The American patriots had George Washington. Nationalist Indians had Gandhi, and the black South Africans had Nelson Mandela. The Egyptian youth who inspired and led the revolution? They didn’t find their leader and it has come back to haunt them.
Egyptians have voted, and so far with early returns coming in after two days worth of historic elections, the Islamists have positioned themselves to win a strong majority in parliament.
What made the Egyptian revolution so unique and special was its impromptu nature and the fact that everyone rallied together without a true leader for guidance. It is also what made the uprising so powerful. The Egyptian government couldn't stop the revolution because there was no one leader to arrest. The uprising, with a little help from technology, was the purest example of the true power of the people.
Five months later, the youth activists who have worked so hard for an inclusive and moderate government are now realizing the pitfalls of a leaderless revolution.
Without someone to inspire a movement and spur it forward, dissension grew amongst the myriad of youth and liberal groups. During the uprising the Brotherhood lay low, at times even calling their followers to avoid Tahrir Square all together. The gamble at first seemed to hurt them as youth groups derided the Brotherhood for being cowardly. Now, with word that the Muslim Brotherhood has won roughly 40% of the vote and the ultraconservative Salafi movement as much as 25% of the vote, the strategy appears to have paid off.
Capitalizing on the leadership vacuum, the Brotherhood used its extensive political networks, strong organization and deep funding to shore up its support while the newly formed youth groups failed to anoint a capable and popular leader and never gained traction.
With such a vast Islamic majority (it may end up being as much as 75% to 80% of the parliament), the liberal and youth voices will be drowned out. The Brotherhood will not need to work with or yield to any of the demands of the liberals or moderates.
If the liberals and youth groups that led the overthrow of Mubarak hope to be relevant once more, they must lick their wounds, regroup and present a unified opposition. Most importantly they must find and groom a charismatic and popular leader who can win support from a wide swath of the population and challenge during the next elections.
After a hopeful spring, liberalism in Egypt has been crushed. A comeback will hinge more on the candidate the liberals choose than the message they put forward. For now, liberals and youth groups must press on knowing that they will be battling a clear, and perhaps dangerous, mandate for a Islamism.
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