A few months ago I went to check out a pro-Morsi demonstration. I have seen almost every pro-Brotherhood demonstration since 2011, this one had something different: a lot of youth participants. I saw young men who appeared to be university students and “ultras looking” teens marching in the demonstration while beating drums and flashing the Rabaa sign. While the majority of the demonstrators looked “Islamist”, I don’t recall seeing that number of young people in the Brotherhood demonstrations in 2011 and 2012 who were mostly middle aged men and women shipped in buses from the Delta and Upper Egypt.
It is unclear what caused the increase in youth participation in pro-Morsi demonstrations but one of the very possible reasons could be the number of young people who were either killed by the police or unjustly sent to jail since the army ousted Mohamed Morsi following the massive anti-Brotherhood protests on June 30, 2013. Four Cairo University students were killed on campus so far; that never happened since the day Princess Fatma Ismael decided to donate her jewelry pieces to fund the foundation of Cairo University around 100 years ago. Three other students were killed in Al Azhar University, also on campus. These eight students are just a fraction of the number of young people who were killed during demonstrations; a few of them were not even supporters of the Brotherhood. Sayed Weza, 19, a member of the Tamarod movement that was pivotal in ousting Morsi from power, chose to demonstrate against the current regime during the third anniversary of the January 25th revolution. He was gunned down by a police officer in downtown Cairo. Kill or imprison a young person, and his/her Facebook friends will take to the streets against you.
While the number of youth in the pro-Morsi demonstration is an interesting development worth of analysis, I’m not claiming that Egypt’s youth have shifted to the pro-Morsi or the pro-Brotherhood camp. In spite of the Brotherhood’s popularity loss due to their dreadful year in power, pro-Morsi are still violently doing things like preventing other students from taking exams, storming exam classrooms and instigating clashes with the police forcing them to enter the university campuses. The majority of youth are not becoming pro-Morsi, they’re becoming pro-apathy. That was evident in the latest referendum that a considerable portion of youth – especially in the urban areas – have boycotted.
It seems that Egypt’s urban youth -the ones who triggered the revolution – are mostly becoming politically apathetic; a smaller minority is joining the pro-Morsi camp. What could such a development yield in the future, let’s say after three or four years?
If the coming president, no matter who he might turn out to be, continues the current repression and police brutality, there will most probably be another generation of young revolutionaries who might be willing to join the Brotherhood in its demonstrations and clashes with the state. I am talking about 18 and 19 year olds who will not remember the Brotherhood’s betrayal of the January 2011 revolution. These young revolutionaries will not be Brotherhood members or even Islamists, they will be like Sayed Weza, young independent activists who will not mind joining forces with the Brotherhood, the only opposition till now, to fight the existing regime. However, the activists and the Brotherhood will still not be sufficient to tilt the balance; they will need another force with them, namely the poor. If the next president did not fix the economy, if he did not meet today’s high expentations, the poor might join whatever the new revolutionaries and the Brotherhood will trigger and we might end up with the third mass revolt in Egypt in 6 or 7 years. However, if that scenario happened, Egypt will officially become a failed state and decent into a far darker abyss. The country cannot withstand another revolution. Only fixing the economy and keeping the poor away from the streets can save the next president from the fate of his two predecessors.
During the 2012 parliament elections, Delta and Upper Egypt, Egypt’s largest voting blocks, voted overwhelmingly for the Islamist parties whether the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafis. Observers back then concluded the obvious: Islamist power is concentrated in the underdeveloped poor regions of Egypt.
During the presidential elections, when we started to notice shifts away from the Islamists due to their dreadful performance in parliament, Delta surprised us all by voting for Shafik and Hamdeen Sabahy in stage one, it voted for Shafik in stage two. While the rural areas in Delta voted for the MB candidate, the cumulative vote of Delta was in favor of Shafik. Morsi won in Upper Egypt by a landslide. In fact, without Upper Egypt, Morsi would have lost the popular vote in all of Egypt.
In the 2014 referedum, the turnout in Delta was very high compared to other regions in Egypt. Turnout in 2014 increased by a whopping 13.5 percentage points versus the 2012 referendum.
Why Delta, which is as poor and illiterate as Upper Egypt, votes differently now? Why did the majority there turn against the Islamists? I believe a big part of the reason lies in the sectarianism in Upper Egypt; it has the highest concentration of Christians in Egypt. The Delta voter is not concerned so much with “the other”, he or she is relaxed and can freely turn against the Islamists without caring about siding with the neighboring “enemy”. The neighbor there is Muslim. Sectarianism is rampant in Upper Egypt, most sectarian conflicts happen there and the “Muslim vs Christian” conflict constitute a huge part of the voters’ psyche.
