Rachel Williamson
Last updated: 9 March, 2014

Egypt’s revolutionaries seek new ways to shift from Twitter to ballot box

Lately, we've seen a wave of criticism against the young revolutionaries behind the 2011 uprising. But how much is true, and what are they doing about it?

There were plenty of i-devices on the wobbly plastic table around which some of the remaining supporters of Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement were seated.

Phones and tablets buzzed and demanded attention as the group relaxed at one of their alleyway café hangouts (the downtown office is too dangerous). Through my head flitted the oft-repeated accusation that Egypt’s revolutionaries spend too much time tweeting and not enough doing.

It popped up because recently I read a brutal take-down of the revolutionaries who were behind the uprising: that they didn’t change tack afterwards to create civil society groups, they didn’t enter politics, they didn’t lift their eyes from Facebook to talk to people who weren’t like them.

Up to a point, some of these judgments are fair.

Few gave a thought as to what might come after a revolution and then spent three years playing catch up, trying to megaphone their desires from street-level after problems arose. 

“Recently I read a brutal take-down of the revolutionaries who were behind the uprising”Nor did the revolutionaries focus strongly on becoming effective civil society movements, involving and educating the people around them through mechanisms other than street protests and loose alignments with other groups and political parties.

And most of all they, along with other secular political groups that sprang up after the 2011 revolution, are criticized for not working with each other to form a political alternative to the old guard of politicians or the Muslim Brotherhood. 

These may be fair, but still only up to a point. 

In defense of groups such as April 6, the Revolutionary Socialists, and labor unions, it’s been a distracting three years.

Revolutionary Socialist Tarek Shalaby said it had been difficult to focus on much other than protesting when friends were being arrested and killed, and when first the military, then the Muslim Brotherhood governments continued to use repressive, pre-uprising tactics.

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Many revolutionaries, such as the ones around that downtown cafe table, think they’re back to square one. The repression is hitting scary heights again and thousands of activists are in jail, some facing charges and the police still investigating others to see what allegations can be made to stick.

Is that enough of an excuse for not shifting the method from the street to the ballot box? Shalaby says not, especially given they are the leaders of the revolution, and as a result after June 30 the revolutionaries weren’t there for Egyptians: the army was.

But, in a case of better late than never, they are now beginning to develop their methods and organisations. 

In the last few months the Revolutionary Socialists began the slow process of building their membership and media channels. It’s considering a membership fee in order to grow chapters in smaller towns and in rural areas, and highlight the issues it thinks important.

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April 6 has returned to what it did best before the revolution: finding and working with marginalised communities to form local organisations, that can then look after those peoples’ interests.

Tamarud drove the removal of the Mohamed Morsi Muslim Brotherhood government last year and recently split in half. The new ‘Tamarud 2 Get Liberated’ faction is launching a petition called “Know your president” which they say is to educate the public on the benefits of a civilian president.

These groups are working in an environment that is more repressive and frightening than in the days when Hosni Mubarak reigned.

Activists are being arrested and held in prison instead of being let go after a few days or weeks, media channels are closing their doors to anti-regime voices, and occasionally it’s intimated that maybe, just maybe, their tactics and aims are on par with terrorism.

It is fair to level criticisms at the door of those who overturned a 30-year dictator, but who didn’t provide the fledging Egyptian democracy with any support. It is less fair to continue those criticisms when change is afoot.

The days of stone-throwing and shouting from the streets are not over – sometimes that’s the best or only way to remain visible when other outlets for opposing voices are blocked – but perhaps the days of disorganised dissent are coming to an end as Egypt’s revolutionaries begin to do precisely the grassroots work they’re being criticised for neglecting.

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