Egypt's 6 April splinters: two youth movements under one name

Zeinab El-Gundy, Thursday 11 Aug 2011

The 6 April Movement, which played a significant role in the 25 January Revolution, is riven with internal division, with two groups claiming to represent the movement on the street

(Photo by Mai Shaheen) April 6th Movement rally to the ministry of Interior on May 27th

Even as the 6 April Movement — one of the core political currents of the January 25 Revolution — faces pointed accusations of accepting foreign funding and turning the people against the army, the movement faces another challenge: this time not from political opponents outside, but from dissention within its ranks.

The pro-democracy youth movement was founded by activists in 2008 after the success of the 6 April labour strike in the industrial Delta city of Al Mahalla Al Kobra. From that moment on, the youth group battled against the Mubarak regime, on-line and on the street, participating effectively in the January 25 Revolution, but in the past weeks it suddenly found itself riven with inner conflict and splits while unknown groups use its name to spread alarming statements.

A statement published two weeks ago on Facebook held the signature of "The Militant Branch of the 6 April Youth Movement (Democratic Front)." Officially there is no such branch; since day one the movement adopted a programme of peaceful democratic change. But militant or not, there appears two trends now in the movement: the Ahmed Maher group and the Tarek El-Kholi group, or "Democratic Front".

The Ahmed Maher group represents the mainstream of the movement founded in 2008. It denies that the movement is splintering, according to its official statements, describing news of spilts as media fabrications. Nevertheless, the splinter Democratic Front is increasingly vocal, while its members consider themselves members of the original 6 April Movement.

Differences in the movement started to appear in April when leaders of the movement announced they would transform it into a NGO or foundation on its anniversary. Abdel Rahman Ezz, a TV host and member of 6 April ”Democratic Front”, told Ahram Online that the decision was taken without consultation. “It was taken with no respect for democracy, for the majority,” Ezz says. The lack of internal democracy is the main reason why some left the mainstream movement, led by Ahmed Maher, forming the Democratic Front, members say.

On 5 August, a group of 6 April Youth Movement members in Alexandria announced that they had joined the Democratic Front, leaving the Ahmed Maher front due to what they considered discrimination in decision making processes. The 6 April Movement Ahmed Maher front issued an official statement regarding news of the split. "A group of new members along with independent activists and other movements have decided to found a new movement in Alexandria using the name of 6 April Youth Movement Alexandria." The statement underlined that, "The movement's founders and old members have not left the 6 April Movement to join the new entity."

However, Abdel Rahman Ezz denies this “There are old members in the Democratic Front. I joined the movement in 2008; others joined in 2009, like Tarek El-Kholi, the spokesperson of the Democratic Front."

The split is not limited to Cairo and Alexandria but also seems to have been reproduced itself across the country. On 6 August, a group of 6 April Movement members in Kafr El-Sheikh govenorate announced that they joined the Democratic Front, leaving the Ahmed Maher front. The same happened in Behaira while days later members of the 6 April Youth Ahmed Maher’s front issued a statement denying any relation with the “suspicious” group, and that its statement was issued by a state security informant that joined the movement after the revolution and was exposed and expelled.

The media war between the two fronts soon moved to the airwaves. On Monday, 8 August, the spokespersons of both fronts confronted each other on air on Al-Hayat TV channel. Mohamed Adel, spokesperson of Ahmed Maher’s front, accused the Democratic Front of including former NDP members and state security informants, while Tarek El-Kholy, spokesperson of the Democratic Front, claimed that the front was popular in the street and it represented the 6 April Youth Movement in the Revolution Youth Coalition and the National Association for Change.

Ahmed Maher's front coordinator in Alexandria, Islam El-Hadry, told Ahram Online that the Alexandria breakway group was undermining the movement. "It is causing confusion for the public and for those who do not know the the difference between the two groups," said El Hadry. When the 6 April Movement announced they would suspend their sit-ins, in Tahrir and in other squares around Egypt, the Democratic Front continued to sit-in, claiming to be 6 April Movement members.

Similar confusion surrounded the 23 July march to the Ministry of Defence. Meanwhile, the upcoming million man protest on 12 August is supported by the Ahmed Maher front while the Democratic Front is resolutely against it.

Despite the split, however, the two fronts face the same charge of accepting foreign funding, the inference being that they are pursuing foreign agendas. Both deny the charges and presented to the general prosecutor office documents and records regarding their financial matters.  

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