Youth: a compass for democratic change

Emad El-Sayed
14 Min Read
Emad El-Sayed

In the time of the Muslim Brotherhood, I met with one of their leaders, who was the secretary general of the Pharmacists Syndicate in one of the governorates adjacent to the capital. I asked him about the reasons for their aggression against the media and the disputes with the judiciary, the police, and the army from the side of the brotherhood and the institution of the presidency—and why the disputes have become irresolvable. His answer was surprising. He said that he was working with Mohamed Al-Beltagy’s group and that they had been working through individual initiatives to solve disputes; however, El-Shater’s group destroyed what they were doing for the sole sake of shrinking the role of Al-Beltagy’s group.

The scene was clear to me. I told him that Egypt has a president who does not govern it. There are two groups fighting over control and not acting united to manage Egypt properly. When I told him Egypt does not deserve this, he turned his back and walked away as if to avoid confrontation and being in the wrong.

I asked a question a year ago: “who runs Egypt and controls the decisions as well as its internal and external policies? And why is there no kitchen cabinet that helps the president and advices him in all matters? I got several responses—the clearest was that President Al-Sisi has requested two years to choose his advisers, but the two years have passed already, and we still do not know who they are. Who would be blamed or held accountable for not advising the president to take the country out of a state of lacking vision or transparency of running it.

We now believe that what is being communicated through official channels regarding moving towards democratisation are simply false slogans, just like during all the previous systems. Perhaps because I am one of the optimists, I find that the road is always open for achieving dreams and positive change—if those in power and influence have the desire and the will.

After 30 June and the disposal of the president who did not govern the country, as well as the rival groups in the administration, we thought that we would turn the management in the right direction and move it on a track towards democratic transition—which was initiated by the 25 January Revolution—and we demanded the application of the law and the constitution. We insisted that the country be managed with transparency, and we demanded for the rights of young people to participate in the management of the state.

We demanded the multiplicity of parties to stop the erosion of our security and the return of each institution to its normal role without claiming exceptional freedoms or privileges for itself. We also demanded the right to enjoy a strong country and have freedom for the first time in decades.

Now, after nearly four years, we find ourselves back to square one. Young people returned to a sense of hopelessness. They gather in coffee-shops and smoke, then they go to people with beards and short galabeyas who promise to lead them to the bliss and gardens of Paradise and who instruct them to stay away from the paths leading to the torments of Hell. Those youth decided to forfeit their dreams, even though they may have contributed a lot to affecting people’s lives and transforming the country as a whole.

After all these years, we see reality burying all the gains that we thought we had achieved after the 25 January revolution, and it has become a mirage—as if it is a scheme carefully placed to punish people for the revolution and to push them to admit that they are the cause of all the setbacks suffered by the country now.

A careful reading to the faces of the citizens and their interpretations of what happened to the country reveals several impressions of the street, the results of which will always be compatible with their inclinations and their culture. Some believe that there are those who work against the president himself and some are still loyal to their old covenants and their old president.

Others believe that the president’s military background makes him see things from one side only and he does not accept that all coins have two sides.

There are other people who believe that the president and his close circle learned their lesson and decided to get rid of intellectual pluralism and media freedom for the sake of making the country speak with one voice—so they tightened their grip on the media and all its institutions.

I reached a new conclusion, because, like many others, I managed to develop a grasp of obvious givens: we should only talk about the need for correcting the direction and return to achieving the dreams that were created by the 25 January Revolution. I see that the opportunity is still there—if there is a political will and the readiness and desire of the president and his entourage.

Correcting the direction requires many actions. The first is to hear out the angry young people and to discuss their ideas, as well as getting them involved in the political life, making them the core of real parties in order to achieve the desired liberal democratic shift for Egypt’s future.

This will introduce real Egyptian paragons to the Egyptian street without interference from security, preventing the growing role of political parties and them finding their way to the people. The current existing parties are already a clear example of the security‘s efforts to prevent such efforts.

