Seamans: Egyptian Youth

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(HOST)  Commentator Bill Seamans has been thinking about Egyptian youth – and what form of government will eventually emerge from the Cairo rebellion.

(SEAMANS) It had been smoldering for years – a third of Egypt’s 83 million population are under 24 – the nation’s youth choking hopelessly under a suffocating geriatric political dynasty of old leaders and their corrupt old ideas.  Then the digital world – the Internet, Facebook and Twitter, unleashed them – they were better able to communicate with each other all across their country and to engage with the ideas of youth in western democracies.  They were able to organize.  Then what?

Then I think it happened on June 4, 2009 – the day President Barack Obama spoke to hundreds of leading students at Cairo University – and to all the nation’s youth listening in.  The leader of the world’s most powerful democratic nation who himself had achieved an impossible dream said to them:  "I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose.  These are not just American ideas; they are human rights.  And that is why we will support them everywhere."   It was the first time a world notable had publicly acknowledged their political trauma and pledged his support.  Amid the applause, one student shouted out, "We Love You."

I think historians, regardless of their agenda, will write that Obama’s Cairo speech lit the fuse.  Young Egyptians turned out in public demonstrations that were joined by other groups and grew to the result we see today.  Now, Egypt’s youth and their older followers face the problem of how they will convert their street demonstrations into a political party or a force that will sway other parties.  How will they move into the political space they have created?

The well-disciplined Egyptian Army led by some Generals trained in the U.S. has taken control and so far has dissolved Parliament and suspended the Constitution which were two major demands.  But the punditocracy is now suffering one of its periodic dilemmas as it tries to explain what is going on – will this end up as an Army coup taking over the government or will  the "transition" period bring forth some form of Egyptian democracy that will compromise the complex forces beyond the protest of youth into a workable representational Parliament.

If a positive forward moving compromise does not overcome centuries of governance by fear and favor, an Arabic professor at Virginia Tech said, "I am deeply worried that young Arabs will turn away from democracy as soon as they realize that you cannot eat free elections."

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