If the call for a second public strike within a month is proof of anything, it’s that we are witnessing a new and different Egypt; one which appears on the horizon but without any clear features. This vagueness is also characteristic of the general strike called for by some people next Sunday, May 4. It is similar to the previous one, which was marred with much improvisation and chaos on April 6th.
Two calls for a general strike were made by newly-politicized youths. Many professional politicians in government and the opposition underestimate them. But those newcomers express the deep political and social crisis in Egypt and the failure of traditional political parties and forces to rise to their level. It seems, therefore, that their increasing role is a serious indication of the intense political vacuum we are experiencing today. The main conflict in the political arena (between the regime and the Muslim Brotherhood) lacks any political essence. One party in the conflict relies on the security apparatus, while the second relies on religious slogans and social work as legitimate opposition parties are emasculated by legal restrictions and internal conflicts, hence the political vacuum.
Some opposition movements such as Kefaya tried in vain to fill that vacuum over the past three years. In the meantime the social crisis intensified leading to escalating protests by workers, professionals and state employees, which, however, have no political core.
Within this climate, given the growing social crisis due to the sudden rise in food prices, a new role has come to surface. This role is played by a group of youths, mostly independents, with a few belonging to Al-Ghad Party, whose leader Ayman Nour has been imprisoned, or belonging to the Kefaya movement. They are now trying to fill the political vacuum using new electronic tools.
Some observers call them the “Facebook youth who have managed to create a growing dynamic, despite their random movement and weak political culture. However, the main factor behind the rising interest in their role is the very weak performance of state agencies and the spread of anger among many sectors, in addition to the political vacuum.
Regardless of the outcome of the call for the May 4 strike, the influence of those newcomers will be contingent upon the state agencies ability to review their weak performance and learn the lesson, thus realizing that a new era is beginning and that a new Egypt is trying to emerge.
One of the features of the this new age is the inability of any ruling regime to crush the will of the people s, the demise of the fear barrier from authorities, and the availability of new protest tools which are difficult control, such as the internet which cannot be censored.
We are therefore in dire need of a serious national dialogue, unlike previous dialogues restricted to the National Democratic Party (NDP) and opposition parties and forces. The required dialogue should open to the public. It should also accommodate the newcomers (or the Facebook youth) who lack confidence in the political regime with all its components, including the opposition parties.
This dialogue is the only way for a new Egypt to emerge through transnational peaceful democratic evolution without violence and its dangers.
It is also the only way to resolve these successive crises.
There is no doubt that the ruling regime and the NDP alone cannot address these crises, which were caused by random social changes that festered beneath the surface of a political stalemate.
This stalemate failed to absorb the crises or to contain their negative effects which piled up and started to explode in the form of small social shrapnel, which the Facebook youths tried to channel into a pool of growing social anger to feed calls for a general strike in spite of their weak political experience and the lack of vision as to what the Egypt they aspired for would be like.
Dr Waheed Abdel Meguid is an expert at Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.