Cairo: The overwhelming approval of Egypt’s new constitution has been dented by young voters’ low turnout, a trend signalling disappointment of the country’s youth majority at the political landscape, according to analysts and activists.
“The decrease in young people’s participation in the constitutional referendum was noticeable,” said Mustafa Al Sayyed, a political science professor. “This lack of interest in the referendum has serious implications. It reflects young people’s loss of hope and even frustration,” he added.
The main reason for young voters’ apathy, according to Al Sayyed, is their belief that the regime of Hosni Mubarak, forced out of power in a youth-led 2011 uprising, is staging a comeback.
“Several figures from the Mubarak order are now taking the centre of the political scene. Some of them even campaigned for voting in favour of the new constitution.”
The charter, drafted by a mostly secular commission, was endorsed in the referendum held in mid-January by 98.1 per cent of the voters, who took part in the ballot. Around 38.6 per cent of Egypt’s 53.4 million eligible voters participate in the ballot, the country’s first since the army’s July overthrow of Islamist president Mohammad Mursi.
As low as 16 per cent of Egypt’s voters aged 20 to 30 abstained from balloting, according to unofficial figures. Young people account for around 60 per cent of Egypt’s 85 million population, say official figures.
The constitution replaces the one adopted in 2012 when Mursi was in office. Thousands of Islamists as well as scores of secular pro-democracy activists have been rounded up since Mursi’s ouster, sparking fears of revival of the Mubarak-era police’s oppression.
“The youth are obviously disappointed at the return of some forms of the police state and the arrest of a number of activists amid intensified media campaigns to tarnish the January (2011) revolution against Mubarak,” said Al Sayyed.
Ahmad Maher, Ahmad Douma and Mohammad Adel — three pro-democracy activists who spearheaded the anti-Mubarak revolt — are now in prison serving a three-year term after they were convicted of holding unauthorised protests and assaulting policemen.
A pro-military private TV station has recently caused a big stir by airing leaked calls of prominent activists, who played a leading role in the anti-Mubarak uprising. In their calls, the activists are heard talking about their links with foreign agencies, prompting detractors to accuse them of being foreign agents and even traitors.
“More than 90 per cent of the eligible young voters, did not go to polls because they feel that their revolution has been hijacked,” said Mohammad Kamal, a member of the April 6 movement that mobilised the protests that forced Mubarak to step down.“A common belief among young people is that two forces are struggling over power: the army and the Mubarak-era figures on the one hand and the Brotherhood on the other. Youth are the losers in this conflict.”
The military-backed authorities have denied that the constitutional referendum was largely boycotted by young voters.
Mustafa Hejazi, an aide to interim President Adly Mansour, this week accused Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood of “propagating these baseless rumours”.
However, Mansour and the caretaker government started this week a series of talks with young activists apparently to allay their anger. Mansour denied at a five-hour meeting on Tuesday with a young delegation that his administration was cooperating with Mubarak-era politicians.
“He who joins hands with them will be a traitor,” Mansour was quoted as saying. His reassurances come as Egypt is bracing to mark the third anniversary of the revolt against Mubarak amid calls by the Brotherhood for large street protests to regain what the banned group calls the “January 25 revolution”.