Youth Movements in Egypt

Contributed by Ben Marcus, Harvard Divinity School

Youth movements in Egypt played a key role in orchestrating the uprisings that overthrew Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011. It is crucial to note that a number of these youth movements—including Kefaya, the April 6 Movement, and others—began organizing long before 2011 and that some of these movements have attempted to use their popularity to impact the formation of the new government and its policies. The demography of these movements varies, sometimes dramatically, and in the years since the overthrow of Mubarak these differences have translated into diverging opinions about the ultimate goals of the revolution.

Kefaya—also known as the Egyptian Movement for Change—developed out of mass discontent with Mubarak’s bid for a fifth six-year term in 2005. Kefaya’s simple message, pursuit of democratic reforms and use of information technology including the Internet and text messages allowed it to reach Egyptians of all social backgrounds and political persuasions. While the movement eventually faltered in the face of governmental intimidation and government-controlled media opposition, the movement succeeded in making Egyptians more open to confronting the regime publicly.

Leaders of the April 6 Movement, including Esraa Abdel Fattah Ahmed Rashid, Ahmed Maher, and Mohamed Adel, built in large part on the work of Kefaya as well as training provided by the Center for Applied NonViolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS), a group founded by youth successful in organizing the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia. The movement began in 2008 as a response to protests against high food prices and low wages organized by workers in a government-owned textile factory in Mahalla, Egypt. Tech-savvy youth started a Facebook group calling for protests and strikes in solidarity, and the Facebook group soon took off. While the original round of protests fizzled, the leaders of the movement trained in organizing tactics and distributed materials about non-violent protest, placing themselves in the position to effectively call for and lead the 18-day peaceful uprising of January and February 2011.

A number of other youth movements participated in the uprisings, and nine of these loosely organized their activities through the Revolution Youth Coalition through July 2012. These groups included the Muslim Brotherhood youth wing, the Democratic Front Party youth wing, the Karama Party youth wing, the ElBaradei support campaign, the Youth for Justice and Freedom Movement, and the Tagammu Party. Another popular youth movement, developed out of the “We Are All Khaled Said” Facebook page dedicated to the brutal murder of Khaled Said by police forces, also participated in the uprising.

Known for their readiness to physically fight police and other authority figures, fans of various soccer clubs known as “Ultras” also participated in the uprising but lost popularity as their clashes—seen as unnecessarily destabilizing by many—continued long after Mubarak’s overthrow. The multireligious nature of many of these youth movements, especially the April 6 Movement, and especially during January and February of 2011, surprised many outside observers. Pictures of Muslim and Christian youth guarding each other during prayers made international news. However, after the overthrow of Mubarak the coalition of youth movements splintered.

Since Mubarak’s ouster, different members of Egypt’s youth movements attempted to consolidate their social and political clout in political parties—including Al Wai, Al Adel, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, and Al Tayar Al Masry—but these parties have gained very little traction. Though very popular during the January and February 2011 uprising, the youth movements have lost both power and respect in the eyes of much of the public, in part because of government has accused youth leaders of being pawns of the United States and foreign institutions. Furthermore, the post-Morsi government has arrested a number of the leaders of the youth movements that originally led the revolution including Ahmed Maher, Mohamed Adel, and Ahmed Douma. As a result of these arrests, and because daily life has remained the same or worsened in the face of high levels of youth unemployment, many youth have become disillusioned with the revolution, and a number have even expressed regret at participating in the first place.

Sources:

“April 6 Youth Movement,” Frontline: Revolution in Cairo, January 22, 2011.

Zenobia Azeem, “Egyptian Youth Movement Continues Revolution,” Al-Monitor, April 29, 2013.

Alaa Bayoumi, “Lack of Unity Stalls Egypt’s Youth Revolution,” Al-Jazeera, February 21, 2013.

“Egypt’s Maher, Adel and Douma Sentenced to 3 Years in Jail,” Ahram Online, December 22, 2013.

“Egypt’s Ultras: Revolutionaries to Villains?,” Al-Monitor, November 2013.

Leila Fadel, “Egypt’s Youth Movement Loses Luster,” The Washington Post, January 13, 2012.

Zeinab El Gundy, “UPDATED: Revolution Youth Coalition Disband with End of Egypt’s ‘Transitional Phase,’” Ahram Online, July 7, 2012.

Ingy Hassieb, “Egypt’s Youths Feel Disenfranchised after Revolution,” Los Angeles Times, May 28, 2013.

“Movements,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Guide To: Egypt’s Transition, accessed January 22, 2014.

Nadia Oweidat et al., The Kefaya Movement: A Case Study of a Grassroots Reform Initiative (Arlington: The RAND Corporation, 2008).

Tina Rosenberg, “Revolution U,” Foreign Policy, February 16, 2011.

Dave Zirin, “The Fans Who Fan the Flames: Egypt’s Ultras at the Crossroads,” The Nation, July 4, 2013.

See also: Egypt