Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Ahmed Maher is one of the founder’s of Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement, he is the protest movement’s key coordinator and director of its operations. The April 6 Youth Movement began as an Egyptian Facebook group in 2008, supporting workers in the northern industrial town of Mahalla al-Kubra and calling for the 6 April national strike of that year. This protest movement, which is predominately made up of young well-educated Egyptians, has played an increasingly significant role in the ongoing protests in Egypt, utilizing technology and the internet to spread its message, from Facebook to Twitter to Flickr.
Ahmed Maher, aged 30, is a civil engineer who graduated from Cairo’s Faculty of Engineering in 2004, and he is currently studying towards a Masters degree in Project Management at Cairo University. He is also one of the elders of the popular youth movement in Egypt, and a member of the “Coalition of the Revolution’s Youth” that is said to be responsible for the main protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Maher has been married for 4 years and has a daughter aged 3, and is eagerly awaiting the birth of his second child.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Maher talks about the preparations for the 25 January 2011 protests, otherwise known as Egypt’s “Day of Rage”, as well as the ways in which the protest movement attempted to circumvent the efforts of the security apparatus to halt the demonstrations, and the Tahrir Square protestors commitment to continue protesting until Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak steps down from power.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You were responsible for what has been described as the Egyptian protests “operations room” prior to and during the January 25 “Day of Rage” protests, can you tell us a little about what this entailed?
[Maher] I established this “operations room” around 15 days before the beginning of the protests, and we would meet daily to discuss routine details including assessing the reach of our calls to protest with regards to internet websites, looking at the data and information that was being provided to citizens, and studying innovative mechanisms of protesting which aimed to overcome the methods that the state security services always use to pre-empt demonstrations and protests. Two days prior to the demonstrations we implemented a new mode of operation which saw activists being split into separate groups, with each group being made up of between 30 and 50 activists who would be posted to central areas and public squares to incite protests whilst only the leader of each group would be informed of the precise location of where the protests were scheduled to begin…meeting his group in a pre-selected location just prior to the beginning of the protest, and then guiding this group to the main rendezvous point.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Was all of this secrecy due to fears of the security apparatus breaching your ranks?
[Maher] The primary reason for this secrecy was our previous experiences with the security apparatus and its methods of clamping down on protests. There has been no security breach; we were merely trying to be more careful than we were previously, because one of the security methods of clamping down on our activities is to arrest activists the day before the protest. This is why a small committee was formed, with only the members of this committee being aware of the organizations details of the protests, especially regarding the locations where protests were scheduled to set-off from.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have met with [Egyptian Nobel prize winner] Dr. Ahmed Zewail and Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa, can you tell us what you discussed in these meetings and whether the April 6 Youth Movement intends to support one of these figures as a presidential candidate?
[Maher] The objective of these meetings was to explore the possibility of them playing a role in the current events, without looking at the issue of whether we will support any particular presidential candidate or not. During our meeting with Amr Musa, we found that he was dealing with events in an extremely diplomatic manner – this is something that is possibly imposed upon him by his position as Arab League Secretary-General – [however] this is a position that is not commensurate with the nature of the current phase, which requires a great deal of revolutionary [belief], rather than diplomacy. As for our meeting with Dr. Ahmed Zewail, we believe that he is the closest to our current viewpoint and desires, and even when he held his press conference he was careful to deliberately separate his viewpoint from the viewpoint of the protestors. As a result of this, we believe he is one of the most important figures and we support his candidacy to be a member of the “presidential council” that we propose governs the country’s affairs for a transitional period.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this mean that the April 6 Youth Movement will pledge its support to Dr. Ahmed Zewail as a presidential candidate at the next presidential elections?
[Maher] The issue of supporting a candidate at the presidential elections is on hold for the moment, for there are priorities for the current phase that must first be dealt with relating to the period of transition, and we will study the issue of supporting a figure at the presidential elections at the end of this [transitional] period.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You are also a member of the “Coalition of the Revolution’s Youth”, can you tell us more about this organization?
[Maher] The role of the coalition is to manage all aspects of the main sit-in at Tahrir Square, from forming committees to provide protestors with food, to looking at methods of escalating the protests, and discussing our demands.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] With regards to escalating the protests, do you believe that the Egyptian regime will respond to your major demand, namely the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak?
[Maher] The Egyptian regime is exerting every effort to remain in power, especially as this regime is not just a political regime, but rather it is also a grouping of officials and businessman who are in control of everything in the country, therefore it is natural that they would defend their financial interests to the bitter end However we will not leave Tahrir Square until Mubarak steps aside, and we have new methods of escalating the protests, and this is something that we have already begun over the past days, such as organizing numerous protests in different locations outside of Tahrir Square.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Newspaper reports have talked about the possibility of President Mubarak seeking medical treatment abroad in Germany, how will this affect the protests?
[Maher] Should Mubarak travel to Germany or any other country, this will only step up the pace of the protests.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your opinion of the dialogue carried out by newly appointed Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman with the [opposition] political forces?
[Maher] The greatest problem with regards to the dialogue with Omar Suleiman is that he is discussing details before discussing the main topic, for there is no point in talking about constitutional amendments and promising political reform before the departure of Mubarak and his regime. I do not believe that this dialogue will have results, for the sole legitimacy today is the legitimacy of the popular revolution that has already identified its main demand, the complete departure of Hosni Mubarak and his regime.