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Egyptian youth after the revolution
American University in Cairo journalism professor Kim Fox speaks with several young Egyptians who demonstrated in Tahrir Square about their aspirations and concerns under the Muslim Brotherhood's leadership.
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Adapted from the broadcast audio segment; use the audio player to listen to the story in its entirety.

Tahrir Square, the heart of downtown Cairo in Egypt and the site of the Arab Spring uprising, has gotten yet another makeover.

Where there once was dirt under the feet of millions of protesters, green grass and small trees now grow.  The circle at the center of this historic square has a fresh and hopeful feel after becoming the focal point of Egypt's uprising in 2011.

Since that time though, Egypt has hardly had a smooth transition to a new government. About a year ago 26 activists, mostly Coptic Christians, were killed after protesting the burning of one of their churches.

The protests happened at Maspero, the home of Egypt’s state media. Many Egyptians hold the military responsible for the killings, but no formal trials have taken place.  And, there were bloody clashes between youth and the police on Mohamed Mahmoud Street near the gates of Egypt's oldest private university, the American University in Cairo (AUC).

It now it seems that every week there’s some sort of protest at Tahrir.  There’s much disagreement about how successful the new government of Mohamed Morsi has been in keeping progressive changes alive in Egypt, and how successful it will be going forward.  But the young leaders who were present during the uprising insist that the revolution was critical in making Egypt more progressive.

Mohamad Nagi is one of those leaders.  Before the revolution, he and many other Egyptian youth weren’t politically involved.

“I feel like the revolution has changed a lot of young minds. A lot of people who were maybe not involved in any sort of politics before the revolution became a whole lot more aware of what's going on. They feel like they need to do something about it and feel like this is their country and they have a chance to change it.”

He grew up in the United States, but came to American University in Cairo to study and wasn’t thrilled to be in Egypt. But then the Arab Spring happened.

“So I finish off the semester,” says Nagi, “and then comes January 25th after I finish a Winter session here at AUC. I completely forget about everything that'd been bothering me for the past…for the past everything and for the past entire time that I'd been living in Egypt.”

He remembers how he and his friends hurried to the Presidential Palace with rushed excitement two years ago.

“So we're going over there and hoping something was going to happen, ‘cause something had to happen. Because we weren't just gonna stand in the street forever with nothing going on. So we went over there thinking that maybe some sort of confrontation would happen, but it turns out, at around 4 or 5 we get the news that he steps down. And everyone just goes wild.”

Since the Arab spring, Nagi has been watching the political landscape closely, including the ascension of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic organization with heavy political ties.

“I believe the revolution can never actually be hijacked,” he says, “no matter how hard any group tries, because the revolution didn't begin with the Muslim Brotherhood. It didn't belong to any sect or any party. The revolution was was everyone. Everyone was involved in the revolution.”

But despite that belief, many Egyptians are still waiting for tangible change as a result of the uprisings. Nagi has hope that Egypt’s current president Mohamed Morsi will deliver.

“I still believe as an elected president that we can give him more time until we see what's going to happen. If you waited 30 years for Mubarak, I'm absolutely sure you could wait at least a year.”

Others do not have as much hope.  Salma Hegab is a journalism major who has been blogging about the wrongdoings of the Egyptian government before it was popular and acceptable. I met her at one of the university’s dorms where she told me about her involvement.

“I'm just waiting,” she says, “I can't be judging Morsi based on the first hundred days of what he's going to achieve, but I can say that this is not the track that I expected from him. I was aware of the corruption and the things that are happening in my country during, even before high school, by reading newspapers - opposition newspapers. There was only one…Dostor, [by] Ibrahim Essa. It made me  aware of many wrong things happening in my country and I was frustrated, but I couldn't do anything but blog online about it.”

Inspired by the death of Khalid Said, who was beaten by police in the summer of 20-10, she attended a silent prayer for him on a popular road in Cairo.

“… I found many young men and women who are from different backgrounds standing there. They don't know each other, but they succeeded for the first time in making a collective movement. I feel that something will happen - now people [will start] to be aware more of the situation in Egypt.”

As a young Egyptian woman, Hegab knows that changes in the country will have a huge impact on women. But she believes that the government needs to go further in dealing with issues of sexual harassment.

“It’s a very big issue now in the community,” says Hegab, “and it has been underestimated for years. Nobody [will] admit that this is a huge problem, and that woman [don’t] just simply bring it on themselves, because [that] doesn’t make any sense.”

The other obstacle, she notes, is that not all women in Egypt have a voice to push for these things.

“You'll find always that women who are protesting and doing those [things] are more in Cairo and Delta and around this area. But in Upper Egypt where there is a high illiteracy percentage among women, you'd find them less likely to ask for their rights.”

And indeed, when you get to the outskirts of Egypt, that’s where the power of the Muslim Brotherhood is felt. 

And some young Egyptians are comfortable with that message, AUC students like Omar Soudan.  He is a strong supporter of The Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“The Muslim Brotherhood had roots,” he says, “and the Salafists mainly had roots in all the poor areas of Egypt." 

After classes at AUC, Omar spoke about why he believes in the party’s platform and the implementation of Sharia law.

“It’s part of my religion, part of my vision in life, that Islamic law or Islamic Sharia is not just your relationship with God. It's your way of life; it's the government, it's the economy, the politics—everything.”

Omar thinks the revolutionary youth have been naïve about what it takes to set up true change and thinks Egypt should stick with experience rather than passion.

“You can't prepare in two years like the other party, the Muslim Brotherhood, especially has prepared for 80 years.”

But Omar doesn’t blame his more liberal counterparts for their inability to make serious changes in Egypt’s government.

“It's not all their fault…well, part of it is their fault because they haven't been working on the streets to win the people over. Especially when you have the media turning Egyptians against protests and telling them that this is like bringing the country [backward] and all that. But the other part is that the government hasn't given them room to play a role.”

And so these youthful revolutionaries work for a more equitable constitution, a more stable economy so that more young people can find meaningful work, and they wait and wait for their hard work to pay off.

– Reported by Kim Fox for America Abroad

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Youth in the Arab World: After the Revolution / Produced by Joseph Braude, David Enders, Kim Fox, Martha Little and A.C. Valdez, with additional production help from Flawn Williams and special thanks to WBUR in Boston/ Web Producer: Philippa Levenberg / Images courtesy of Sebastiano Tomada Piccolomini, Ben Curtis/AP, Corentin Fohlen/Sipa Press, Ben Sutherland, Aaron de Leeuw and EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection via Flickr Creative Commons.

Host: Meghna Chakrabarti / Length: 51 minutes / Airdate: November 2012

This show was made possible through the generous support of Qatar Foundation International.

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