In keeping with annual tradition, the April 6 Youth Movement tagged Facebook posts for its eighth anniversary, “the ninth launch.” But is this optimistic given the current state of the movement?
With its founding members in prison and widespread accusations of conspiring against Egypt with foreign forces and profiting off their political activities, the movement that was once celebrated as a leading force for change in Egypt is barely surviving.
Mada Masr takes a look at the widely shifting perceptions of April 6 over the eight years since it was founded.
In 2008, a group of young activists called for a general strike on April 6, building on an earlier call for industrial action by workers in Mahalla al-Kubra, who were demanding an official minimum wage and other labor rights.
The use of social media to mobilize for widespread political action in this way set a precedent that is often credited as the groundwork for the January 25, 2011 uprising. Seventy thousand people resonded to the strike call on Facebook.
The state was blindsided by the success of the general strike, which was clearly visible in the empty streets of Cairo and other governorates on the day, taking place at the height of former President Hosni Mubarak’s iron-fisted control of the political scene. Thus, the April 6 Youth Movement was born.
There were attempts by the government to nip the movement in the bud. In May 2008, State Security Intelligence Services abducted and tortured Ahmed Maher before releasing him, according to his testimony. Other members of the group were also arrested.
During this period, April 6 and other movements like Kefaya were credited with opening up space for street movement again.
April 6 was involved in several groundbreaking protests, such as a demonstration in front of Abdeen Palace in 2010 against the grooming of Gamal Mubarak to succeed his father as president. People turned out in large numbers and the police attacked and arrested several of protesters.
Zizo Abdo, a member of the April 6 political bureau, says the group was welcomed in its initial phase, with people generally believing change was possible.
As the revolution exploded in 2011, with April 6 and other youth movements at the forefront, the movement was celebrated.
“This was the golden age, people saw us as their saviors. We were being treated like the holy crusaders,” Abdo says.
The state’s tolerance towards April 6 and other prominent young figures at the time is evident in a picture depicting members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) Mahmoud Hegazy and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi with April 6 founder Ahmed Maher, among other young revolutionary figures, such as Wael Ghoneim.
However, the movement’s golden age didn’t last long. Shortly after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, the ruling SCAF turned on April 6, provoking an extreme shift in the public’s perception of the movement, a shift that persists to this day.
In July 2011, SCAF issued its 69th statement since it acquired executive power, accusing April 6 of trying to create a rift between citizens and the military in order to serve their “personal agenda.”
The vague accusation was enough to create an association between the movement and foreign conspiracies.
This is the point at which authorities decided they needed to “put these kids in their place,” Abdo explains. He recalls the danger previously celebrated April 6 leaders felt at this time, many of them having to hide their affiliations with the group.
The movement also suffered from a severe internal rift, which members claim was the result of goverment efforts to infiltrate the group. It splintered into two fronts as a result, with the original group led by Ahmed Maher and the new democratic front led by Tarek al-Khouly.
In 2012, April 6 clashed with other revolutionary groups when it decided to back the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi in the second phase of the presidential elections against Mubarak-era minister Ahmed Shafiq. Other revolutionary groups and figures – who had opted for a boycott – rejected April 6’s stance, referring to them as “lemon squeezers” – using an Egyptian idiom meaning to get on with something when one’s options are unpleasant – in reference to their backing of Morsi despite their disagreements with the Muslim Brotherhood, which was seen as a tactical move to minimize the threat against them.
This was a difficult phase for the movement and they faced accusations by several supporters, Abdo recalls.
The rifts grew when April 6 General Coordinator Ahmed Maher joined the constitution-drafting committee that was dominated by Islamist representatives.
Eventually, Maher withdrew from the committee and the group turned against the Brotherhood and started organizing protests against them.
When the Tamarod campaign was launched in 2013 in opposition to Morsi’s presidency and calling for early elections, a new youth representative was starting to be groomed to take the place of April 6.
Despite its initial collaboration with the Tamarod campaign, Abdo says April 6 had lots of disagreements with them regarding the prospect of the military rising to power following the ouster of Morsi, which April 6 firmly rejected.
April 6 participated in the June 30 protests and supported the military’s removal of Morsi on July 3, but the movement went back to being an oppositional force after the subsequent actions of the state, including the violent dispersal of large Muslim Brotherhood protests in August 2013 and the death of over a thousand demonstrators.
As a severe crackdown commenced on street movements and political activity, April 6 was dealt a strong blow, weakening the organization severely.
Several of the group’s leading figures face jail sentences, including Maher and founding member Mohamed Adel, who were both sentenced to three years in prison in 2013 for protest-related charges.
In April 2014, a court ruled to ban the activities of April 6 for its “involvement in acts that tarnish Egypt’s image.”
The group’s acting general coordinator, Amr Ali, was also sentenced to three years imprisonment in February for obstructing the work of state institutions and joining an illegal organization, after being arrested from his home in Monufiya. Other members of the group in different governorates were targeted in house raids.
The organization was in no shape to commemorate its eigth anniversary, except with a Facebook post, but Abdo says, “One thing is true, we’re still alive.”
What’s next for the movement? Abdo doesn’t have an answer, but says the group is revising its decisions and owning up to the mistakes of the last few years.