The January 25 Revolution youth have dominated the political scene since the eruption of the popular uprising at the outset of the year, but they were put on the backfoot Saturday after parties, old and newly-formed ones, sat down with Egypt’s military rulers to address several current issues.
The likes of the Freedom and Justice Party, which was formed by the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, the liberal Wafd Party and dozens of other groups met military Chief of Staff Sami Anan, who represented the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), to voice concerns over headline-grabbing topics.
The controversial elections law, the lack of a definite timetable to hand over power to an elected civil authority, and fears that corrupt politicians might be able to sneak into power again topped the agenda.
Although SCAF released a statement to respond to the persistent demands of recurrent protests, political parties were accused by revolution groups and activists of giving large-scale concessions that were not agreed upon.
“The revolution and the Egyptian people have not taken any benefit from today’s statement,” the 6 April Movement, which played a key role in orchestrating protests that eventually toppled former president Hosni Mubarak, but stands accused by authorities of stirring unrest, said in a statement on its Facebook page.
“The SCAF offered only a limited response, making promises with no timetable to fulfill them. We have to be united; we should not be divided by any accusations. We should not accept the few rights which they offered us,” the group said.
SCAF said it would amend the controversial Article 5 of the elections law, which stipulates that two-thirds of the seats in parliament would be won on a party list system and the rest alloted to independents.
The amendment should allow party members to contest seats allocated for independents, a move designed to prevent former members of the defunct National Democratic Party (NDP) winning seats in the new parliament.
SCAF also promised to consider lifting emergency law and introducing legislation to ban former NDP members from running for seats in the next parliament.
Although it did not set an exact date for presidential elections, analysts say the process SCAF announced for parliamentary elections and the drafting of a new constitution is likely to delay the new president's swearing-in until 2013.
Quoting late Egyptian President Mohamed Naguib, the first leader following the overthrow of King Farouk in 1952, renowned activist Wael Ghonim said “Whoever accepts to give up his rights would never be respected.”
Complaints to no avail
Micro-blogging website Twitter and social networks were flooded by messages condemning the perceived concessions political parties made during the meeting, which was held after parties threatened to boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections.
But it seems that such complaints are being voiced to no avail, with parties gaining the upper hand after leapfrogging the likes of the Revolution Youth Coalition and 6 April Movement in the influence they exercise over SCAF’s decision-making process.
Friday’s demonstrations in Tahrir attracted thousands of protesters but, compared to previous million-man marches, numbers have notably declined as the enthusiasm of many appeared to have waned.
SCAF only reacted when the main groups and parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, said they might abandon the elections, a threat that could plunge the country into deep political turmoil.
“The outcome of the meeting was positive to a large extent because we discussed the roadmap and the exact dates for the ongoing political process,” Emad Abdel-Ghafour, president of the Salafist El-Nour Party, said in a television interview.
“The military council underlined again that it is committed to handing over power to a civil administration.”
The revolution's youth might pay the price for opting to organise protests at the expense of engaging in the mainstream political spectrum.
Many analysts called on them to establish political parties following their successful role in dethroning Mubarak, but they seemingly chose the easier path to Tahrir, which they thought would remain more effective.
Many people now fear that the youth who were branded as heroes after autocratic leader Mubarak left office on 11 February will have no significant role to play in the future of Egypt.
“Gathering crowds for a million-man demonstration is much easier than raising political awareness among the people,” director Amr Salama, whose documentary, Tahrir 2011: The Good, the Bad and the Politician, won a UNESCO award at the Venice International Film Festival, said last month.
“Calling for a sit-in is much easier than promoting an idea or a principle, and lifting a banner is much easier than helping poor people. We have to remember that our protests in the streets are an exception, because there is no real democratic process and no ballot boxes. We have to exert efforts to convince the majority to follow us in our demands via a valid democratic process.”
The question will be now whether the revolution youth can redeem themselves and go neck-and-neck with established political parties, who are often accused of caring only for their own interests.