As Egyptian military supporters celebrate their triumph over the Muslim Brotherhood, youth activists say their own support base has dwindled, and opposing the government is increasingly dangerous. But they say going forward, they hope to re-define Egyptian politics, as neither for, nor against Islamism, but for or against democracy.
For many Egyptian voters, this week’s election was not a vote for anyone.
Opposition voters said they were not so much supporting Hamdeen Sabahi as not voting for Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Egypt’s former army chief who has been running the country for nearly a year.
Many Sissi supporters said they were not so much voting for Sissi, but against the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, who was ousted from the presidency last year and still claims the seat from a jail cell.
At a polling station in Cairo, Amel said she came out to vote so Morsi cannot come back.
She said the election has quieted fears about a return to chaos. Since Morsi was thrown out of office, politics in Egypt has grown increasingly violent, and thousands have been killed or arrested.
Spokesperson Fekry Nabil of Strong Egypt, a party that boycotted this week’s elections, says parties like his need to re-define Egyptian politics.
“We found that there is a great polarization in the society itself, divided between Islamists and non-Islamists. From our point of view it was not the real battle or the real fight we need to have. We need to have a fight with who is for democracy and who is against democracy,” said Nabil.
After the 2011 revolution, many new political parties were formed, like the Egypt Freedom Party, a centrist group that attracts young members.
Party Secretary General Shahir George says since Sissi’s rule began, many party members have fled, fearing retribution for opposing the military.
“The challenge we face is how to win the trust of the crowd once more, again because this is where we are lacking support these days. There is a popularity of stopping street acts. There is a popularity of ignoring human rights for the time being,” said George.
But young political parties that want neither military nor religious rule have been stymied by infighting. George says moving forward requires taking a clear stance, not only against repression, but for human rights.
“Now we need to focus more on how to build a solid opposition that will have a clear vision on economic and social rights, and pattern them to political and civil rights,” said George.
At the polls, voters said they would have liked more choices, but the young parties are too inexperienced and too fragmented.
The future for new political parties in Egypt is uncertain and members report arbitrary arrests and harassment, saying opposition to government these days is viewed either as ignorance or as a crime.