EGYPT: Young activists hindered by political immaturity

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Many young Egyptian anti-government protesters seem impassioned, but they appear to lack the strategy, tactics and resolve to pressure President Hosni Mubarak’s police state to give in to demands that include amending the constitution and ending 29 years of emergency law.

On May 2, for example, more than 300 protesters gathered outside the office of cabinet ministers in Cairo, demanding pay raises. But apart from labor unionists supporting the workers, many young demonstrators were socializing more than protesting. Some discussed dinner plans.

One day later, demonstrators were disappointed when no more than 15 out of 92 independent and opposition members of parliament fulfilled their promise of joining a march scheduled to take place between Tahrir Square and the Egyptian parliament. The demonstrators had hoped that dozens of MPs would have provided enough political cover to keep security forces at bay. But police dispersed the march and attacked activists who attempted to break through barricades.

The lack of organization and experience among young opposition movements has led to questions about their ability to pressure the government for reforms and wider freedoms. It takes more than Twitter messages, leftist slogans and the indignant musings of bloggers to challenge a regime with a history of crushing dissent.


“It will be immensely difficult to bring democratic changes or oust the current regime through demonstrations like these,” political analyst Emad Gad told The Times.

The April 6th Youth Movement has been a leading player in bringing together young activists over the last two years. Nonetheless, its founder and current leader, Ahmed Maher, indicated the movement had a long way to go before it could summon enough supporters to seriously weaken a government protected by a police state.

“We are trying to increase political awareness among many sectors of the Egyptian society, but after 60 years of political stagnation, this process doesn’t come easily,” Maher told The Times. “We are not just targeting democratic progress before the 2011 presidential elections, we are also working now with an eye to the 2016 elections.”

Interest in politics and hope for political change among millions of Egyptians intensified when Mohamed ElBaradei returned to Egypt in February, after he suggested he might challenge Mubarak in the 2011 elections. At the moment, that doesn’t seem likely, especially because the Egyptian constitution makes it nearly impossible for an independent candidate to run.

The Noble Peace Prize laureate said that forcing constitutional amendments from the ruling National Democratic Party could come through constant pressure from all Egyptians, but according to Gad, demonstrations like last week’s won’t make Mubarak reconsider his policies.

“The Egyptian opposition is still not mature enough, and Mubarak’s rule is too strong to be pressured by few hundreds of protesters appearing every other week,” Gad says.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo