees talked about an Islamist versus secular division.[xiv] Youth were in in line with general public opinion; a 2011 Gallup Poll reported only 9% of Egyptians wanted a separation of Islam and state. A common comment from youth was, “Mubarak is gone but Mubarakism will take much longer to go.” Her interviewees criticized Morsi’s inability to challenge the military’s influence or reform the police. Many of the youth Laiq interviewed were part of the youth group “No to military trials.” Leaders of the uprising were often offered government positions under Morsi but didn’t want to be part of the MB system. The rebels didn’t have a plan for how to replace the regime, as Ola Shaba explained In January 2012. SCAF controlled the media, so “People are hating us now, including workers who were in the protests. They think we’re the obstacle to progress, that only stability can make the economy survive.” Labor strikes were frequent, 1,969 protests in 2012, one of the “highest levels of social struggle worldwide,” that became even more frequent the next year.[xv]
Also, youth were divided; some leftists and anarchists thought the only solution was to continue to occupy the squares, while others with an “exploding ego” want to be public figures thereby losing touch with the base. Shaba advocated making alliances with both Islamists and liberals. In the documentary The Square, singer Ramy Essam said about political compromise, “We’re terrible at it.” He said their strength was loving each other in the Square, “There was no such thing as a Muslim or Christian. With one hand we said Mubarak must go.” Some said they didn’t want to appear as if they were seeking power. “You could say we just wanted to be happy,” and to celebrate their victory, said Asmaa Mahfouz.[xvi] But you can’t form a new government on love and happiness. Activist Dr. Laila Soueif tried to unify different factions to unite and seize power before the military could take over, but the people she talked with agreed, said they would organize a meeting to talk about it in a few days but it didn’t happen. [xvii]She thinks they lost their critical window of opportunity.
In 2012, leaders of the April 6 movement started work on a plan to develop alternative institutions. Ahmed Maher, 31, explained, “We are the spark that ignites the world; we know how to inflame things, but when we have a strong entity that can stand on its own feet — when we can form a government tomorrow — then we become an alternative.” He said his group was embarking on a five-year plan to start building such a movement while the army waited in the wings to fill the vacuum, pretending to be defenders of the revolution. Maher said, “We were duped. We met with the SCAF on February 14, and they were very cute. They smiled and promised us many things and said, ‘You are our children; you did what we wanted to do for many years!’” SCAF kept making promises they didn’t keep.
Another round of large demonstrations was set off by a riot in the Port Said soccer stadium in February 2012 where at least 75 fans were killed and 1,000 were injured. Activists blamed the police for not intervening in the attack by fans of the Al-Masry team on the Al-ahly Ultra fans. They accused police of not checking for weapons, turning off stadium lights, locking gates in purposeful neglect to punish the Ultras for their role in the revolution exactly one year after their battle with the camel drivers. Thousands of people marched on the Interior Ministry office chanting, “Say it out loud, the Council must leave! Get down from your balconies, Tantawi [head of the council of generals] killed your children!” They shouted, “Tantawi, we want your head!” In response, the general prosecutor charged 75 people who were at the match with murder and negligence, including eight police officers. The verdict ignited riots in 2013 when seven police officers were acquitted and death sentences were handed out to 21 of the soccer fans. Egypt and Nigeria led the world in the number of death sentences pronounced in 2014, according to Amnesty International.
