Review: A Map of the New Youth Movements in Egypt

Mahmoud El-Wardani, Wednesday 6 Jul 2011

Author Dina Shehata researched and analysed the most important youth movements in Egypt and their most important characteristics

Dina Shehata dedicated the majority of her paper, Al-Harakat Al-Shababeya wa Thawret 25 Yanayer (Youth Movements and the January 25 Revolution) to mapping the youth protest movements since the establishment of the Youth for Change Movement in February 2005. This movement was later enveloped with the larger Kefaya (Enough) Movement, after the large Kefaya protests in December 2004 and started during the public campaign for supporting the Palestinian intifada and included youth from diverse political backgrounds.

The paper is a part of a Strategy Papers series from Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. It is interesting to note that the extent of information and documented facts recorded is extensive, not only depending on the usual sources, but also adding a not-so-little number of interviews with the youth activists from these movements in Egypt. This adds to the strong legacy of the entire series, which started since 1991 and had since tackled hot issues in politics and economics.

The study starts by highlighting the strong role of the youth groups in calling, preparing and collecting people for the demonstrations on 25 January, which later gained momentum into a revolution. She recorded the extensive efforts put forward by these movements during the prior five years, where they initiated and recruited many activists for political and public efforts.

The paper tackles the issue in six sections, three of which are: the phenomenon of political and social exclusion they were subject to, in particular the urban educated youth, which pushed many into the protests over the past years. The second section briefly covers the role of youth in the public political life in Egypt – albeit too brief. The third section covers, in more detail, the latest wave of these movements that started with the intifada in 2000 and reached its peak in January.

Movements of the last ten years were described in detail, including those that appeared after the revolution, such as the Revolution’s Youth Coalition, which played an important role in facing political challenges during the last days of the uprising and after the revolution. This coalition officially started on 6 February, although these groups had started meeting before the 25 January. They include youth from the 6 of April Movement; a section of the Muslim Brotherhood youth, who joined on Monday the 24 January Movement; the youth from the National Association for Change; Freedom and Justice movement and the youth from the National Front Party. Ten members were chosen as spokespeople for the Coalition and formed the organisational body to dialogue with other political forces.

Shehata adds that among the reasons to form the coalition are the attempts by politicians to hold talks between the previous regime and the revolutionaries. They had to organise.

The first statement issued by the Coalition clearly indicated their refusal to hold such conversations until the then-president stepped down. The initiatives proposed to keep Mubarak were all refused by the Coalition.

Their role continued after Mubarak stepped down by holding a conversation with the Supreme Military Council, asking them to respond to the remainder of the revolution's demands. The author notes that most of the Coalition members are already taking part in the creation of new political parties.

Another important player in the revolution was the Union of the Revolution’s Youth, which the author seems to say played a role nearly as powerful as the Coalition's. It started on 30 January and included many independent youth, in addition to young activists from political parties such as Al-Wafd, Al-Tagamuu, Al-Nasery and Al-Gabha in addition to youth movements such as Egypt's Young Revolutionaries Movement, Egyptian Youth Renaissance Movement, 9 March University Professors Movement and youth from the new leftwing parties.

The last section deals with the characteristics of the movements of the new millennium. First she explained that most of these movements started outside any real political sphere, including trade unions and student unions. In fact, their only link was with other movements such as Kefaya or the Public Committee for the Intifada.

The second characteristic is that the structures are mostly flexible and fluid, highly decentralised and based mainly on electing a general steering committee and a number of specialised subcommittees and governorate committees, which are highly independent.

The third characteristic is that they are trans-ideological, as the author put it. They include youth from various backgrounds that were able to reach compromises that enable them to work together.

Also, as the world noticed, the fourth characteristic is that these movements depended mainly on new technologies for communication, such as mobile text messages, email groups and social media networks to express their opinions, organise and mobilise people.

Finally, and possibly most importantly, these movements succeeded in attracting independent and inactive youth; not only those who had lost hope in the existing system, but also those that had nothing to do with politics previously. It is well known that the majority of youth who joined the revolution and played important roles or even lost their lives, joined a public and political act for the very first time in their lives.


Al-Harakat Al-Shababeya wa Thawret 25 Yanayer (Youth Movements and the January25 Revolution)
Author: Dina Shehata
Cairo: Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies
Strategy Papers series no.218 , 2011. pp.40 

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