Egyptian Youth Sidelined From Their Own Revolution

By Mohamed El Dahshan

The January revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak did not bring about regime change, and protesters are back at Tahrir Square to complete that task. But amid frenzied politicking and maneuvers by the military, young revolutionaries whose fearless struggle instigated the change risk being left out. Beyond keeping the flame alive at the Cairo square, they need organization to be a partner in regime transformation.

The smell of grilled corn and sweet potatoes sold by itinerant vendors has replaced the smell of tear gas in Tahrir Square. Thousands camping in the square - most in makeshift tents, shielding them from the summer sun - are joined every day by fellow protesters or visitors who drag their children amidst the crowds and ad-hoc stages noisily spewing chanting, rants and the occasional musical interlude.

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Since a massive protest on July 8th, similar sit-ins have been replicated across the country, from Alexandria on the Mediterranean to Aswan in the south.

Protesters demand justice for victims of the January revolution, including at least 1000 fatalities; speedier trials for deposed President Mubarak and his cronies; and the end of military trials for civilians and release of all civilians imprisoned by military decision. All problems, protesters contend, can be traced back to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has assumed power since Mubarak's removal in February. The SCAF is widely viewed as resistant to change, with its leader, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, a close collaborator with Mubarak and Egypt's defense minister for two decades.

A transitional government, led by protester-vetted Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, scrambles to refashion a government acceptable to the population and implement the revolution's goals, despite SCAF resistance. The SCAF attempts to maintain a course it pushes onto the nation - parliamentary elections in the fall, followed by selection of a committee to draft a new constitution, and finally presidential elections, after which the SCAF has promised to withdraw from power. How far SCAF will withdraw remains unknown.

While Sharaf should be leading a caretaker government until elections bring about an elected one, his cabinet is under pressure by both the public and the army to make far-reaching decisions for which it lacks political and popular mandate. The national budget, for instance, already through a few drafts, is likely to be refashioned by a just-appointed minister of finance.

While the plan for government spending includes increased budgetary lines for government salaries, increasing the shamefully low government minimum wage and hence responding to one of the protesters' chief demands, a new higher tax bracket was also introduced. Health and education spending saw disproportionately small increases. The document hence betrays a bow to popular pressure, a problematic precedent.

The government also suspended borrowing from the International Monetary Fund, an about-face on a $3 billion loan agreed on June 5th. Welcoming the decision, the public viewed it as anti-imperialist rejection on the part of the government, without discussing the rationality, if only in terms of the signal this may send international markets.

Yet since the revolution the government has accepted grants and loans from Saudi Arabia and Qatar - nearly $10 billion of soft loans with various repayment periods. That Saudi Arabia opposed Mubarak's stepping down and Gulf countries are conservative by nature - having shown little support to the democratic movement in North Africa and the Middle East, culminating in coordinated military intervention in Bahrain to help quell the democratic movement there - should have occasioned more reflection than it did.

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Mohamed El Dahshan is an economist, an independent consultant on development policy and a writer.

Rights: Copyright © 2011 Yale Center for the Study of Globalization.

 

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