In the first free elections—the June 2012 presidential elections, Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister under Mubarak and former general, was in a run-off with Mohammed Morsi, the MB candidate. Middle-ground candidates from some of the more than 40 political parties were disqualified by SCAF. During the uprising Shafiq said youth were like disrespectful children but during his campaign he praised the “martyrs” of the uprising and promised to return the fruits of the “glorious revolution” to the youth. The Egyptian Bloc, a union of secular liberal parties, came in fourth, behind the New Wafd nationalist party formed after World War 1. Many Egyptians didn’t vote or spoiled their ballots in protest. Youth didn’t have much political influence, partly because the political parties didn’t include them in youth wings or with quotas for youth in party central committees, unlike Tunisia where youth were integrated into the parties.[xviii] However, nearly all youth activists in Egypt and Tunisia criticize the generation gap in their political parties.[xix] The Thawra Mostamera party was mostly backed by young people but they told Akram they didn’t have money for flyers and posters. Young people also supported a secular party called Al Masreyeen al Ahrar started by a Coptic Christian named Naguib Sawiras. The Salafis told people not to vote for the Crusader party.
The Khaled Said Facebook page supported Morsi in the election but many boycotted the elections because they were controlled by SCAF. They demanded a civilian council, removal of officials from the old regime including university deans, and an unbiased media. They charged that media is controlled by the military–hence their suspicion of me and my little video camera in Tahrir Square in July 2011. They wanted the SCAF to punish the police who tortured and killed Khaled Said. Demonstrations broke out in cities across the country on June 6, the one-year anniversary of his death while 1.5 million friends on his Facebook page kept attention on the need to resolve his case. They wanted to see a death certificate with cause of death made public.
The MB had a membership base of around 600,000 compared to a few thousand members of the April 6 Youth Movement, which also split over the question leadership. Their members comprised 70% of parliament and were part of Morsi’s identity politics, but the judiciary dissolved parliament in June 2012. The Salafists stated that women’s inclusion in parliament is “evil,” so they placed women on the bottom of their candidate lists. They also favor different curriculum for girls and boys in public schools. Some leaders even want to demolish the pyramids as heinous “symbols of paganism.” Akram, 17, explained that the MB has been around for 80 years, so voters know them. Many MB members are successful businessmen who donate money every month, so they have lots of money to provide food and gas in poor areas to win votes. Akram reported cheating occurred during the elections, especially by the Al Nour party, in a widely used method where a voter pretends to put his or her ballot in the box, but takes it outside and gets paid for surrendering the blank ballot. Akram reported nothing was done to stop the cheating. He predicted that these two main Islamic parties would fight as they have different points of view.
Others gave up on non-violent protest after numerous accounts of police kidnapping, torture, beating, and aiming their bullets at the protesters’ eyes. “Defaming religion” and insulting Islam was the charge against dissidents. The catalyst was the police attack on a peaceful sit-in at the Presidential Palace in Cairo in December 2012 after Morsi expanded his powers the previous month. Five—or some say 10–demonstrators were killed creating “a generation born of the blood of the martyrs.” The faces of these youths are painted on Cairo walls. Hassan, 20, an engineering student and co-administrator of a Facebook page, explained to a reporter, “After the palace events we saw that the Brotherhood were very organized. We had to organize ourselves. Basically, the idea is to defend the revolutionaries” and the spirit of the revolution.
Two years after the revolution, Amal, a teacher who lives in Giza, told me, “Emotionally most Egyptians, including me, are under the weather as the political situation in Egypt is terrible and we suffer from lack of security. Moreover the prices are sky high.” Fuel shortages hit people hard and shortages of currency reserves made it difficult to import oil, wheat and other basics, aggravated by the decline in tourism and investments. Morsi announced his administration was negotiating an austerity program in exchange for a $4.8 billion loan from the IMF, leading people to realize that religion doesn’t guarantee purity. Amal’s interview is on YouTube, along with Yara’s.[xx]
In January 2013, the Black Bloc announced its formation via the Internet. A video filmed in Alexandria at night with a hard rock audio background proclaimed its opposition to a religious dictatorship, a “fight against the fascist regime and their armed wing. Get ready for hell. Chaos against injustice.” Their Facebook page quickly got over 35,000 fans. The roots of the Black Bloc go back to young people wearing black clothes and black masks who were willing to destroy property to protest nuclear plants (Germany, 1980s), the World Trade Organization (Seattle, 1990, broke windows and spray-painted graffiti), and breaking windows at Occupy demonstrations in the US (Oakland 2011). The US group wrote to the Egyptian Black Bloc. In Egypt, they’re not anarchists although some of their black flags carried in demonstrations include the letter “A” for anarchy. They include female members. Some wore black hoodies with the slogan “Fuck the System.”
