Egypt's youth: 'What has the revolution done for us?'
- 28 May 2013
- From the section Middle East
In this sixth and final report of the series, Egypt's Challenge, Shaimaa Khalil explores the effects the revolution has had on the very people who were at its forefront - the youth. More than two years on, is this the Egypt they had hoped for?
El Borsa is a big pedestrian area, full of cafes, near Egypt's stock exchange and right in the middle of central Cairo. It is a two-minute walk from Tahrir Square, the heart of the 2011 revolution.
It has become known as the activists' hang out, where many revolutionaries come to talk politics and discuss the latest events. I've come to Borsa many times since the revolution, met many young people and heard numerous heated debates.
The loud conversations of the cafe-goers compete with the sounds of the numerous TV screens all around, some showing football games, others talk shows on Egyptian satellite channels.
Walking from Borsa into Tahrir Square, however, you can feel the mood change.
"When I enter the square now, it does not feel the same. It's not the same vibe. You don't feel safe or secure anymore. You feel like everyone has given up on this square," Tariq Mustafa, a young human rights activist, told me.
Walking around the square with Tariq, I can see what he means.
The square is a shadow of its January 2011 self. I remember well when the square was a sea of humanity. Thousands of people were drawn to it, making it hard to move around, find a place to sit or even stand, especially on Fridays.
For the first few months after the revolution, Tahrir felt like the safest place in Egypt.
Not any more.
Now, the square is virtually empty. Small groups of people gather here and there, and everywhere there is evidence of violence and destruction.
Depression and disappointment
One stark change, for me, is the graffiti on the wall of the American University just off the square.
The wall once carried motivational slogans, nationalistic song lyrics and poems.
Now, all I can see there are the faces of dead people, of those killed during the two years of the revolution.
Some of them are quite disturbing. The faces have been deformed, apparently beaten up. Police brutality is alleged.
Most of the faces on the wall are those of young people.
I am surprised to see a young woman leaving the American University building.
Women have stopped coming to Tahrir now, especially after so many incidents of sexual harassment in the square.
But Manal is here for a language course and tells me she walks with male colleagues for protection, especially at night.
"We're so tense and on edge all the time. There's a general sense of depression and disappointment," Manal says.
When I ask her if she regrets the revolution, her answer comes without hesitation: "One hundred per cent, I regret it".
"What is freedom and democracy? It's about making life better," she says, "traffic better, jobs better and more things available. That hasn't happened. Nothing has happened. Everything's changed for the worse."
Back in my home town Alexandria, I'm sitting on the beach with my friend Ahmed Attiya.
He travels between Cairo and Alexandria for his work.
Ahmed had a chance to leave Egypt for the US on a scholarship two years ago but when the revolution happened, he cancelled his trip.
"It was history being made in my country and I wanted to be there" he told me.
He sighed when I asked him if, more than two years on, he regrets his decision to stay.
"I'm very confused about it. I don't regret my decision. I fought a battle and I lost it," he said.
"But if I'd known everything would get worse, I'd have packed my bags and gone."
And like millions of young people in Egypt, Ahmed's problems come down to the deteriorating economy.
"I'm planning to get married and all the prices are rising , it's getting increasingly hard to live." Ahmed said.
Of all Egypt's problems, mass unemployment is the most pressing and it is the young who are hit the hardest.
Samer Atallah, an economist at the American University in Cairo, explains; "The majority of the unemployed are the people that are in the age bracket of 15 to 29. That's nearly three quarters of the unemployed."
Half of Egypt's population is below 24 years old and, despite that, Egypt is not using this youth and energy to its benefit.
"We're creating a frustrated generation. They cannot find a job, they don't have enough skills to acquire any job that will give them a decent living", Mr Atallah says.
To reduce the unemployment, Egypt has to create between 800,000 and a million jobs a year. And in the current economic climate, the country is not achieving anything close to that number.
Egypt's official statistics agency says unemployment is now at 13%, but few take that figure seriously.
Most economists say the real figure is much higher. No-one, however, seems to be able to give an accurate figure - not even those in power.
"We don't have the latest unemployment figures. I think it would be very difficult to find someone who can say with assurance that they have [them]", says Gehad el Haddad, the national spokesperson for the Muslim Brotherhood.
"There's a huge gap in the accuracy and availability of such information", he adds.
Despite the depressing statistics Mr Atallah still thinks there's room for optimism
"The Egyptian people have changed; the next generation more than ours. It's definitely a very positive sign. I think this is our opportunity."
Listen to The Documentary: Egypt's Challenge on Tuesday 28 May on the BBC World Service.