The Egyptian regime and youth: as Taking the wrong turns

Sunday 11/09/2016

Since the 2011 uprising that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak, the relation­ship between Egypt’s youth and their rulers has not been easy.

These include the eras of the rule of the Military Council, the Muslim Brotherhood and incumbent Presi­dent Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Even though the country’s young people played a prominent role in two uprisings — the second uprising was against the rule of Muhammad Morsi, who hails from the Brotherhood — they were not awarded a real place in decision-making.

The youth had first demanded having revolutionary courts for the symbols of the Mubarak regime and the dismissal of those who were associated with the old state.

When the Military Council, which took charge of the country following the fall of Mubarak, did not go as far as the young people wanted, they chanted: “Down, down military rule”.

Following the presidential elec­tions that put Morsi in power, the youth’s general relationship with the state initially improved but before the end of Morsi’s first year in power, the relationship deteriorated rapidly.

Many young people who were left-leaning or secular said the Muslim Brotherhood was excluding all other political directions from power. They accused Morsi’s gov­ernment of trying to “brotherise” or “Islamise” the state — i.e. make it follow the directives of the Muslim Brotherhood or give it an Islamist orientation.

Morsi was toppled in 2013 and a temporary government was put in place until Sisi was elected presi­dent. Despite the change of govern­ments, the relationship between the youth and the state remained tense. In fact, it became worse amid a security crackdown on dissent.

Less room for opposition was tolerated and dozens of youth protesters were arrested. The space for freedom of the press and expression had been significantly reduced, reminding people of the Mubarak era.

The harsh economic conditions that the country is experiencing had led to a greater public discon­tent with the government. Now the government has become more leni­ent towards youth dissent so as not allow the situation to be exploited by the Muslim Brotherhood, which is opposed to the state.

More young people, who had been arrested for illegal protests, are being released by the govern­ment. This came about as many had refused to accept government invitations for dialogue as long as their colleagues remained impris­oned.

Charges against dissidents are being dropped, especially against activists who are popular among the youth or who have links to rights organisations.

The government is also more careful not to incite public anger with high-profile arrests or draw the attention of the Western media.

The latest batch of releases by the courts included critics of the Egyp­tian government’s findings that the two Red Sea islands of Sanafir and Tiran belonged to Saudi Arabia.

Their release was understood by observers as being signalled by Sisi, who is planning to free 300 youth for health and humanitarian reasons.

These are moves in the right di­rection as the security grip strategy has failed.

As Ahmed Mahran, head of the Cairo Centre for Political Studies, noted: The Egyptian government is reversing its policies of heavy-handedness when dealing with dissenting youth.

Sisi, Mahran continued, is perus­ing a policy of listening more to the country’s youth, as they call for social and economic changes.

From that perspective, it appears that Egypt has begun a new phase in dealing with its youth. It is set on the path of democracy and is break­ing away from the decades of the iron security fist that was widely rejected by human rights organisa­tions.