Black Bloc goals were to change the new constitution with its attempt to institute Sharia law, to establish secular democracy instead of “fascist tyrants,” and to protect women, foreigners and others harassed on the streets. They made their own Molotov cocktails, firebombs, and grenades and some members have shotguns as they believe peaceful means won’t work in their attempt to “break the government.” They also want retribution for their friends who were killed by the police.
The Black Bloc claimed attacks on MB offices in various cities on its multiple Facebook pages. It also has its own rap song. Black baklavas are sold on the streets for who ever wants to join their demonstrations. Some wear gas masks or Guy Fawkes masks. A participant in the Jan25 uprising told a reporter, “I think whoever is behind them is very immature. All they’ve done is given the government more excuses to clampdown on protests.”[xxi] By May 2013, Akram reported, “We heard about them for a while then they disappeared, they did nothing but talking. I don’t know any members since it’s a discreet movement, but they had a Facebook fanpage!” They illustrate the international influences on youth activism.
The constitution drafted by the military coup was approved by 98% of voters in January 2014, influenced by el-Sisi’s slogan “You are either with me or with the terrorists.” A year after the July 3 coup estimates are more than 2,500 Egyptians were killed, more than 17,000 were wounded in demonstrations, and more than 16,000 arrested.[xxii] When a co-founder of Tamarod, Hassan Shahin, tried to join an April 2014 march calling for an elimination of the Protest Law and for freeing jailed protesters, others in the crowd beat him up for his ties to the military. By eight months after the coup, the number of political prisoners reached from 16,000 to 22,00. Beatings and torture are common. Nearly 3,000 protesters were killed. These injustices fueled frequent attacks by jihadi groups in the Sinai desert. Thousands are in prison, mostly Muslim Brotherhood members, which opened up leadership for younger people. A court banned the April 6 movement in February and youth activists were accused of being the tools of foreigners. Co-founders of the April 6 Youth Movement, Ahmed Maher and Muhammad Adel were sentenced to three years in prison and fines of about $7,000.
Maher went from advising the Prime Minister in the summer of 2011 to hard labor in late 2013. Putting liberal young protesters like Maher and Alaa Abd el-Fattah in jail is repressive; prisoners like Abd El-Fattah and his sister Mona Seif responded with hunger strikes. Ahmad Abd Allah, 34, a spokesman for April 6 group said, “Their generation was silent for 60 years, and when we have paid the price in blood for them to have the right to say something, they turn around and call us traitors.”[xxiii] A saying is, “gray hairs in the queues [to vote], black hairs in the graves.” Other youth leaders in jail included activist Mahienoor El Masry, blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah (he helped organize the January 2011 revolution and the protests that led to Morsi’s ouster in 2013) and his sister Sanaa Seif (age 20). Alaa described youth activists on the blogosphere as; “We, the children of precarity, of mischief, of bold adventures and of impossible dreams.”[xxiv] “Their mother, Leila Soueif ,said, “All the country’s youths are targeted” if they try to protest.[xxv] Reflecting the crisis, even graffiti slowed down.[xxvi] In 2015 the government seized copies of Walls of Freedom: Street Art of the Egyptian Revolution (2014), a book about political street art, saying it was “instigating revolt.” Homosexuality isn’t prohibited by law, but gay men are tried for “debauchery.”
