Egyptian Youth on the Rise

Since 2000, Egypt has witnessed increased political activism from the youngsters on external and national issues. This follows a decade of political demobilization from this branch of the society. The popular support for the second Palestinian Intifada in 2000 stimulated this awakening from the youth. This latter constitutes around one third of the Egyptian population[i] , a population which has been marginalized for a number of years from the political, social and economical sphere due to political failures. This resurgence in 2000 is due mainly to social and political reasons. Firstly on the social level the youngsters have suffered from the economic reforms made by the Egyptian government to attract foreign investments and develop exportations. These reforms were able to boost Egyptian macroeconomic results, but the consequences on the social situation in the country were harsh and costly for the majority of Egyptians. The suppression or the diminution of subventions, particularly for goods of first necessity, combined to inflation, of around 12% in 2007[ii], resulted in harder life conditions for the Egyptian population. The issue of unemployment is also important: since 2000 the right for an automatic job for the graduate was once again reconsidered (in the seventies the government had already weakened this disposition). This stemmed from the Egyptian’s government will to encourage the private sector to play a greater role in the creation of jobs. Unfortunately, in spite of an increase in education enrollment, poor educational standards and educational system poorly attuned to the needs of the labor market is the rule. These elements, the government absence to furnish jobs and weak education system, have produced high unemployment and underemployment levels among youth. 83 % of the unemployed are in the age group 15-29, and 47% between the ages of 20-24[iii]. Youth with secondary education or above constituted 95 percent of unemployed youth. In addition to high unemployment levels, youth also suffer from underemployment. In 2005, 72% of labor market entrants were employed in the informal and low wage sectors[iv]. In addition to low educational standards and high levels of unemployment, Egyptian youth also suffer from delayed marriage rates. High marriage costs have led to delaying marriage among young men and women. 57% of men in urban areas were not married by the age of twenty nine and 22% were unmarried by thirty four[v]. Besides, in addition to the social degradation, the sanitary level is deteriorating, actually, health systems have witnessed an increase in disease nearly eradicated, particularly linked to malnutrition and to the bad quality of water[vi].
On the political level, the youth focalized on external issues such as the Palestinian intifada of 2000 and the 2003 Iraqi invasion where they denounced American and Israeli policies. These denunciations hid also latent but explicit critics of Mubarak’s regime. In the outbreak of the second Palestinian Intifada, students rallied numerous times and hundreds of them joined the Egyptian Popular Committee for the Support of the Palestinian Intifada ( EPCSPI), a group created by leftists from the seventies generation. Youth participated actively in the EPCSPI launching a boycott campaign on American and Israeli products, as well as collecting donations and sending aid caravans to the Palestinian population in the West Bank and in Gaza. Youth activism increased considerably as a direct consequence of the American invasion and its occupation of Iraq. On March 20-21, the largest demonstrations since the bread riots of 1977 took place in Cairo, constituted primarily of youngsters[vii]. In 2004 and 2005, Egypt, under the pressure of the USA to legitimate its propaganda for more democracy in the Middle East to hide its own failures in the region, organized a presidential and parliamentary election. Youth activism shifted therefore towards national issues. The movement Kefaya, which was constituted of individuals from all political strata ( communist, arab nationalist, liberals, islamists)[viii], was created in this period, and a high number of young activists joined the movement, as well as numerous of them joined Al Ghad party and Youth for Change. These latter’s focused on national issues breaking many taboos characterizing public life in Egypt for several decades, notably in criticizing directly the president and the security establishment. In addition to that, the protestors staged popular rally in public areas without official permission, and they used new forms of protest such as candle light vigils which helped attract attention.
The role of youth in national issues pursues itself until nowadays; they played a visible role accompanying the judges in their 2006 protest to condemn the election fraud of 2005 parliamentary elections. Youth from movements such as Kifaya and the Muslim Brotherhood were highly visible during the judges sit in[ix]. The strike of al Mahala al Kobra in April 2008 observed a joint mobilization of the textile workers and of young urban activists from Kefaya and Al Ghad. These latter’s called for a national strike in support for the textile workers, but the regime reacted violently by intervening in Mahalla to prevent any strike. Violence broke out and several persons were killed in confrontation with the police. Security forces also arrested numerous young activists who had created group on Facebook to support the demonstrations for Mahalla workers.
This Young generation of Egyptians politically involved is characterized by few elements. Firstly these youngsters and their mobilization have occurred largely from existing parties including the Muslim Brotherhoods. This is mainly due to the restrictions imposed by the regime on student activism during the nineties, associated to repression and restrictions of political parties and movements in the same time. This had as a consequence to weaken the link between university students and political parties. The second main feature of these youth movements is the plurality of there member. They tended to bring diverse ideological trends together from leftist to islamist. Finally the last very important characteristic of this youth mobilization is its extensive use of communication technology as an organizational a mobilization tool, and as well as a way to express themselves. In 2008, according to the Egyptian Cabinet Information and Decision Support Center, on approximately 160 000 blogs in Egypt, 20% were political in nature. These blogs attracted popular attention, by criticizing public officials and officials’ practices, as well as denouncing torture and human rights violations by state security forces.

We have observed through this text, the mobilization of the younger Egyptian generation for more justice and freedom in their country, we have seen their mobilization to condemn or change any situation. We can and should admire their courage and their determination in their struggle. My Egyptian brothers, you actions are an example and a path to follow for all of us.

[i] Shehata D., Youth activism in Egypt ; 23th October 2008, Arab reform Initiative
[ii] 21 mars 2008. Copyright mars 2008-Penet/
[iii] Shehata D., Youth activism in Egypt ; 23th October 2008, Arab reform Initiative
[iv] Shehata D., Youth activism in Egypt ; 23th October 2008, Arab reform Initiative
[v] Shehata D., Youth activism in Egypt ; 23th October 2008, Arab reform Initiative
[vi] 21 mars 2008. Copyright mars 2008-Penet/
[vii] Shehata D., Youth activism in Egypt ; 23th October 2008, Arab reform Initiative
[viii] 21 mars 2008. Copyright mars 2008-Penet/
[ix] Shehata D., Youth activism in Egypt ; 23th October 2008, Arab reform Initiative

2 Responses to “Egyptian Youth on the Rise”
  1. Fabien says:

    Great example of a fight for freedom and justice. It reminds me of the time I visited a university in Buenos Aires. I was amazed by the mobilization intensity, students were actually fighting for better conditions within the uni. I then realized how naive and inactive we Europeans are (except France maybe 😉 when it comes to complain about something. Youth activism in Irak probably increased after the fall of Saddam. This shows how a political system can influence the activism within a country. It would be interesting to find a sociological study on the differences of activism between countries which have a different political ideology. Has anyone encountered this kind of study?

  2. Joe says:

    Thank you very much Fabien for your comment( the first one to do it, BRAVO!!!!) Hope it will encourage others. Youth activism has definitely increased Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the numbers of political parties have gone far over hundred, multiplication of newspapers, tones of bloggers. A real dynamic is going on. Unfortunately some important political parties in Iraq, with the contribution of the USA, are trying to impose a hegemonic view on political idears, check my article on the situation of the students in Universities, it gives you a little preview. On your question about the differences of activism betweem countries, I think we can say that each country has its own social-political environnement, but some similarities can be found such as the utilisation of Internet, which is becomming a very important tool of communication. Thank you for your comment again,joe

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