The correction of the democratic track requires the state to free intellectuals and let them spread their ideas to interact with the people on the streets until we can also consider the farmer, the mechanic, and the street vendor as intellectuals—like how they were perceived before the glorious 1952 Revolution, when ideas were met with opposing ones and when the streets, rather than the media, dictated how people think.

Correcting the direction requires reorganising the Egyptian media landscape after many people resorted to anti-state media platforms to find there what they were looking for. Regarding the public opinion of Egyptians and the number of viewers of these channels is an alarming sign that we should deal with and not neglect. We must stop any endeavours of tightening control over the media in Egypt. People no longer trust the voice of governments and only listen to the opposite tone. The freedom of the press while retaining a platform speaking rationally in the name of the state may be a good start to reorganise the Egyptian media landscape.

The correction of the track requires stopping calls for a constitutional amendment. Most probably, the street will not accept increasing the presidential term—limiting it is one of the rights and of the dreams of Egyptians who will not compromise on this under any amount of pressure, so trying to change this will face domestic and possibly even international resistance.

Furthermore, this correction necessarily requires the elimination of political and economic corruption which Egypt suffers from.

The reasons behind the Egyptian revolution are the absence of social justice in the state of Mubarak, the predominance of politicians who are loyal to the regime, and the establishment of a political class that poses as the opposition but in fact works for the benefit of the government agencies.

One other reason for our revolution is the absence of community dialogue, which caused a gap between those who govern and those who seek change.

Correcting the path requires analytical reading of the ideas people shared on social networking sites, instead of hunting them down. The best way to bury an idea is provide an alternative, not pursuit holders of this idea. Hence, we need to analyse ideas and look into how reasonable they are and the extent to which they will benefit the society. Then, we can discuss. This creates a liberal society that can understand the existence of opposite ideas.

It also needs following up on the ideas spread on the streets and in cafes. Following up here means careful reading of the dreams of the people, dealing with them, and achieving them if possible.

Here we reach the need to find a flexible relationship with a bit of rivalry that is not harmful to the state or to civil society that lost its role in Egypt for the same reasons that turned Egyptian parties into cartoon entities. We must reach a healthy relationship between the two parties and seek balance. The government has to form real entities that can be held accountable. These entities should supervise the performance of the state in facing corruption and bringing an end to the deep state.

This will be a guarantee for building a generation that believes in democracy, respects law, and works hard. This will be a liberal generation that accepts others. The democratic shift in Egypt will never happen as long as citizens fight the law and disrespect traditions.

Here comes the role of soft power into play. There are nearly 6,000 youth centres and sports clubs in Egypt, along with more than 600 cultural venues and 50,000 NGOs, aside from government affiliated entities.

The ruling regime has to count its steps. Egypt cannot withstand another shock. The regime has to be clear and explain its policies to the people on the streets to create a community dialogue. The regime has to understand what happened 15 years ago, which changed the culture structure and formed a new generation that refuses to comply and disapprove what its mind cannot accept. The regime needs to realise that the Egyptian community is no longer isolated from the world and that the people have dreams that they aim to go after. The regime has to work hard for a real democratic change through mechanisms that were called for after the revolution in 2011, such as transparency, community dialogue in decision making, cleansing the government from corrupted people, leave room for freedoms, and curb security interventions.

It is only in the interest of President Al-Sisi’s regime to help establish political parties that have a clear programme to solve the problems of Egyptians and help their people realise their dreams. These parties should be equipped with tools to penetrate the community everywhere, even in the most rural areas.

The regime has to create an environment that allows such freedoms, while staying neutral to all other political parties. The regime has to rise up through its agencies to educate the people and raise their awareness by programmes implemented to restore the concept of political work. The regime has to offer the real facts to citizens to help each person decide on their own—without false information according to agendas that may not be in the national interest.

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Emad El-Sayed is the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily News Egypt