A Cairo court outlawed the MB in April 2014 for “tarnishing the image” of the country and working with foreign groups. Other courts sentenced hundreds of MB members to death in very short group trials without lawyers presenting defense. Young members of the MB blame the old guard for making the MB unpopular, not following “the revolutionary path,” and failing to make alliances with more liberal groups to change repressive institutions. Hamza Sarawy, 22, noted, “The youth of the Muslim Brotherhood has a different mind-set.” Youth organized mass mobilization and “civil resistance” while the hierarchical MB was silent until they realized the youth were successful. A Pro-Morsi activist reported, “Now the youth are just by themselves. And they work together far better than when the leaders are involved. Now that the leadership is gone, no one needs to ask permission for anything anymore.”[xxvii]
In her interviews with 70 youth activists in Egypt and Tunisia, Nur Laiq found most youth viewed political parties as too hierarchical and turned to civil society organizing, ranging from Islamic charities, professional associations and unions, women’s groups, bloggers, graffiti and media.[xxviii] Laiq reported the April 6 Movement had over 40,000 members. The military government aims to discredit these civil society groups by attacking them as agents of the West. A book about society activism after the revolution is The Future of the Arab Spring: Civic Entrepreneurship in Politics, Art, and Technology Startups by Maryam Jamshidi (2013).
During the 2014 presidential election, the government worried about the low turnout of youth who had voted in large numbers in previous referendums, but Sisi was elected in a landslide, said to be very popular with women. Mosireen Media Collective warned him in January 2014, “You, General al-Sisi, will keep killing us, we’ll keep dying and grieving until your time comes. Like it did for Morsi, the tables will turn on you….We used to face Morsi down with rocks for hours. . . but we weren’t afraid.” (Their videos are on YouTube.[xxix]) Sisi said in his inauguration speech that “It is time for our great people to reap the harvest of their two revolutions,” but that free speech would take a back seat to stability.[xxx]
In a generation gap, they’re blaming each other. A New York Times reporter who lives in Cairo, David Kirkpatrick commented on the gap.[xxxi] The two-thirds of the Egyptians under age 35 had their Woodstock moment in Jan25 and feel the regime repudiated their revolution. He sites blogger Sandmonkey (32) who said in a widely viewed post that elders are incompetent: “Egypt is facing the tragedy of an entire generation incapable and unqualified to deal with their plight.”
On the third anniversary of the revolution security forces killed 62 protesters. I asked Akram why Sisi was popular when he jailed secular youth activists as well as MB members: “Because most of the people are not revolutionaries. Plus, there’s an awful campaign that’s distorting the image of activists and the 25th of January revolution!“
Akram gave an example of elders discrediting the revolution:
Abdel Rehim Aly has an “exposé” TV show now where he claims to have documents against activists and some key players in the revolution. It’s really annoying and he claims they wanted to destroy Egypt and all are affiliated with the MB. Being a member of the 6th of April now is like the worst thing that can be said about someone as everyone now thinks they were funded and trained by foreign authorities.
Yara revealed a generational divide as she commented on the state of the revolution in 2014,
Youth did lead the revolution. We started it. We didn’t lead it to victory though; we lost it along the way. Here’s what I feel, and a lot of people my age feel the same way. We started this; the older generation claimed we were spies for the western world. After a while they joined. Then they expected their voices to mean more than ours, because they’re the “ADULTS.” They said yes to the military council for stability and when we screamed no, they called us thugs. Then they went out of their way and elected members to the Egyptian equivalent of the Senate house, that were old enough to have witnessed the 1919 revolution! Then again they dragged us to the dirt with electing Morsi and Shafeek for the final round of presidential elections.
When we started talking about how it was unfair for the right wing Muslims to control the political scene, they called us atheists. And now here we are again screaming that the military should NOT be ruling the country, yet again. This time it’s no different. They ignore our voices because we are “kids, atheists, thugs, and spies” and theirs are the only ones that matter. At this point though, we are tired of fighting. We fight, we protest, we sleep in the streets, we get shot, we get arrested, we die, and they, well, they rule. Everyone is frustrated. Everyone’s hope is lost. I know mine is.
