The 6 April Youth Movement hosted a massive event yesterday evening to celebrate its third anniversary with a lively discussion about the future of the movement in shaping Egypt’s future.
The event, which took place in the Journalists Syndicate, began with a moment of silence for the martyrs of the 25 January Revolution and ended with a play by the Halwasa Group. It was attended by a multitude of Egypt’s public figures who hailed the role that the movement and Egypt’s youth played in the revolution and in bringing down former President Hosni Mubarak.
“On 6 April, the Egyptians defeated the Crusaders and took King Louis as hostage in Mansoura, on 6 April, Ghandi began his struggle against the British to free India and on 6 April, a group of Egyptian youth came together to change Egypt’s future,” began the host of the event.
The movement was established in 2008 to support textile workers in the industrial town of Mahalla El-Kubra who were organising a strike to demand higher wages and better work conditions. They were the first to use Facebook to urge the public to take action against deteriorating living conditions, organising a campaign of civil disobedience in April 2008. They called for more strikes on Labour Day, 1 May, and became one of the main players behind the 25 January Revolution.
“We considered what happened in Mahalla a rehearsal for the revolution,” Ahmed Maher, initiator of the movement, told the audience. “We learned how to organise a political event after that.”
Yesterday, the group said, they celebrated not only their third year, but what they dubbed as the “fourth launch,” which will map out their role in Egypt’s future.
Media personality Hamdy Kandeel, who was the first speaker in the event, commended the group for staying united, despite all the divisions in the various political groups in Egypt. He also congratulated the group for the role they played in triggering the Mahalla El-Kubra events, which he said set the wheels of change rolling and culminated in the 25 January Revolution.
“Today is the third anniversary of the most important popular intifada in Egypt during the last era; the intifada of the workers of Mahalla El-Kubra,” Kandeel told the audience.
Political scientist and writer Hassan Nafaa, who also spoke yesterday, said that he was working in Jordan when the movement emerged in 2008. He said that the movement began a “new trend” in Egyptian politics, specifically for their savvy use of telecommunication devices and social networking sites and that it came hot on the heels of the Kefaya Movement, which began the fight for change in 2005.
“The Kefaya Movement fired the first shot to destroy the regime and fight corruption, repression and break the barrier of fear.” Nafaa says. “But to a certain extent the movement weakened after the constitutional amendments (of 2007) and we starting losing hope, thinking that the political movement in Egypt had slowed down and ended."
However, says Nafaa, when the 6 April Movement came he was impressed by their concern for workers rights and social justice. “This made me feel very optimistic,” Nafaa said.
Political activist Gameela Ismael, a member of Al-Ghad Party, who was also celebrating her birthday on 6 April, recalled her memory of the first protest staged by the group in 2008.
“I remember that the group that was on Facebook at the time reached 73,000 on the eve of 6 April and visitors would come and threaten them,” said Ismael. “I remember that they were expected to meet the next day in a downtown café. I got a call at 9am telling me that only 13 from the 73,000 made it to the cafe. At 9:15am I got a message which I kept for memory that they had been taken into custody and held in police cars.”
Gamal Zahran, former MP, said that parliamentarians always felt that the movement acted as a bridge between them and the people.
“Fathi Sorour once told me, ignore these 6 April kids, just focus on yourself, and I told him, 'Dr Srour, these kids are the ones who will change Egypt and trigger a revolution,' and it happened,” Zahran said.
Reports had begun spreading in the past few days regarding the group’s intention to transform itself into an NGO or a political party. Not everyone seemed happy by this prospect. Kandeel told the movement that it is not the time to think of adopting a different role.
“I salute 6 April today, but I also berate you, because I read today that the movement may become an organisation or an NGO that takes donations and would be under the financial supervision of the government,” Kandeel said. “As if we have already achieved all the goals of the revolution. But we all know that the revolution has not yet achieved all its goals.”
Kandeel went on to say that much of the revolution’s demands have not yet been met, including dissolving the National Democratic Party (NDP), the trial of Mubarak and his family, the banning of all former member of the NDP from political life for five years, the removal of all governors, and the dissolving of all local councils.
“The local councils have 55,000 members, and I bet that at least 50,000 of them are affiliated to the NDP and we are saying the revolution has succeeded?” Kandeel said.
He went on to say that he misses the days before 25 January, when all the political groups stood united in their goals, before cracks and divisions began causing tension between them. He insisted that the focus now should be on completing the revolution.
“Today, many of us, from these noble movements before 25 January have begun to divide, and began forming political parties, and the political parties are multiplying at a level that has made us all nervous,” Kandeel said. “They are clashing with one another ... and I advise everyone to stop forming political parties, movements and groups until we are done with fulfilling the goals of the revolution.”
However, Maher shrugged off these claims, but refused to confirm if the group is indeed planning to become a political party or NGO, saying only that the idea is on the table.
The group, said Maher, has thousands of members in 22 governorates and a decision has yet to be made about the form the movement will take in the future. Although, one thing they agree on is that the movement will continue as a “political pressure group,” that will use all “tools available,” to ensure that freedom and social justice become core values of post-revolution Egypt.
“We aim to participate in creating a new political system in Egypt,” Maher said. "We want to participate in the creation of new political rules, a new constitution, and a life that is new to Egypt.”
Maher nonetheless lamented the lack of progress in meeting the revolution’s demands, along with the recent decisions of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to introduce a stifling political parties law and law banning strikes and protests.
“Why is there no dialogue between the youth groups and the Supreme Council; why is there no dialogue between Egypt’s political figures and the council; why do they still force laws on us; why are all symbols of corruption in organisations and governorates, local councils, media and the Ministry of Interior [still there]?” he asked.
Maher stressed the importance of going to Tahrir Square on Friday 8 April to protest the lack of response to the revolution’s demands.
“The youth are the ones who prepared, coordinated and organised for this revolution and the Egyptian people responded with open arms. But what has the revolution done so far for the youth?,” asked Zahran, pointing out that while the revolution was triggered by the country’s youth, most of the people who are trying to respond to the demand are “elderly”.
“How is it possible that a third of the new government is over 70?” he asked.
Zahran underlined the importance of giving the youth the tools to help shape Egypt’s future and suggested that the government reduce the minimum age of MPs from 30 to 25 and the minimum age of members of local councils from 30 to 25 and the voting age from 18 to 16.
“This is so the youth can participate in the next parliament,” said Zaharan. “The youth cannot be left in the street; they need to participate in all political decisions.”
Other public figures who spoke at the event included former Muslim Brotherhood MP Mohamed El-Beltagi, Sheikh Mahmoud El Masry, who was banned from preaching in mosques for six years during the Mubarak era, Egyptian actor Ahmed Eid, singer Azza Balbaa, poet Sheikh Amin El Deeb and Father Refaat Nassar.