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Egypt's young Facebook revolutionaries fail to inspire voters

December 4, 2011 | 10:53 am

Egyptian women walk past a poster promoting Freedom and Justice Party candidates in Cairo. Credit: Reuters

REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- The young revolutionaries who plugged into social media to ignite a revolution that brought down Hosni Mubarak failed to excite voters and fared poorly in Egypt's first round of parliamentary elections, according to officials results released Sunday. 

Hampered by political naivete, egos and lack of funding, the young activists were overwhelmed at the polls by better organized Islamists. The multiphase elections, which end in January, have so far indicated that activists have been unable to turn the passion they inspired last winter in Tahrir Square into political capital, winning only a fraction of the more than 8 million votes cast last week.

"Young revolutionaries have struggled with political inexperience at some points, and suffered from lack of funds and organization at others," said Imad Gad, a political analyst with Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. "This didn’t enable them to reach voters or carry out strong campaigns like those of the Muslim Brotherhood or the Egyptian Bloc."

Islamists, represented by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and the ultraconservative Salafis of Al Nour Party, dominated the vote. Official figures reported by the state news agency MENA showed that the FJP won 3.5 million votes, followed by Al Nour with 2.3 million. The secular Egyptian Bloc finished with 1.29 million. The Wafd Party and the relatively moderate Islamic party Al Wasat finished with fewer than 1 million voters each.

The young revolutionaries' coalition, known as the Continuing Revolution, won no more than 336,000 votes in the elections' first stage, which covered nine of the country's 27 governorates.

Unlike other parties that began campaigning immediately after the revolution, young activists spent less time on politics than on repeated protests against the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which replaced Mubarak and expanded martial law. Protests broke out days before the elections, leaving 42 people dead in clashes between demonstrators and riot police.

"We were camping in Tahrir up until two days before election day," said Khaled Sayed, a prominent activist who lost his race in a Cairo suburb. "The second reason we didn't do well was the sectarian nature of the voting instigated by the Islamists. This made many liberals vote for Egyptian Bloc as a balance to the Islamists."

Formed by six new political parties and the Jan. 25 Revolution Youth Coalition, the Continuing Revolution members are professionals in their 20s and 30s who used Facebook and other social media to rouse the Egyptian masses in protests that toppled Mubarak in February. But the young did not have the grass-roots support and the lure of religion that propelled Islamists. They also failed to reach beyond the Internet to connect directly with poor and middle class Egyptians. 

Many Egyptians regarded the activists as brash upstarts and not politicians who could lead the country out of economic and social turmoil. Continuing Revolution members are not expected to perform much better in the coming rounds of elections in southern and central governorates dominated by Islamists and tribal leaders. The Muslim Brotherhood, as expected, is benefiting from its religious message and its decades-long reputation as the most credible opposition to Mubarak.    

"The next parliament will be illegitimate because religious slogans were excessively used and religious parties violated elections rules and regulations," Aboul Ezz Hariri, a member of Continuing Revolution, told reporters. "This did not give newly formed parties the chance to fairly compete."

The second stage of elections is scheduled to be held on Dec.14 and 15. The final round will take place on Jan.3 and 4.

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-- Amro Hassan and Jeffrey Fleishman

Photo: Egyptian women walk past a poster promoting Freedom and Justice Party candidates in Cairo. Credit: Reuters

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