Yara added, “There’s minor activism now. It has less to do with fear and more to do with frustration. A lot of us feel like there’s no point anymore. We learned a long time ago to not fear bullets, sticks, fires, or jail. We seek freedom and death with the same zeal that they seek life in ignominy.” Youth activists who joined new political parties were ignored, including the liberal party al-Ghad.[xxxii] Many other young Egyptians had the same frustration and loss of hope, trying to cope with traffic, curfew, trash on the street, and rising prices, fearful that the spirit of the revolution was lost. Ramy Sayed, an April 6th Movement leader (age 25) observed that Mubarak’s oppression was mild compared to current military rule: “The regime of Mubarak thought we were some kids playing, so let them play. Now we’re not kids.”[xxxiii]. In February, a judge lifted a ban on police entering campuses and administrators dissolved elected student unions, suspended activists, and fired professors who supported them.
To show they weren’t afraid of the court rulings, the youth protested in clown costumes. On April 6, 2014, they marched to the Presidential Palace, chant the familiar “the people want the fall of the regime.” Demonstrators in front carried fencing to symbolize prison bars, followed by photographs of the faces of jailed activists. A 23-year-old medical student, Tareq Nour said, “We’re going back to the old system [of Mubarak]. We didn’t change the country.” So he said he was preparing to leave for the United States, out of necessity more than choice. “I need to get out of here.”[xxxiv]
With the military in control of Tahrir, universities became the places to demonstrate against the coup, as they did in March 2014 in various cities. Students against the coup clashed with security forces on numerous campuses, including in Cairo, Alexandria, and Beni Fuef on March 20, 2014. Two students were killed by birdshot and many more were injured. Cairo University expelled 23 students for taking part in campus protests. The same month, a court sentenced 500 MB members to death in a joint trial. The government gave university presidents stronger powers to silence dissident students and faculty, under the guise of fighting terrorism, and gave el-Sisi the power to appoint university presidents. This policy overturned the aftermath of the revolution that allowed faculty to select their president. El-Sisi issued a presidential degree to regulate Egypt’s oldest university, Al-Azhar, to expel hundreds of staff and students who were accused of violent acts in November 2014. Over 1,000 students were detained, jailed or expelled during the year from November 2013 to 2014. The students demanded the release of classmates jailed during the previous semester and pressed for security officers who killed students be put on trial Multiple student groups including revolutionary socialists organized a protest in May 2014 called “Black Week for Universities.”
The group Comrades from Cairo published a statement in June 2014 committing themselves to action; “We know that if we—or anyone—gives up their right to protest, we are giving up the right to shape our world.”[xxxv] They vowed to continue to march against the Protest Law used to sentence over 36,000 peaceful protesters since the July 2013 coup, including the founders of the April 6th Youth Movement.[xxxvi] They appreciated marches organized in support in European cities and New York. “Though we know it will be a long time before we reach the dizzying heights of 2011 again, moments of unity and of international struggle are as important as ever. The right to protest is not just under attack in Egypt but is being repressed and criminalized across the globe. And from Gezi Park to Nabi Saleh [in the West Bank] to US campuses to Marikana [South Africa], people are fighting for it.”
