Many young Egyptians are frustrated about the country’s increasingly authoritarian trajectory.
By Erin Cunningham
More than half of Egyptians are younger than 25, and their ranks are growing faster than the rest of the population. The government, meanwhile, is dominated by aging political veterans: The youngest member of the cabinet is the youth minister, 55-year-old Khaled Abdel Aziz, and Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab, 65, is a holdover from the era of strongman Hosni Mubarak.
Rapid growth in the youth population is a common trend in developing countries, where older, seasoned politicians often call the shots. But analysts say the combination creates an especially high risk for political instability in Egypt, where security forces have cracked down fiercely on student protests and youth-led street demonstrations.
“There is definitely a big difference in the thinking of the younger and the older generations,” Mustafa said. “They want the military, and we don’t want anyone from the military to rule us ever again.”
For most of the past 60 years, Egypt was governed by military strongmen. The exception was the recent year-long tenure of elected President Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist backed by the Muslim Brotherhood. As defense minister, Sissi spearheaded the coup that removed Morsi from power last July.
“But what can we do?” Mustafa said. “If we try to change things, they will put us in jail.”
The rift between generations is certainly not absolute. A significant number of young people support Sissi and the current military-backed order, and some older people oppose the government and its security campaigns.
But when Egyptians voted in a referendum on the new, military-supported constitution in January, unofficial results from election monitors showed that less than a quarter of voters younger than 30 had cast ballots.
No figures are available on the percentage of young people who voted in 2012 on a previous constitution drafted by the Muslim Brotherhood. But according to Magued Osman, director of the independent Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research, more young voters participated in that referendum.
The low turnout in January suggests a deepening apathy among Egypt’s youths, just three years after young people spearheaded the pro-democracy revolt against Mubarak.
For many of them, the stability the government promised with the new constitution is reminiscent of the Mubarak years, when young people languished under a corrupt police state or sought to emigrate for work in Europe or the Persian Gulf region.
Since 1950, Egypt’s population has quadrupled to 86 million, according to the United Nations. An unprecedented number of people are entering the job market at a time of sluggish economic growth. Those ages 15 to 24 are six times as likely to be unemployed than older workers, according to the International Labor Organization.
“Nothing has changed since [the 2011 revolt]. And the youth, they have lost hope,” said Ayman Zohry, a Cairo-based demographer.
“They were very naive,” he added. “They thought the revolution would make corruption disappear overnight, but the same power relations are in place. And now the older generation believes they are against stability and security — that they just want to protest and write graffiti on walls.”