Politics As Life-Sphere: Youth Activism and the Question of Multiple Transitions in Mubarak's Egypt

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 11:45 AM
Room: 501
Distributed Paper
Henri ONODERA , Political and Economic Studies / Development Studies, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
Vibrant debates have emerged on the role of young people in revolutionary movements since the so-called ‘Arab revolutions’ in 2011. Some attribute the young protagonists with more agency than the latter would themselves consider having. Others point to a certain hype around youth in this context and argue that the role of complex and contradictory social, economic, and cultural processes should be acknowledged in the making of popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and beyond. Young activists are, however, depicted often as somewhat one-dimensional social actors.

This paper argues that locating young people’s activism in the wider context of their everyday experiences helps to unravel the multiple and at times contradictory transitions the young have to negotiate when engaging in youthful dissent under authoritarian settings. Although it is important to recognize that political activism in late 2000s provided crucial formative experiences for many young Egyptians, it is useful to remember that periodic street protesting, online campaigns, awareness raising stunts, and other forms of public dissent occupied only one aspect of their everyday lives. During in-between moments, that is, most of the time, they engaged themselves in other spheres of life such as studying, leisure, work (or finding work) and family. Thus, multiple life-spheres and trajectories within them represent an everyday dynamic in which the young had to navigate in their transitions to adulthood. For instance those, whose parents were opposition politicians, who had secured a job in civil society organizations, and whose friends were supportive of their oppositional activities, benefited from crucial synergies between work, family, friends, and activism. But others were not so privileged, while sustained participation in pro-democracy movements was further structured according to gender, class, region, connectedness, etc. The paper bases on 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Cairo between 2007 and 2011.