Egyptian Youth between Despair and Hope: The Case of the Bread and Freedom Party

By Dina El-Sharnouby
Submitted to Session P4751 (Spaces of Youth Political Engagement Six Years after the 2011 Uprisings, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
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With the 2011 revolutionary event in Egypt, a critical mass of young people entered the political sphere for the first time. They experienced a vibrant political culture and formed and joined an array of initiatives and political groups. In 2013, with the return of the repressive military regime, many groups, movements and political parties were violently and drastically closed. The abrupt constriction of the political space led many young activists and revolutionaries to experience a sense of loss and failure. Six years on, a key question to ask is: Which arenas are still open for youth’s political engagement and what can those spaces tell us about youth’s imagination for transformation and change? This paper addresses these questions through a case study of the leftist Bread and Freedom Party.

The Bread and Freedom Party formed in 2013 after it split from the Social Popular Alliance (SPA), as members wanted to reclaim their revolutionary legitimacy. The name of the party comes from the famous revolutionary slogan, ‘Bread, Freedom, Social Justice’ (aish, huriyya, adala ijtimaiyya). This paper draws on participant action research conducted by the author over eight months in 2015. It traces some of the key debates among members, and the struggles and challenges members face as they try to articulate a platform for change. I argue that tensions between party members arise around different understandings of “the political,” and discussions about what actions and platforms could drive meaningful change. It reviews the process that goes into the making of an “alternative discourse” and strategies to target a side section of the populations such as workers, women and Christians. The party stands as a valuable case for understanding a form of youth political engagement in this period of uncertainty mixed with energy and hope.