On the eve of first parliamentary elections in Egypt after the revolution, the Egyptian youth is determined to defend the democratic values for which they took to the streets there for ten months. Some chose politics, others are engaged in social action to build Egypt of tomorrow.
"The future is us, the youth! We must not let the old generation take over", says Mohammed al-Qassas, thirties, while distributing his programm for the elections in a coffee shop in the district of Ain Shams in eastern Cairo. Mohamed decided to enter politics after the revolution. He is a candidate on the list of the party he founded himself "al-Tayyar al-Masri" (the egyptian current)*. This young member of "Muslim Brothers" have yet had the opportunity to be a candidate to the party "Freedom and Justice" of the Brotherhood, but he flatly refused. He was even a part of young Egyptians who have opposed to its creation. "For me, the Brotherhood should have stayed away from political games and remain a pressure group to ensure democracy", Mohammed criticize.
The reaction of the Brotherhood was quick : The Revolutionary from the start was deported overnight without explanation because of his reformist ideas. "I am a Muslim Brother and I will always be. But the current leaders of the Brotherhood does not show open to new ideas that have matured in the minds of young people who were on Tahrir. The real problem is that the brotherhood is directed by the generation of 1965, which is very limited", he says.
At "al-Tayyar al-Masri," Mohamed advocates just the opposite. He wants the youth to expressed themselves. Thousands of Egyptians, in Mohammed'case, fighting for democratic values and supported in the revolution joind the party. The strong argument of Mohammed is the diversity of the party that does not follow a specific ideology. "We represent all political stripes. There are liberals, socialists, centrists ...".
But wanting to do politics when you're young without a major network is proving to be a real obstacle course, "we do not have much means. We fund our campaign ourselves. We find it unacceptable that big businessmen buy the party", he quips, proud of that choice.
At his side in the election campaign, another rebel like him. Khaled Salem, a Salafist, 36 years old, also candidate for al-Tayyar al-Masri. He refused to join, as his friend, the many parties created by the Salafists. "The sheikhs of the old generation are not aware of the changes in society. They can not communicate with others and are closed on themselves in recent years. I've got the chance to deal with the society Through my work, it helped me to understand more about the ideas of others".
Khaled has the look of traditional Salafi, a serious and hard eyes, looking down when a woman crosses, but his speech is intended as more reformer : "Our sheikhs are often so closed ... During the Revolution, they were against the protests. They did not want to take responsibility for the victims if the revolution fails. For me it loose. It was to oppose the regime who damages the lives of the Egyptians", he says calmly. Another rant from Khaled, the attitude of traditional sheikhs in the referendum of 19 March 2011 on the establishment of the transitional phase in Egypt : "Some sheikhs have used the concepts of hell and heaven to guide the votes in their favor. This is not Islam. Now, they continue their mistakes by saying that voting for the Liberals or Christians in the legislative elections, is a sin. All this shows that they are not ready for democracy". Khaled is convinced that sooner or later Egypt will remain a democratic country : "We will never return back and the Salafists will eventually understand that they simply accept the will of the people or they will permanently lose the sympathy of the Egyptian street".
For Khaled as Mohamed, the question is not winning or losing elections. They are aware of their lack of experience and resources. For them, the important thing is to show that the youth of Tahrir does not sleep and that the young Egyptians are ready to defend the political, religious and cultural diversty in Egypt.
Far from the usual political channels, other young Egyptians are committed to grow the spirit of Tahrir. For them, the politic only leads to resentment between different communities and politicians seek only their own interests. These are the "Salafists of Costa". A group of very religious Muslim friends who used to meet in an international chain of coffee shop "Costa", the equivalent of "Starbucks", before the Revolution. After the fall of Mubarak, they had the idea of inviting other Egyptians that share with them the same idias to meet with them. Ihab el-Kholy, one of the leaders of the movement says : "We wanted to break the wall of ignorance and fear separates sometimes each one of us. We are all Egyptians and our goal should be to serve our country". Even some Christians have joined them. Thus was born "our little Egypt", a charity project for the Egyptians in need.
At Ezbet El Haganah, a poor neighborhood, riddled with the trafficking of all kinds, including drugs, Salafists of Costa, joined by their new allies, try to help these people by organizing mediacl convoys, literacy classes and craft workshops. They try to set up small businesses as sources of income for residents. Christians and Muslims, men and women work side by side to make from this neighborhood such a development to be followed in all Egypt.
The movement could have found his own political party. But members have flatly refused the idea. They even included a clause in their rules that the founders should not belong to political parties. "In the movement, we're all agreed on charity projects we do. If you are a political party, we will never be honest in our actions. Self-interest will guide us always", said Abeer, a female member of the movement, bringing the niqab. "But the Salafists of Costa can be used as a pressure group, she says, when we organize an activity we call on political parties to participate. Those who say they want to serve the people, we offer them the opportunity to show what they can do!"
The members of the group are open minded yet they refuse to abandon the concept of Salafism. A choice that even Bassem Victor, one of the ten Coptic members of the group which has a hundred of members defend : "The word Salafist means the identity of the founders of this group and their desire to keep their faith while Costa, this coffee shop known as a meeting place for liberals in Egypt, shows the side of openness to the Other. Our message is that we can co-exist without abandoning our believes. This is the first line of defense against inter-religious conflicts", he said.
Bassem is aware that it will take time, perhaps years, to the Egyptians to understand his message. But he remains optimistic: "We have every day new people who want to join our movement!"
* Al-Tayyar al-Masri is a party resulting from the "Youth Coalition of the revolution", a front formed to protect the goals of the Egyptian revolution against supporters of the former regime and parties existing before the revolution. This party was created primarily by young leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood expelled from the "Brotherhood" because they disagreed with the plans of their elders. Soon, other young people - Salafists, socialists, liberals and centrists - joined the party.
This article was written for the french magazine "Courrier de l'Atlas"