With the electoral race set for the mid-March parliamentary elections, the issue of youth participation came to the fore, as many youth tend to boycott elections in objection to the political system.
The liberal Al-Dostour Party has illustrated this by announcing Saturday they will not run for the elections, on the grounds that the current political environment is unfavourable to democratic elections. The party, headed by Hala Shukrallah, includes a majority of young members with revolutionary tendencies, including people who have been imprisoned under the Protest Law.
Mohamed Seliman, a young member of the party’s political bureau, believes that restrictions on the political practices are not likely to be lifted soon. This comes amid the disappointing court verdict for Ahmed Douma, preceded by the tragic death of Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh.
“Some sort of ‘political security’ seems to be more important than criminal security and people’s general safety,” Seliman said.
Despite his party’s stance on the elections, Seliman sees the role of political parties and civil society stands in their ability to assess and criticise the situation, and fight for rights.
“A whole political path was forged after 30 June and 3 July that we are all part of, that’s why it is not very wise to say we’re pulling out now, although elections are taking place under a critical political structure,” he explained.
Electoral boycott is not necessarily the only option for young people who are involved in politics through legitimate parties. Seliman spoke in a symposium hosted last Wednesday by the Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP) for several young members of different political affiliations. It became clear that there was a general consensus regarding the state’s crackdown on political life, which is “catastrophic” according to the ESDP’s Secretary-General Ahmed Fawzy.
Fawzy is not in favour of boycotting, because he believes the state does not care about the message the boycotting is sending. He added that remnants of the Mubarak and Morsi era regimes would benefit from a shrinking democratic political base in the face of the system.
“Weeks ago I strongly supported participation in elections, but after those two incidents I cannot really blame the parties that want to reject the entire political system, but they must bear in mind that that choice should be an opportunity for them to focus on other strategies, such as developing their popular bases,” said Fawzy.
The two incidents, Al-Sabbagh’s killing and Douma’s verdict, were among the concerns repeatedly mentioned by those youth, mainly raising their awareness on how the quest for democracy will require a series of legitimate fights and political debates.
“Those who have authority will not easily let go of it, that’s why we have to advocate the redistribution of power,” said Mohamed Moussa, from the liberal Justice Party.
Moussa pointed out that “unsatisfactory conditions” affect political parties, noting that the past four years have witnessed many changes of power and governments. However, it did not allow political parties to properly organise and start developing their bases on real grounds and connection with people.
While Moussa is convinced that people’s understanding of economic and social issues is a priority that directly affects their personal lives, Fawzy is nonetheless positive that their political awareness has increased since 25 January 2011. Fawzy added that people have become more capable of relating to politics, even if it remains limited to exchange of accusations between different factions of society.
As for challenges, the members know that the law organising parliamentary elections does not fall in their favour. They find it hard for democratic political parties founded after 2011 to compete amid the overwhelming presence of old figures, their sons and relatives.
Moreover, the media narrative is working against political parties, according to Fawzy, while Moussa believes that parties led by high profile public figures are stronger. This is because they have a media channel to speak for themselves, such as Al-Wafd Party’s newspaper and the Free Egyptians’ Party’s business tycoon Naguib Sawiris, who owns ONTV network.
A more complex setback is the weakness of the components of a modern civil democratic state, explains Amr Abdul Rahman, political bureau member for the leftists Bread and Freedom party (Al-Esh Wal Horreya).
“We are controlled by an elite of security men who simply do not communicate with anybody outside their circle, and take an extreme approach in dealing with politics, as if the Egyptian people were unfit to understand the country’s problems,” Abdul Rahman stated.
Still, calling for a protest to overthrow the regime does not seem logical to Fawzy. He clarified this by stating that “responding to people’s demands means seeing what the people want and towards which direction they are going to go with them”. He added that what makes the current regime legitimate is how much people want it.
The young politicians concluded that despite struggles with the executive centralised power, there are different alternatives to practice politics in Egypt, chief amongst which is the parliament.