CAIRO — Egypt’s 2011 uprising was often referred to as a youth revolution, but two years after longtime President Hosni Mubarak was forced out of office, many in the younger generation say they feel more politically isolated than ever.
The country is beset by severe political and social divisions as the struggle between the ruling Muslim Brotherhood and its opponents persists.
Young activists across the political spectrum say they have been sidelined, prevented from participating in the leadership and management of post-Mubarak Egypt by a patriarchal culture that favors the older and supposedly more experienced.
“We received nothing of what we fought for and what some of us died for,” said Mostafa Sherif, 29, an unemployed mechanical engineer. “We did not get our freedoms, the rights for which people died, the economy is doing much worse than ever, and it seems like we’re in need of a new revolution.”
Joblessness among the young has been one of Egypt’s main and persistent issues for years. But with the economy’s steady decline since the 2011 uprising, job opportunities have dwindled further.
Officially, the unemployment rate rose to nearly 13% in the last quarter of 2012, the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics said in its latest report. That’s up from 9% in a 2010 census. Many believe, however, that the true unemployment rate is much higher.
Pushed out of both the job market and the political sphere, many young people in Egypt are exploring alternatives.
“A lot of my friends are either looking for ways out of the country or have already left,” Sherif said. “We fought hard for too long and nothing came of it, so now we feel unwelcome, like there’s no space for us anymore.”
During the 2012 presidential election, labor rights activist and lawyer Khaled Ali, the youngest candidate, won less than 1% of the vote. The top candidates were victor Mohamed Morsi, long affiliated with the Brotherhood, and Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafik.
Mohammad Adel, a leader of the popular April 6 youth movement, said that young protesters are increasingly disillusioned.
“We feel now that there is a huge difference between us and the older generation, and I feel they’re taking decisions that will drive people toward a very bad place. They have no idea about the reality of the political or social situation.
“We’re tired of everyone because none of them [the older politicians] try even to fulfill the youth’s demands, not the elderly who are in power and not the elderly in the opposition.”
Similar frustration is expressed by some young people who have been associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Islam Lutfi, a former Brotherhood youth member, helped found a moderate Islamist party, the Egyptian Current, when he felt that the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party did not represent him.
“It was the youth who rallied the masses, old and young, for protests on Jan. 25 to fight for a freer and more just society,” said Ahmad Salama, 26, an engineering graduate and a regular at anti-Islamist protests, referring to the 2011 uprising. “Now the Brotherhood has taken over the country and the political opposition is weak and speaks only for itself and its members.”
Anti-Morsi protests in recent months have often resulted in bloody confrontations between opponents and supporters of the government, leaving hundreds injured. Each side has blamed the other for the violence.
“I go to most, if not all, anti-Islamist protests and the Muslim Brotherhood knows how to mobilize or call supporters back with one order,” said Omar Fadel, 23, an economics student at Cairo University. Fadel says, however, that the National Salvation Front, a coalition of leftist and liberal opposition parties, does not adequately represent him.
Shadi Ghazali Harb, a young political leader who founded the Awareness Party and later joined the liberal Constitution Party, said during a February interview with the satellite news channel Al Jazeera International that “all the political elite, including the Salvation Front, do not represent the youth.”
Leftist opposition leader Hamdeen Sabahi has faced resistance from young people in his political movement, the Popular Egyptian Current. Many had loudly objected to Sabahi’s collaboration with figures such as former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa and the Wafd Party’s Sayed Badawi, both now members of the NSF.
In April, the Constitution Party’s Cairo headquarters was taken over by a group of young members who staged a nearly weeklong sit-in to demand a change in the party’s leadership. The situation was resolved with the promise of early internal party elections and the appointment of political activist Gamila Ismail as organizational secretary.
Constitution Party founder and opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei said in a recent interview with Al Jazeera that Egypt’s young people feel robbed of their revolution because of their political divisions.
“Every one of them [considered himself] a new Che Guevara. Everyone wanted to speak on TV,” he said.
Feeling left out of the decision-making processes, many young politicians have tried to launch their own parties and movements but have been unable to garner political gains, mainly because of a lack of resources.
Of the slightly more than 500 members in the People’s Assembly, the now-dissolved lower house of parliament, only three were youth leaders. Some, such as activists Israa Abdelfattah and Mahmoud Salem, bowed out of the race before it even began.
Hassieb is a special correspondent.