Mubarak avoided punishment for the deaths of protesters during the 18-day-revolution but Morsi was sentenced to death in May 2015 for conspiring with foreign powers (Hamas and Hezbollah) to break out of prison during the Jan25 revolution to destabilize Egypt and for attacking police during the revolution. At the same time 100 other defendants were sentenced to death on the same charges. In response, judges were attacked and killed. Without a parliament to check his power, el-Sisi passed laws against terrorism that violate the rule of law and made the judiciary his rubber stamp with sham trials of groups. These actions signaled the end of the goals of the revolution, according to professor Dalia Fahmy, a member of the Egyptian Rule of Law Association.[xxxvii] Sisi stamped out opposition political parties, media like Al Jazeera, and civil society, jailed 17,000 political prisoners and at least 18 journalists, and disappeared hundreds of youth activists. Just before he attended a UN General Assembly, Sisi pardoned two jailed Al Jazeera journalists in September 2015, one a Canadian national and the other Egyptian, along with about 100 other prisoners—including some activists. Egypt is second only to China in jailing journalists, as reported by the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The hashtag #forceddisappearance went viral in 2015 referring to a war on young people. A day after Sisi pledged to release “wrongly jailed youths Alaa Abdel Fattah was sentenced to five years in prison for being in an unauthorized but peaceful protest, shown in a video.[xxxviii] He was arrested when he tried to protect female protesters from rough plainclothes policemen. On the fourth anniversary of Jan25, dozens were injured and at least 18 people were killed—mostly MB supporters, including a 17-year-old high school student. The US resumed $1.3 billion in aid despite these totalitarian reverses.
Sisi used religion to boost his authority: During the elections a preacher on state TV referred to the president as “God’s Shadow on earth.” Sisi called for a religious revolution against extremist interpretation of Islamic texts because, “Islam is making enemies of the whole world. So 1.6 billion people will kill the entire world of 7 billion? That’s impossible. . . We need a religious revolution.”[xxxix] He said to religious leaders, “The entire world is waiting for your word…because the Islamic world is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost. And it is being lost by our own hands. We need a revolution of the self, a revolution of consciousness and ethics to rebuild the Egyptian person—a person that our country will need in the near future.” However, religious freedom is assaulted as the government jails Coptic Christians, Shiites and atheists on charges of contempt of religion and blasphemy postings on Facebook.[xl] Imams are asked to use sermons prepared by the government. The Hollywood film Noah was prohibited because it shows prophets in violation of Islam.
After three years with no parliament, Sisi held elections in October and November 2015, but only 20% of the seats were designated to political parties, the others for independents who can be controlled more easily. The parties refused to join a coalition pledged to support Sisi. Young people expressed cynicism and hopelessness, saying, “Nothing is going right,” “Everyone is lying to everyone,” and “There is a sense of political exhaustion.”[xli] Thus voter turnout was very low, especially for young people, and as usual there were charges of vote buying and other violations. In August 2015 Secretary of State John Kerry lectured Egyptian officials that they couldn’t defeat terrorism at home without respecting human rights and oppression would radicalize some youths, but resumed joint military exercises and the usual $1.3 billion in mostly military aid. He also warned that jailing young protesters could radicalize them in prison. A few weeks later, a new counterterrorism law established a fine of at least $25,000 for publishing information about military activities that differs from the official line.
[ii] Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, “Egypt’s Youth Groups Struggle to Find One Voice,” NPR.org, February 16, 2011.
Her blog: https://theangryegyptian.wordpress.com/
Inskeep, “Ramy Essam: The Singer of the Egyptian Revolution,” NPR, March 15, 2011.www.npr.org/2011/03/15/134538629/ramy-esam-the-singer-of-the-egyptian-revolution. Includes a video and photo.
[v]Sarah El Deeb, “Advocate Faults Egypt’s Military,” Associated Press, February 17, 2011.
[vi] Amro Hassan, “Egypt: Blogger Gets Three Years in Jail for Insulting the Military,” Los Angeles Times, April 11, 2011. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/2011/04/egypt-blogger-gets-three-years-in-jail-for-insulting-the-military.html
[vii] Nur Laiq. Talking to Arab Youth: Revolution and Counterrevolution in Egypt and Tunisia. International Peace Institute, 2013, p. 41.
[viii] “Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood Youth Break Away to Form New Political Party,” Los Angeles Times, June 23, 2011.
[x] Globalpost, “The Devastating Crackdown on Egypt’s Revolution,” Salon, January 23, 2012. http://www.salon.com/2012/01/23/the_quiet_crackdown_on_egypts_revolution/
[xi] Brian Barber, “What the Young People of Egypt Learned,” Nexus, August 16, 2013.
