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January 25 revolutionaries: Bye bye Tahrir, hello parliament?

To run or not to run, that is the question for Egypt's January revolutionaries ahead of rapidly approaching anticipated parliamentary elections

Samir El-Sayed, Friday 23 Sep 2011
RYC Parliament
RYC announces run for Parliament at Journalists' Syndicate (Photo: Zeinab El Gundy)
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Youth activists who spearheaded the January 25 Revolution are getting their first taste of parliamentary politics.

In recent months, many veterans of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak last winter have joined parties and electoral umbrella groups including El-Adl (Justice) Party, the Egyptian Current, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Democratic Front, the Popular Alliance, the Revolution Youth Coalition, and Al-Way (Awareness) Party.

It will be a steep learning curve for activists wishing to reshape a political scene that the defunct National Democratic Party and Muslim Brotherhood dominated for decades. But financial difficulties, the unfamiliarity of the political turf, and the entrenched power of countryside clans don’t seem to discourage them.

El-Adl, a liberal party formed after Mubarak fell, which boasts many members of Elbaradei's campaign, plans to field no less than 50 young activists in the coming elections, Abdel Monem Imam, a party official, said.

According to Imam, El-Adl plans to run January activists such as Mostafa Al-Naggar, who has become a member of the party's coordinating committee, in Madinet Nasr (Cairo); Ahmed Shokri, member of El-Adl coordinating committee, in Sherbin (Menoufiya Governorate), and Mohammad Khamis, who was wounded in the uprising against Mubarak, in the Red Sea Governorate.

The party also plans to run a number of activists in cities in the densely populated industrial Delta region: Basant Al-Kahki in Mahalla City; Abdel Aziz Khattab in Kafr Al-Zayyat City; and Mostafa Eker in Tanta.

The Revolution Youth Coalition, one of the first broad-based umbrellas of revolutionary activists, born in the midst of the uprising, announced in a press conference Wednesday that it will compete in the upcoming parliamentary elections. The coalition includes members of the 6 April Movement, the youth wing of Democratic Front Party, Youth for Justice and Freedom, the Campaign for Supporting Elbaradei, the Muslim Brotherhood Youth, and the Nasserist Al-Karamah (Dignity) Party.

Khaled Abdel Hamid, a leading Revolution Youth Coalition member, told Ahram Online that the coalition has not yet decided whether it would run its members as such, or as part of electoral lists formed by political parties that they might be members of. In either case, however, Abdel Hamid confirmed that at least two leading Youth Coalition members will compete in a couple of critical election districts.

Ziyad Al-Eleimi, a leading Revolution Youth Coalition media spokesperson during the uprising, who is also a member of the liberal Egyptian Social Demcoratic Party, will stand for parliament in Mokattam (Cairo), where he has been involved in social work for the past four years.

Khaled Al-Sayyed, a veteran socialist activist and a member of the Popular Alliance Party, will run in Helwan (Cairo).

Two leading activists in Revolution Youth Coalition have made it known that they intend to run in parliamentary elections as members of the Egyptian Current, an electoral front that a number of liberals and Muslim Brotherhood youths formed last spring.

Asmaa Mahfouz, who made her fame by recording several short, emotional mobilising videos that aired on internet channels before and during the uprising, intends to run in Mattaria (Cairo).

Abdel Rahman Faris, a Liberal-Islamist blogger/activist, a Revolution Youth Coalition member and also a spokesperson for the Egyptian Current, said he intends to stand for election in Fayoum (Upper Egypt).

Faris said that he and other coalition members are leaning towards running as part of one unified coalition national list, but lurking ambiguity surrounding the shape of constituencies is delaying their decision in this regard.

Many other January activists are also tempted by the thought of taking their street fight into parliament but hesitate to make solid commitments because they say they have doubts about whether government election laws and districting decisions would actually allow revolutionaries to stand a chance against old-time powerful candidates.

For example, Mohammad Arafat, who wishes to stand for election in Itay Al-Barud City in Beheira (Northern Delta) told Ahram Online that, “It is hard to make a decision before things become clear concerning the shape of constituencies and the way the election system is to be run.” 

Amr Ezz, another coalition activist and a member of Democratic Front Party, says he wants to stand for office in Imbaba (Cairo), preferably as part of a united Revolution Youth Coalition list, but his decision is going to depend on the way in which election constituencies are divided.

On the other hand, Israa Abdel Fattah, a one-time blogger who achieved national fame when Mubarak's secret police disappeared her after she put out a call for a general strike against the former dictator on 6 April 2008, said she is waiting to make a decision because parties and electoral coalitions themselves have not made up their minds on what to do.

Abdel Fattah said that she may stand for election in Banha (Lower Delta) but she’s waiting to learn more about the election plans of her Democratic Front Party.

However, some January activists have already made up their minds 100 per cent to run in the elections, and also chose what party to run with. For example, Democratic Front Party members Amr Salah and Ahmad Eid will run in Alexandria and Imbaba (Cairo) respectively.

Standing alone among January veterans, both the 6 April Movement and its offshoot 6 April Democratic Front said that they are not interested in running for parliament and prefer to focus on being pressure groups instead.

So is Tahrir becoming a relic of the past? The jury is still out, especially that some the activists still yearn for the days when Tahrir was more vibrant.

“Tahrir Square remains a symbol of the revolution, but we have to give politics a chance. The public doesn’t seem too interested in the symbolism of the square and want to move beyond it.” Yasser Al-Hawari says.

Corroborating this view, Israa Abdel Fattah says, “Tahrir should remain alive as a means of pressure. But we must learn how and when to use it.”

Ziyad Al-Eleimi prefers a situation where the revolutionaries wouldn’t need to go back to the square. He hopes that democracy would take root, and that the nation would have other means of expressing its demands and of transferring power in a peaceful way.

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