Cairo proved to be very anti-MB. It voted for Shafik in the presidential elections, voted “No” in the 2012 referendum and in 2014 the turnout increased by 5.5 percentage points versus 2012. These results indicate clearly that the urban middle class has turned against the Brotherhood, which is also evident in the professional syndicates where the MB has been losing one election after the other (MB started losing syndicate elections during Morsi’s term).
Giza, which is opposite to Cairo on the other side of the Nile, is composed of affluent urban areas and very poor semi-urban semi-rural neighborhoods such as Kirdasa, the scene of the gruesome lynching of policemen after police cracked down on the pro-Morsi camps last August. The affluent areas including the poor urban neighborhoods such as Imbaba witnessed high turnout in the 2014 referendum (poor urban areas in Cairo and Giza turned against the MB since the presidential elections). The other more rural oriented areas which are densely populated with voters remained Islamist strongholds and hence Giza as a whole witnessed a decline in turnout by 2.5 percentage points (-2.5% versus 2012).
Once dubbed as the bastion of Salafism in Egypt, the picturesque Mediterranean city proved this assumption wrong since the first stage of the presidential elections when Hamdeen Sabahy came in first. Even though Alex does have a large Salafi voting base, it looks as if it has more urban middle class voters who, like their Cairo counterparts, have turned against the Brotherhood. Alexandria witnessed a 2.2 percentage points increase in 2014.
The surprise! This huge area of Egypt, composed of urban cities and rural villages, voted overwhelmingly for the Islamists in the parliament elections and we all thought that this fertile land which is nestled between the two branches of the Nile will be in Islamists’ hands forever. That was understandable back then. Delta is poor, very conservative and with a high rate of illiteracy, the perfect soil for Islamists to use religion for their political gains. Delta proved us wrong and broke this correlation.
Delta voted for Shafik and Sabahy in stage one of the presidential elections, Shafik in stage two. In the 2014 referendum, Delta had a whopping increase in turnout by 13.5 percentage points, the largest increase across Egypt.
Upper Egypt has almost the same socioeconomic characteristics of Delta yet it did not exhibit the same voting pattern. Turnout in this region declined by 3.9 percentage points even though the tourist areas Luxor and Aswan had an increase in turnout versus 2012. Upper Egypt remains the largest stronghold of Islamist power in Egypt. Morsi would have lost the presidential elections if it wasn’t for the votes he won in Upper Egypt.
How UE behaved in referendum 2014 indicates that the power of the so-called families and tribes is overestimated. These large powerful clans, who vote according to a deal stricken by whomever is in power and their chief, are definitely large in number but it looks as if they’re not large enough to sway the entire region towards a particular vote.
(My future post will explain why Delta and Upper Egypt behave differently despite their similar socioeconomic conditions)
The Suez Canal cities are Port Said, Islamailia, and Suez. The first two had an increase in turnout but turnout declined in Suez. Port Said, which rose up against Morsi and the Brotherhood early this year following the Port Said Prison massacre, had a 13 percentage points increase. The effect of how the mood changed in Port Said is very evident in the large increase in turnout.
Ismailia, where people played football with army soldiers during Morsi’s imposed curfew, had a 3.2 percentage points increase. Ironically, Ismailia was the birthplace of the Muslim Brotherhood organization.
Suez, on the other hand, had a negative turnout (38.7% in 2012 vs 34.5% in 2014). The city has a large Islamist voting base which affected the turnout in this referendum.
Matruh and Fayoum:
Matruh and Fayoum are two governorates with a very significant Salafi base. They had the highest decline in turnout across Egypt, -20.2% and -11.5% respectfully. The vote in Matruh and Fayoum proves that the Salafi Nour Party, which supported the June 3 roadmap, did nothing to turn out the Salafi vote. The Nour Party, the only Islamist entity in the post-July 3 establishment, just wants a seat around the table and it is willing to become the current regime’s “Islamist fig leaf” to get that seat.
Red Sea and South Sinai
The most important tourist areas in Egypt. Both witnessed a positive increase in turnout. Voters there voted for tourists to come back.
Unexpectedly, North Sinai had a slight increase in turnout versus 2012 (0.4%). This area is witnessing continuous fighting between the Egyptian army and jihadists. Observers, including myself, believe that military actions in this part of Sinai is doing little in winning hearts and minds of the civilians there. The turnout was a surprise to me. Is public opinion shifting in favor of the military or are civilians tired of the current situation that they believe voting for the constitution might bring stability to their turbulent region?