Youth, Service and Pathways to Democracy in Egypt

Posted on March 05, 2012

Youth, Service and Pathways to Democracy in Egypt by Barbara Ibrahim and Leah Hunt-Hendrix [Voices working paper series]

This paper argues that in authoritarian contexts such as existed in Egypt prior to 2011, the contemporary youth generation was devising ‘safe’ spaces in which to practice citizenship in non-political arenas such as community service. That youth-led phenomenon was dismissed as unimportant by most political analysts, even though some organizations had reached 100,000 members. They equated it with ‘charity work’, and saw youthful voluntarism as an outgrowth of the revival of religious norms, a space assumed to be antithetical to democratic practice. Instead, the working paper posits this as an arena which prepared young participants for mobilization rapidly in the early weeks of 2011 as part of an unprecedented youth-led national movement in Egypt.

Youth Activism and Public Space in Egypt
Gerhart Center and Innovations in Civic Participation (ICP) published a timely report in September 2011 titled Youth Activism and Public Space in Egypt. It captures some of the precursors to the events of the January revolution including profiles of three youth-led organizations and how they responded, and an analysis of the power and limits of social media to spur civic action. The report concludes with an exploration of the colorful graffiti art through which young Egyptians expressed their aspirations and activism. As the report demonstrates, young people before, during and after the January 25 Revolution were forging their own spaces to express determined citizenship without waiting for older generations to bring reforms.

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