[xiii] Nur Laiq. Talking to Arab Youth: Revolution and Counterrevolution in Egypt and Tunisia. International Peace Institute, 2013.
[xiv] Ibid, p. 13.
[xv] Horace Campbell, “Third Phase of the Egyptian Revolution: Is This the Path to War?”, Pambazuka, July 17, 2013.
[xvi] David Kirkpatrick, “Revolt Leaders Cite Failure to Uproot Old Order in Egypt,” New York Times, June 14, 2012.
[xvii] Scott Anderson, “Fractured Lands,” New York Times, August 11, 2016, p. 38.
[xviii] Nur Laiq. Talking to Arab Youth: Revolution and Counterrevolution in Egypt and Tunisia. International Peace Institute, 2013, p. 38.
[xix] Ibid, p. 52.
[xxi] Jared Malsin. “Egypt’s Black Bloc—An Exclusive Interview,” HBO Vice,
[xxii] Michele Dunne and Scott Williamson, “Egypt’s Unprecedented Instability by the Numbers,” Carnegie Endowment, March 24, 2014.
[xxiii] David Kirkpatrick and Mayy El Sheikh, “In Egypt, a Chasm Grows Between Young and Old,” New York Times, Feburary 16, 2014.
[xxiv] Lina Attalah, “Prison Flees: Reflections on Alaa, Activism, and Community,” Global Voices, January 9, 2014.
[xxv] “Prominent Egyptian Blogger Back Behind Bars,” Al Jazeera, October 28, 2014.
[xxvi] NLynch, “For Egypt’s Graffiti Artists, the Writing is no Longer on the Wall,” USA Today, June 23, 2014.
[xxvii] Maryam Jamshidi, “Crisis Spawn Grassroots Initiatives,” Elsevier, October 7, 2013.
[xxviii] Nur Laiq, p. 56.
[xxx] David Kirkpatrick, “At Swearing-In, Ex-General Vows ‘Inclusive’ Egypt,” New York Times, June 8, 2014.
[xxxi] David Kirkpatrick and Mayy El Sheikh, “In Egypt, A Chasm Grows Between Young and Old,” New York Times, February 16, 2014.
[xxxii] Kate Nevens, “The Youth Are Revolting: A New Generation of Politics in the Middle East?”, Harvard International Review, September 22, 2012.
[xxxiii] Merrit Kennedy, “Egypt’s Young Revolutionaries from 2011,” Global Post, April 29, 2014.
[xxxiv] Karem Fahim, “Egyptians Abandoning Hope and Now, Reluctatly, Homeland,” New York Times, October 22, 2013.
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/23/world/middleeast/egyptians-abandoning-hope-and-now-reluctantly-homeland.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20131023 Patrick Kingsley, “Egyptian Court jails Three Secular Leaders of 2011 Uprising,” The Guardian, December 22, 2013.
[xxxv] Comrades from Cairo, “Comrades from Cairo: Everyone’s Right to Protest,” ROAR Magazine, June 21, 2014.
[xxxvii] Dalia Fahmy, “Egypt: Hear and Mind Betrayed,” Al Jazeera, May 9, 2014.
[xxxviii] Hamza Hendawi, “Egypt Jails dissident Alaa Abdel Fattah for 5 Years,” AP in thestar.com, February 23, 2015.
[xxxix] Dana Ford, Salma Abdelaziz and Ian lee, “Egypt’s President Calls for a ‘Religious Revolution.’” CNN, January 6, 2015.
[xl] Dwight Bashir, “A State of Denial: Religious Freedom in Egypt,” US Commission on International Religious Freedom, January 24, 2014.
[xli] Kareem Fahim, “Lack of Enthusiasm Mars Latest Voting in Egypt,” New York Times, October 18, 2015.