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Election Surge by Egypt's Old Guard Frustrates Revolutionary Youth

  • Elizabeth Arrott

A young girl flies an Egyptian national flag as she listens to Mohammed Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood's presidential candidate, at a rally in Cairo, May 20, 2012.

A young girl flies an Egyptian national flag as she listens to Mohammed Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood's presidential candidate, at a rally in Cairo, May 20, 2012.

CAIRO - Egyptian youth are expected to turn out in high numbers for their country's first presidential election since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Many of the young activists who took part in last year's uprising say they feel they are not fully represented in the vote.

Egypt's revolution primarily was an uprising of the young -- a rejection of the old, stifling, decades-long government. So it is particularly galling to many activists that two of the front-runners in this week's presidential election -- Amr Moussa and Ahmed Shafik -- made their names as members of the old guard.

In a cafe not far from Tahrir Square, youths who took part in the historic protests there now despair of the possible election of felool, or “remnants," as those of the previous government are derisively called.

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Mostafa Abdel Ragman Kajo is a writer and member of the opposition April 6 Youth Movement.

He says it would mean the death of the revolution. It's not fair, he argues, that thousands of youths spilled their blood for freedom, and then one who fought against them became president.

The other top choices in the race might seem equally problematic for activist voters. Both Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and Mohamed Morsi are Islamists.

But for Ragman Kajo, that is a qualified step in the right direction.

The activist says he could accept an Islamist as president, but on the condition he respects social equity and most importantly, the enfranchisement of all.

Although Sharia-advocating Islamists and freedom-seeking youth protesters seem divided on what the future of Egypt should be, their shared history of oppression leads to some common ground -- and opponents.

Human Rights Watch researcher Heba Morayef says that was evident in a recent debate. "Aboul Fotouh had spoken of the right to demonstrate, saying the demonstrators don't have the right to use violence, but the state has the obligation to defend protesters. And Moussa's response was much more focused on the stability of the state. He doesn't see revolutionary activists as a constituency he needs to speak to,” he said.

But some youths are alienated by the entire field of candidates, saying there is not a single candidate who represents them. Accountant Mostafa Akl, who camped out on Tahrir during the uprising, expresses his frustration.

Akl believes the problem is that “the revolution took place without having one person at the head.”

There are some candidates that have gained at least a moderate following among younger voters, including Nasserist Hamdeen Sabahi and activist Khaled Ali, the youngest candidate in the race.

But the general lack of representation has some already looking to the next election, and the five years in between to strengthen their position.

In the meantime, some, like Egyptologist and activist Dalia Hussein, are accepting and proud of who is running in this election.

She says the revolution was for the sake of freedom, so they won't deny anyone the freedom to run for office. But, Hussein adds, it's her right, and the right of her fellow young voters, not to elect those they fought to get rid of in the first place.