Egypt's April 6 Youth Movement Splits

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CAIRO, Egypt -- On his blog Wednesday, the Council on Foreign Relation's Steven Cook revealed that a founder of the April 6 youth movement in Egypt, Ahmed Maher, is working with a Beverly Hills public relations company. Although the company appears to be donating its work, Cook speculates that April 6 will look out of touch, vainly self-promotional, or even tainted as too tied to foreign interests.

In fact, such accusations have been levied at Maher, a dedicated movement activist whose early work in 2008 to organize striking textile workers was a pivotal step in Egypt's path to revolution. April 6 has become a formidable movement with lots of grassroots urban activists. They've had street muscle and staying power since January, and often appear more in touch with mainstream Egyptian public opinion than other revolutionary activists, who can come across as overly intellectual and even, at times, as elitist. Maher was featured in a PBS Frontline documentary, and has been one of the revolution's media stars.

The Democracy ReportIn the last few months, a rift emerged between Maher's circle and other April 6 leaders. The movement now has effectively split, although there hasn't been a public announcement of it and both factions use similar logos and names. The breakaway faction, which calls itself the April 6 Movement and is prioritizing protest and political mobilization, appears by far larger. "There was no internal democracy," said Tarek El-Khouly, one of the leaders. "There was no transparency. [Ahmed Maher] wouldn't tell us if he was getting foreign funds."

Ahmed Maher and his associates are known in the activist community now as the April 6 foundation or NGO, and are focusing more on public education and outreach about the democratic process.

The split says something about the entropy and divisiveness among Egypt's activists, whose courage and persistence is sadly, but not unexpectedly, often matched by interpersonal rivalries.

There's also a long history of tarnishing activists and dissidents as foreign agents. It was a common slander tactic of the Mubarak regime, and it resonates with the widespread xenophobia and paranoia in Egypt -- fueled, of course, by the long track record of actual foreign manipulation of Egyptian politics.

Image: April 6 leader Ahmed Maher speaking in video recorded by the Carnegie Foundations

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Thanassis Cambanis is a columnist for The Boston Globe and a fellow at The Century Foundation. He is the author of A Privilege to Die: Inside Hezbollah's Legions and Their Endless War Against Israel and, most recently, Once Upon a Revolution: An Egyptian Story.

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