With young activists and protesters at the forefront of the Egyptian revolution, the upcoming parliament was expected to feature a significant number of youth members. With the second stage entering run-offs this week, it has become apparent that for the many young candidates contesting seats in parliament, their chances of winning are slender.
Khaled El-Sayyed is one of those budding politicians. An experienced and seasoned activist in Egypt’s political scene for years, El-Sayyed is a member of the Renewal Socialist Current, one of the main founding groups of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, which was set up after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Often seen leading protests long before the 25 January uprising, he was also a member of the Revolution Youth Coalition (RYC) board, an umbrella body bringing together a wide range of youth with diverse political orientations.
In the first round of Egypt’s parliamentary elections, El-Sayyed ran in his home district of Helwan, a southern suburb of Cairo, at the top of the Revolution Continues Alliance (RCA) electoral list. With the RCA winning a seat in Helwan district, El-Sayyed could well be one of the few youth parliamentarians. It still remains unclear, however, whether he has secured the seat or if it will go to a labour candidate.
Despite the parliament’s many drawbacks, El-Sayyed believes it is the most significant elected body in the last sixty years of Egypt’s history. As a result, he says, “It is crucial that the voice and soul of the revolution are present within it.”
“It is crucial that there is a voice to the numerous squares across the country [that have been witness to protests]... and likewise, to the doctors, workers and students of the country,” he added.
Some of the main difficulties faced by the candidates of his party had to do with choosing to run in the parliamentary elections at a time when continuous protests were taking place in the streets, and being met with bloody repression by the security forces.
“We were very involved in what we saw as the more pressing battles such as removing Ahmed Shafiq [Egypt’s Prime Minster appointed from January to March 2011], in pushing for the trial of Mubarak, and most recently, the security clampdown on protesters in Tahrir on 18 November that culminated in an open-ended sit-in from 25 November [outside the Cabinet offices],” he stated.
The sit-in was cleared 16 December after the second round of the parliamentary elections ended, with two protesters dying that day. At the time of going to press, Army and security forces continue to clash with and attack protesters in and around Tahrir Square.
The RCA announced that it would suspend its election campaign on 20 November, in response to the attacks on protesters by the security forces that began two days earlier. This in effect meant that for a coalition that was newly formed, with limited funding opportunities and very limited advertising, their chances of winning were further hindered.
“Despite these hurdles, it was extremely flattering to discover that I won somewhere close to 40,000 votes in the face of a smear campaign that was carried out against my colleagues and me,” says El-Sayyed.
Many young candidates, regardless of their political orientation, endured smear campaigns against them. “Apart from the general critique of us lacking experience, us [the leftists] and liberals had to face rumours of being drug addicts and womanisers…such questions were actually very commonly addressed to me in the conferences I attended.”
El-Sayyed adds that “For the Islamist candidates, there were many questions asked and accusations made over their source of funding, pointing fingers towards the oil-rich gulf countries.”
Through all this, he emphasises, “We are trying to be truthful and to stick to our principles of leading a political battle and not an electoral battle,” of which several candidates have been accused.
With many voters choosing on the basis of the personality of the candidates, rather than their political programs, E-Sayyed sees no end soon to the poverty afflicting Egypt. “If voters had depended on the programs, the liberal bloc would not have gained the amount of votes they did,” he says.
“The fact that some of the leading figures of the parties in the Egyptian Bloc, such as business tycoon Naguib Sawiris, will not change the neo-liberal policies being implemented means that a continuation of the level of poverty and unjust economic policies will continue to ail the majority of Egyptians. If a close reading was made to the programs of the candidates and the parties, the majority of Egyptians would not vote for such a bloc.”
The same applies for the Islamist parties expected to make up the parliamentary majority. “The public has to try them out to realise that the slogan of ‘Islam is the solution’ is not enough to feed the public and will not gain the support of the lower and middle classes,” added El-Sayyed.
He believes that what makes, and will continue to make, the RCA stand out is its insistence on not rolling out sectarian lines. Despite this, he believes that at least 60 per cent of Egyptian voters – Muslims and Christians alike – fell into that trap. Coptic Christians primarily resorted to voting for the Egyptian Bloc in a bid to counter the success of the Islamist parties.
The RCA includes a wide range of diverse political currents, including leftists, liberals and Islamists, such as the Egyptian Current Party (ECP), whose members once belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood’s youth wing. This unlikely union, El-Sayyed believes, is in fact the alliance’s strength, one that will show in the expected Islamist-dominated government.
What is most important, El-Sayyed emphasises, is not the presence of young parliamentarians as much as a mass movement pushing the politicians to accede to the protesters’ demands.
“Whether or not we have youth in parliament, if there is no considerable popular mass forcing the body towards root changes, then it will not succeed.”