It is hard to say there is a real democracy in Egypt, in spite of the existing margin of freedoms in the press and the media in general. Egypt now is experiencing a new kind of democracy that could be labeled “virtual democracy, the features of which are seen on the internet, especially in the form of bloggers and Facebook. There is a community that is fully virtual in human relationships, e-friendships and political practices.
We must ask ourselves: Why do large numbers of Egyptian youths flock to the internet while they are reluctant to take part in political action through political parties and civil society?
I think the reason is that many young people escape from the difficult reality, politically, economically and socially, into a wide cyberspace. They escape to the “bliss of virtual democracy, where freedom of expression is uncensored, uncontrolled and unrestricted.
Now we have an integrated cyber society, but it is a virtual community, devoid of an authoritarian power, fragile parties, or security forces. We have tremendous energy on the internet through the exchange of visions, ideas and tactics. I believe these ideas will mature and develop over time to move into the ground of reality, because it is difficult for these new ideas to remain incarcerated on the internet.
There is a youth movement now in Egypt that cannot be ignored. There are several characteristics that identify this movement.
First, it is a pure movement that has not been contaminated with the diseases of partisan and political action in Egypt. It has one clear goal: changing Egypt for the better.
Second, it does not have a certain ideology, i.e. it is neither leftist, Islamist, Marxist, or even liberal, but rather a hybrid movement representing all political and intellectual spectrums in Egypt, and this is one of the sources of its strength.
Third, it is a smart movement that is building its own self and has a remarkable capacity to use all the technological tools to overcome any obstacles that may face it.
Fourth, it is a constantly renewable movement that does not depend on certain people. It gains new supporters every day. Finally, it has openness to the world as well as all views, ideas and techniques.
Some may underestimate this movement, but men like those involved changed the political system in France in 1968, when a student movement made an unexpected uprising. Paradoxically, it also began in May. This also was the case with the Egyptian student movement in 1972, when it practiced direct pressure on late President Anwar Sadat, as well as the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 in China.
What this movement needs now is to search for an institutional framework that regulates and organizes it. Therefore, those young people should form an intellectual forum to exchange visions and ideas and share objectives and moves.
NGOs should also absorb this mass of energy and utilize it in the service of the society and the people, so that this virtual world of democracy may land on the ground of reality.
Khalil Al-Anani is an expert on Political Islam and is a Patkin Visiting Fellow at the Saban Center at Brookings Institution. E-mail: [email protected].