1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

From protests to politics

Markus Symank / gbJanuary 4, 2014

The uprisings in many Arab countries were initiated by young people, but many activists are finding it hard to cope with the political aftermath. The entrenched political elite still dominates.

Demonstrators in Egypt
Image: Reuters

Nearly three years after the fall of the Mubarak regime, Egyptian politics are still dominated by the same, familiar faces. The three key figures in the current interim government – President Adli Mansour, Prime Minister Hasim al-Beblawi and Amr Moussa, head of the panel charged with drawing up a new constitution – have been around for a grand total of 221 years. Career diplomat Moussa was even politically active in the 1950s under then-president Gamal Abdel Nasser.

In other countries in the region, the Arab Spring has a similar sheen: Tunisia's secular forces just recently nominated a 79-year-old to be the new prime minister. For its part, the Islamist Ennahda party chose the 88-year-old political dinosaur, Ahmed Mestiri, as its candidate.

The handful of young revolutionaries who helped bring down the old regimes with mass protests are increasingly disillusioned by the continued dominance of the old guard.

Egpyt's panel for drawing up a new constitution is headed by Amr Moussa
Egypt's panel for drawing up a new constitution is headed by Amr MoussaImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"The young ones have no experience," said one activist, who did not want to be named. "They have not benefited from the revolution because they didn't understand anything and let themselves be manipulated by the security forces and intelligence services."

Lack of financing

Under the Mubarak regime, it was not possible to develop a crop of young, independent political leaders. The regime gave the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood a limited amount of freedom, but any real opposition from the secular side has beem suppressed with a heavy hand.

After the fall of the old regime, new liberal and left-wing parties founded by the younger generation already played no role in the country's first, free election just months after the revolution.

The young activist admitted that it was their own lack of experience and financial resources that left the movement sidelined. "Financing was a big problem. We had an office for our [Justice] party, but had to give it up because we didn't have enough money," he said. The 32-year-old has since left the party and withdrawn from active political life, only occasionally participating in protests against the army.

Mohammed Morsi, former president and head of the Muslim Brotherhood
Muslim Brotherhood leader and former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi is in jailImage: Reuters

Change from below

Shihab Wagih, from the Free Egyptian Party, paints a more optimistic picture. The 29-year-old is spokesman and political trainer for the liberal party, which won 15 seats at the last parliamentary election. Wagih also works as a regional coordinator for the German Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Cairo.

He, too, is dissatisfied with the slow pace of political change since the revolution, but views the old guard as only half the story. "There are young people getting involved in politics," he said. "We are seeing younger faces, even in leadership roles in some parties."

Wagih points to the chairman of his own party, Ahmed Hassan Said, as one of the new generation of politicians. But more important than age is whether the person provides new ideas, dialogue, transparency and democratic values, he stressed. All of this, he said, is precisely what is lacking in the current transitional government, which doesn't listen much to outside voices.

Internal quarreling

Wagih thinks that many activists join political parties for the wrong reasons. "Not everybody joins a party because they share the ideology. Sometimes people do it just because they feel like it," he said. "They say something, like, Mohammed el-Baradei is a nice guy, so I'm going to his party." Others are perhaps banking on some financial advantage or want to bask in the glow of a popular or well-known revolutionary.

Student protest
Protests in Cairo flared up again at the end of DecemberImage: Reuters

But, the chaotic phase the country has been going through since the fall of Mubarak has also made it difficult for new parties to get organized. In an effort to try to make the most out of the revolution, activists often find themselves standing in each other's way, says Wagih.

The Tamarod (Rebellion) movement, which was a key instigator of Mubarak's demise, is currently struggling with an inner-party rebellion of its own. And there is not much time left to get the political forces lined up for the next parliamentary and presidential elections to be held sometime in 2014 after the new draft constitution is passed.