Correction:

An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that 38 percent of Egyptians regarded the youth organization as a “favorable” agent of change. According to poll results released in April by the Pew Research Center, 38 percent regarded the organization as a “very favorable” agent of change. This version has been corrected.

Egypt’s youth movement loses luster

CAIRO — Members of a youth movement that spearheaded the protests that forced President Hosni Mubarak from power face an uphill battle as they try to recapture the public’s support ahead of the Jan. 25 anniversary of the start of Egypt’s revolution.

Now their target is Egypt’s military council, which retains strong public backing. Liberals have fared poorly in the country’s parliamentary elections, outshone by Islamist candidates who appear likely to claim three times as many seats.

The April 6 youth movement has shrunk in stature against a backdrop of economic woes and instability, including months of clashes between security forces and demonstrators that have disrupted daily life. Although the group once had near-heroic status, its troubles have been compounded by the ruling military’s success in portraying the group as agents of a foreign-backed insurrection.

Together with other youth groups and activists, the group is trying to organize mass protests Jan. 25 to demand the immediate transfer of power from the military to the newly elected parliament, which is expected to be seated soon.

But although leaders of the group say its ranks have swelled over the past year — to 20,000 members from a base of 3,000 — they acknowledge that the organization’s reputation has been diminished in the eyes of many Egyptians, a fate they blame on the military and its supporters.

“They destroyed our reputations. This is more dangerous than detention or arrest,” Ahmed Maher, the leader of the movement, said of the military leaders. “They have the most powerful weapon of all: the media.”

In July, the military issued a statement accusing the April 6 group of “driving a wedge between the army and the people.” A member of the military council accused the group of getting illicit training in Serbia, and last week four members of a splinter group of the organization were arrested and released on bail after distributing fliers critical of the military council.

“Now, anyone who creates any problem, people accuse them of being April 6,” said Engy Hamdy, a leading member of the movement.

The April 6 group soared to prominence after helping to orchestrate the protests that led to Mubarak’s ouster. Poll results released in April by the Pew Research Center found that 38 percent of Egyptians regarded the organization as a “very favorable” agent of change, ahead of the Muslim Brotherhood and trailing only Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the military council, and Amr Moussa, the former foreign minister who became a popular opposition figure.

But the group has chosen since to focus on street activism. There have been no recent opinion polls to gauge its popularity, but the recent multi-phase parliamentary elections suggested that its support has faded badly, with only 2 percent of seats projected to go to the Revolution Continues party, the faction most similar to the April 6 organization.

Altogether, liberal parties are projected to take about 20 percent of parliamentary seats, compared with 62 percent projected to go to Islamist candidates, including members of the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultraconservative Salafists.

Political activists, including liberals and Islamists, continue to accuse the military rulers of botching their transitional rule, working against democracy and conducting deadly crackdowns on unarmed protesters. As many as 100 people have been killed in clashes with security forces since October, and in the most recent unrest, unarmed women, as well as men, were beaten.

To counter the narrative, April 6 is resorting to the tactics it successfully employed a year ago: social media campaigns, demonstrations, graffiti art, online statements and fliers recounting military abuses.

The group is also staging daily marches ahead of the Jan. 25 anniversary — despite warnings in government-controlled newspapers that the date will be used by conspirators to destroy Egypt.

“Their power in the immediate aftermath of the January uprising was to reach out to people who were not previously politicized,” said Heba Morayef, an Egypt researcher for Human Rights Watch. “But from July onwards, the military successfully constructed a narrative to delegitimize April 6 and to make associating with them dangerous.”

The polarized feelings were evident at a recent rally in the affluent Cairo suburb of Maadi, where supporters of the April 6 group chanted slogans against military rule while onlookers watched warily.

“These are our enemies,” said Mohammed Samaha, 34, who scowled and gestured toward the protesters. “April 6 are agents, trained in Serbia by Freedom House and the United States.”

Among others scurrying past was Fatma Abdelaal, a mother of two college-aged children, who said she wanted nothing to do with the demonstration.

“Enough with the protests. We want calm,” Abdelaal muttered. “We’re grateful that the revolution deposed Mubarak. I’m sad for the martyrs, but the Egyptian army is the best in the world.”

 
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