Egyptian youth feel ‘marginalized’ by elections

Egyptian gather at a cafe near a graffiti of Egyptian footballer Mohamed Salah in Cairo on March 22, 2018. (AFP / FETHI BELAID)
Updated 22 March 2018

Egyptian youth feel ‘marginalized’ by elections

CAIRO: Seven years after the Egyptian uprising, young people say they feel marginalized and apathetic about next week’s presidential elections.
They say their demands for “bread, freedom and social justice” went unfulfilled so they are uninterested in either of the two candidates — Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the current president, and Musa Mustafa Musa, who leads a party that had initially backed El-Sisi’s re-election bid.
El-Sisi said in an interview broadcast on Tuesday he had wanted more contenders but the country was “not ready.” Several prospective election candidates, including a former chief of staff, Sami Anan, have been arrested. El-Sisi is practically guaranteed a second term.
“In 2012, we had 14 candidates to choose from. Today, we have only two choices and one of them is actually supporting El-Sisi,” said Mohamed Amir, 23, who now works as a driver after graduating in agriculture. “I don’t see anyone on the political scene better than El-Sisi. So in simple words: Let it flow.”
The presidential elections are the third since the 2011 Arab Spring when youth anger was sparked by what they called police brutality under Hosni Mubarak, the former president who was ousted.
El-Sisi won nearly 97 percent of the vote in 2014, a year after toppling Mohammed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s first competitively elected leader, after mass protests against his rule.
“I will not participate. There is no room for political activities nor any other views in the country,” said one youth in Cairo who spoke on condition of anonymity. “All real political parties have vanished. This election is just similar to the previous one, just a constitutional step. We are back to the old days again.” 
He added: “I believe the country’s and people’s hopes for real democracy have been crushed.”
But there are some young people who do support El-Sisi, a former army chief, and even favor military command. “We support El-Sisi for another term to evade terrorism,” said Mina Fahim, who has a printing company.
Younger people had been excited by Khaled Ali, a 45-year-old human rights lawyer who suspended his campaign after deciding he had no chance of winning. “We knew from the beginning that the climate was not ideal,” said Hala Fouda, Ali’s campaign manager. “What we are seeing is a clear message that this is the end of all political life in Egypt now.”
El-Sisi said in Tuesday’s speech that “what happened seven or eight years ago will never be repeated,” referring to the uprising that ousted Mubarak. He also stressed the importance of youth participation in building Egypt. “What we do now is for the youth,” he said.
In 2011, Egypt witnessed high levels of political participation by young people, several opposition parties were founded, and the constitution became a popular conversational topic amid high hopes for change.
More than half of Egyptians are under 25 and their generation is growing the fastest. Egypt’s official statistics agency, CAPMAS, said last year that 23.6 percent of the country’s population — 21.7 million people out of a total of 93 million — was aged between 18 and 29.
The government, meanwhile, is dominated by political veterans: The youngest member of the Cabinet is Nabila Makram, the 49-year-old immigration minister, and the average age of ministers is 58.
Voting in the presidential elections started for overseas Egyptians on March 16 and the rest of the population will vote over three days starting next Monday.

Post-Daesh, north Iraq’s minority mosaic blown apart by trauma

Updated 6 min 24 sec ago

Post-Daesh, north Iraq’s minority mosaic blown apart by trauma

  • Yazidis, whose men Daesh killed en masse and whose women and girls were enslaved by the group, say they have suffered the most
  • Across Iraq, around a third of the population relies on farming to survive

SINJAR: For decades, his land was his life. Now, like other Sunni Arab farmers in Iraq’s diverse north, Mahdi Abu Enad is cut off from his fields, fearing reprisal attacks.

He hails from the mountainous region of Sinjar, which borders Syria and is home to an array of communities — Shiite and Sunni Arabs, Kurds, and Yazidis.

That patchwork was ripped apart when Daesh rampaged across the area in 2014, and has not reconciled even long after Iraqi forces ousted IS in 2017.

Yazidis, whose men Daesh killed en masse and whose women and girls were enslaved by the group, say they have suffered the most.

They accuse their Sunni Arab neighbors of granting the extremists of Daesh a foothold in Sinjar.

Displaced Sunni Arabs, on the other hand, slam the sweeping accusation as unfair and say looting and the threat of retaliatory violence have kept them from coming home.

“We stand accused of belonging to IS (Daesh) because they settled in Sunni areas, but IS doesn’t represent Sunnis,” said Abu Enad, displaced from his hometown to Al-Baaj since 2014.

“We all lost our livelihoods. It’s been four years since we cultivated our land because we fear for our lives,” he said.

In 2017, Human Rights Watch said Yazidi armed groups reportedly abducted and executed 52 Sunni Arab civilians in retaliation for Daesh abuses.

Fearing similar abuses, Abu Enad still lives about 10 km from his farm, and was only able to tend to it during planting season with a paramilitary escort.

“We had to leave at 4:00 p.m. every day because the situation was not safe enough. So how could you come back with your family to resume farming and living here?” he said.

Across Iraq, around a third of the population relies on farming to survive, and the ratio was even higher in Sinjar.

For centuries, the region’s diverse farmers jointly sold their fig and wheat harvests in the provincial capital of Mosul, 120 km to the east.

But in the wake of Daesh, farming equipment was stolen, orchards burned, and rubble stuffed into irrigation wells.

Now, the area’s once-lush farming hamlets have been reduced to ruined ghost towns, with most Arab villages including Abu Enad’s left flattened.

A few kilometers to the north, the main town of Sinjar is also still rubble, with little power, water, or health services available.

A few thousand Yazidi families have come back, but tens of thousands more are still stuck in displacement camps elsewhere in Iraq and Syria, while others fled to Europe.

And more than 3,000 Yazidis remain missing, many of them believed to be women and girls taken as sex slaves.

That has made it difficult for the community to forgive or forget the mass crimes against them.

“The Arabs of Sinjar were involved in the abduction of our women,” said Yazidi cleric Sheikh Fakher Khalaf.

“They betrayed the co-existence we had, so they can no longer live among us,” said Khalaf, who returned home to Sinjar after three years of displacement.

“Those who have done nothing, we respect them. But those who have blood on their hands, they must face justice. Sinjar is not a place for them.”

Several local initiatives have made minimal progress on reconciliation, but efforts have not gone far enough, said the Norwegian Refugee Council.

“We are seeing plans to rebuild and rehabilitate some parts, but we’re not seeing any concrete process toward reconciliations,” said spokesman Tom Peyre-Costa.

He called for more dialogue between communities, transparent and fair trials, and accountability for all perpetrators of crimes.

Iraqi courts have tried hundreds for belonging to Daesh, handing down at least 300 death sentences.

“People who used to be able to live together are not able to do so anymore because of the tension between communities, so this is why reconciliation must be prioritized,” he said.

While the communal fissures in Sinjar are particularly deep, the challenge of rebuilding trust after Daesh is one faced across Iraqi society.

Displaced Sunnis with perceived ties to Daesh undergo tough screening processes to return to their hometowns, where they sometimes face harassment.

Abu Enad, the displaced farmer, still hopes that Sinjar can return to its harmonious past.

“We Sunnis have been hurt by Daesh like Yazidis were hurt,” he said.

“We want to come back to our land so we can farm and live off the fruits of our labor alongside them.”