by Ines Bel Aiba – CAIRO (AFP)
They came out in droves united in their desire to overthrow Hosni Mubarak, but on the eve of Egypt’s landmark presidential election, the youth that spearheaded that revolt are divided over how to keep it alive.
After a tumultuous, sometimes bloody, transition following the strongman’s fall, activists say they are tired of the constant struggle with those left behind from the old regime, but vow to return to Tahrir Square if their revolution is threatened.
They are disappointed at seeing their spectacular uprising hijacked by the ruling army or by Islamists whose power has since risen, and as Egypt prepares to choose its next president, they find themselves leaderless.
Esraa Abdel Fattah, who in 2008 created the Facebook page “April 6” in support of striking workers and to call for political reforms, admits the youth are divided.
The 33-year-old activist, whose Facebook page turned into a political movement and whose name was floated as a possible Nobel prize winner in 2011, told AFP she is now an “honorary member” of the April 6 movement, lending the group support and attending their events.
“Of course there are divisions and this weakens us. But this is a phase,” said Abdel Fattah who remains “optimistic despite the fact that some of the old regime is still there.”
“With a new president, we will start the real transition and the Egyptian people will be watching,” she said.
In recent weeks, the debate has particularly crystallised around whether or not to vote in the election and if so, for which candidate.
Abdel Fattah has picked Hamdeen Sabbahi, a pan-Arab Nasserist who joined the Kefaya (Enough) protest movement that spearheaded anti-Mubarak protests in 2005.
Wael Ghonim, who shot to fame during last year’s revolt when he came out publicly as the creator of the “We are all Khaled Said” Facebook page — another site that helped launch the uprising — is supporting moderate Islamist candidate Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh.
Others like longtime leftist activist Mohamed Waked, are boycotting the poll altogether.
“I know we are a minority and that most people won’t boycott the election, but it’s about exposing the sham that these elections are,” Waked told AFP.
Others are suspicious of the ruling military’s intentions to cede power.
“The elections are a complete farce. Nothing about this is legitimate. (The ruling generals) derive their legitimacy from Mubarak, who was deposed and had no legitimacy to confer on anybody,” wrote activist Omar Kamel on his blog KarmaMole.
There are also heated exchanges around how to deal with the ruling army, and whether or not to keep up the protests just weeks before the army is to cede power to civilian rule.
Earlier this month, at least a dozen people were killed in clashes in Cairo’s Abbassiya district, after a sit-in by Salafist activists was attacked.
“As a secular revolutionary, you should never go to any protest or a sit-in that got started by Islamist protesters, especially if the goals are unclear or vague to you, because, as always, they will start it, and then once its filled with your people, they will withdraw and leave you to deal with the subsequent heat and arrests,” wrote prominent blogger Mahmoud Salem on his blog “Sandmonkey.”
“Just maybe, you might need a new strategy? Maybe stop the sit-ins all together, since they no longer work and have stopped being anything other than death-traps?” he wrote.
But Waked rejects the argument, saying it is necessary “to defend a group of peaceful protesters to show solidarity.”
“Their division weakens them, it’s a fact, and makes them lose the political weight they could have had in the presidential election, but it will not diminish from their power,” in the long run said Ezzedine Choukri-Fishere, a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo.
The young revolutionaries “have changed the way politics is done and have pushed the limits of what is accepted… by forcing the idea that there are no more taboos,” he said.
Choukri-Fishere says the situation reminds him of the student protests in France in 1968.
“The students didn’t take power, but they changed the way of thinking.”