Shortly after being appointed vice president, Omar Suleiman warned protesters that there would be no democracy until Egypt embraced a "culture of democracy." Here, in the capital of one of the world's longest standing democracies, our culture is marked by power struggles, posturing, and alarmingly focused smartphone fondlers.
Welcome to the club, Egypt. After Mubarak's rule, the next casualty of the revolution was opposition unity, as youth leaders took issue with each others' approaches to rebuilding their country's political system. Are multitasking typists next?
Egypt's youth movement saw its first rifts during Wael Ghonim's rise to public consciousness. After being detained by security forces for 12 days, Ghonim was released on Feb. 7 and gave a humble interview, which nevertheless raised his public stock. Ghonim's critics say that he was a latecomer to the Jan. 25 coalition, which began long before he contributed his marketing expertise to their efforts.
"The coalition is the only youth group that represents six of the most prominent political parties that have been active in Egypt over the last four or five years," said Nasser Abdel Hamid, a member of the Jan. 25 coalition, which initially worked with Ghonim and his clique but now resents their negotiations with military leaders. "We are planning to expand."
Rifts between revolutionaries are surfacing in a power vacuum sprinting toward an expiration date. In just nine days, a diverse panel of legal experts appointed by military leaders is due to unveil recommendations for amending Egypt's constitution. Less than two months later, the amended constitution will be the subject of a popular referendum, in which Egyptians may cast their first meaningful votes in their long history as a nation. Then, just four months later, the military hopes to hold elections for parliament and the presidency, both of which presently stand vacant.
There is one maxim on which young revolutionaries seem to agree: Don't trust anyone over 30-ish. Whether referring to the present government's ministers -- mostly holdovers from Mubarak's waning days -- or older opposition leaders accused of trying to capitalize on the revolution, the youth movement is in accord that little confidence should be extended.
"A lot of old opposition parties are trying to hijack [the youth movement]," said Saly Moore Toma, a Christian leftist member of the January 25 coalition. "We have to be careful of weak young [activists] working with the evil old."
As popular uprisings continue biting at the heels of Middle Eastern dictators, all eyes are on the region's most populous country to gauge the opportunities and obstacles ahead. The Egyptian people are undergoing a key lesson in democracy: It's easier to oppose than to govern.
Though challenges lie ahead, including further reasons for disunity, several factors point to continued success for Egypt's youth. Egypt's 80 million people are remarkably young, with approximately two-thirds under the age of 30. Among those the economy presents a unifying issue, as over 90 percent of Egypt unemployed are between the ages of 15 and 29. The movement's incredibly unified message leading up to Mubarak's resignation demonstrates that when a uniting issue is present, Egyptian youth can coalesce behind a singular solution. The economy depriving so many Egyptian youth of opportunities to realize their own potential may just present the youth movement its next unifying issue, in which case no other demographic could compete in free, popular elections.
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