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
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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.


Syria’s Idlib spared attack, Turkey to send in more troops

Updated 14 min 44 sec ago
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Syria’s Idlib spared attack, Turkey to send in more troops

  • Damascus also welcomed the agreement but vowed to continue its efforts to recover “every inch” of Syria
  • The Idlib region and adjoining territory north of Aleppo represent the opposition’s last big foothold in Syria

ANKARA/AMMAN: Turkey will send more troops into Syria’s Idlib province after striking a deal with Russia that has averted a government offensive and delighted rebels who said it kept the area out of President Bashar Assad’s hands.
The deal unveiled on Monday by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Assad’s most powerful ally, and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will create a demilitarised zone from which “radical” rebels must withdraw by the middle of next month.
Damascus also welcomed the agreement but vowed to continue its efforts to recover “every inch” of Syria. Iran, Assad’s other main ally, said that “responsible diplomacy” had averted a war in Idlib “with a firm commitment to fight extremist terror.”
The agreement halted a threatened Syrian government offensive. The United Nations had warned such an attack would create a humanitarian catastrophe in the Idlib region, home to about 3 million people.
The Idlib region and adjoining territory north of Aleppo represent the opposition’s last big foothold in Syria. Assad has recovered most of the areas once held by the rebels, with decisive military support from Iran and Russia.
But his plans to recover the northwest have been complicated by Turkey’s role on the ground. It has soldiers at 12 locations in Idlib and supplies weapons to some of the rebels.
Erdogan had feared another exodus of refugees to join the 3.5 million already in Turkey, and warned against any attack.
In striking the deal, Russia appears — at least for now — to have put its ties with Turkey ahead of advancing the goal of bringing all Syria back under Assad’s rule.
That goal is also obstructed by the presence of US forces in the quarter of Syria east of the Euphrates that is held by an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias, and at a base near the borders with Jordan and Iraq.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis played down any notion the Turkey-Russia agreement had resolved the situation in Idlib.
“Idlib is one of the most complex problems in a complex theater (of conflict) right now. So I’m quite sure it’s not all sorted,” Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon.
Analysts cautioned that implementation of the deal faced big challenges, notably how to separate extremists from other rebels — a goal Ankara has been struggling to achieve.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the “moderate opposition” would keep its weapons and the “region will be cleared of radicals.” Turkey would “make additional troop deployments” and its 12 observation posts would remain.
The deal was “very important for the political resolution in Syria.” “If this (Idlib) had been lost too, there would be no opposition anymore,” he said.
Mustafa Sejari, a Free Syria Army (FSA) official, said the deal “buries Assad’s dreams of imposing his full control over Syria.”
Yahya Al-Aridi, spokesman for the opposition Syrian Negotiations Commission, expressed hope a government offensive was now off the table for good.
The Syrian government, in a statement published by state media, said it welcomed any agreement that spared blood. It also said the deal had a specific time frame, which it did not detail.
“I see it as a test of the extent of Turkey’s ability to implement this decision,” Ali Abdul Karim, Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon, said in an interview with Lebanon’s Al-Jadeed TV. “We do not trust Turkey ... but it’s useful for Turkey to be able to carry out this fight to rid these groups from their weapons.”
’Catastrophe averted’
Moscow said the deal “confirmed the ability of both Moscow and Ankara to compromise ... in the interests of the ultimate goal of a Syrian settlement by political and diplomatic means.”
“Is this merely a stay of execution? Or is it the beginning of a reprieve?” UN aid chief Mark Lowcock asked during a monthly meeting of the UN Security Council on Syria.
The demilitarised zone will be monitored by Russian and Turkish forces, the countries’ leaders said.
Neither Russia nor Turkey has explained how it plans to differentiate “radically minded” rebels from other anti-Assad groups. It was also not immediately clear how much of the city of Idlib fell within the zone.
Putin said the decision was to establish by Oct. 15 a demilitarised area 15 to 20 km (10-12 miles) deep along the contact line between rebel and government fighters.
Naji Abu Hufaiza, spokesman for the National Front for Liberation, said he did not have details of the agreement, but added that while he saw it as a success for Turkish diplomacy, his group did not trust Russia to uphold it.
Idlib is held by an array of rebels. The most powerful is Tahrir Al-Sham, an amalgamation of Islamist groups dominated by the former Nusra Front — an Al-Qaeda affiliate until 2016.
Other Islamists, and groups fighting as the Free Syrian Army banner, are now gathered with Turkish backing under the banner of the “National Front for Liberation.”
The area is also the last major haven for foreign extremists who came to Syria to fight the Alawite-led Assad government.
Putin said that, at Erdogan’s suggestion, by Oct. 10, all opposition heavy weapons, mortars, tanks, rocket systems would also be removed from the demilitarised zone.
Earlier this month, Putin publicly rebuffed a proposal from Erdogan for a truce when the two met along with Iran’s president at a summit in Tehran.