The Muslim Brotherhood’s Youth: An Independent Course to Revolution?

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Members of the Muslim Brotherhood attend Friday prayers at al-Azhar mosque in Cairo 25 November 2011. (Photo: REUTERS - Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

By: Serene Assir

Published Monday, November 28, 2011

Muslim Brotherhood youth activists are being pulled in two directions. They continue to protest in Tahrir Square but believe that the elections are too important to boycott.

Cairo - On the historic day of January 25, Muslim Brotherhood (MB) youth member Omar Montash was arrested and imprisoned alongside revolutionary socialist Haitham Mohammadein. They have remained friends ever since, even though they hold different views on which path the revolution should take.

“I admire Haitham deeply. He was one of the first people to come out on television and call for mass participation in protests to bring down Mubarak’s regime,” says Montash.

“Spending time in a prison cell with him taught me many things. Above all, he taught me that although the Muslim Brotherhood had long been calling for systemic change in Egypt, it will only come if we are prepared to enter into a direct confrontation with Mubarak’s regime.”

Like hundreds of thousands of Egyptians, 32-year-old Montash joined the MB when he was in his 20s, driven by his admiration for the organization’s Islamic values, its commitment to helping the poor, and its opposition to the former regime.

He knew that it would be risky to join a banned organization, but his commitment to “making Egypt a better country” was strong enough to counter his fear.

Starting in his university years, Montash consistently participated in MB protests. However, he had never taken part in a protest against Mubarak alongside other political forces.

“The beauty of January 25, and everything that has happened since, is that those who were in Tahrir Square that day were there because they wanted to be,” Montash explained. “It was an individual decision by each one of us. Events since then have bound us together. And publicly expressing my desire for an end to Mubarak’s regime changed me for ever.”

The leadership of the MB started to support the revolutionary movement when it was clear that it was succeeding, according to Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies analyst Emad Gad.

“But the youth were there from day one,” Gad said. That caused a split within the Brotherhood that contributed to the development of autonomous political activism among the youth as well as the resignation of veteran figures such as Abdel Moneim Abul Futouh.

“Now, the Brotherhood have gone back to their old tactics,” Gad suggested. Today, young members of the organization are discouraged from attending the ongoing protests calling for the removal of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) military regime.

Last week’s crackdown on protests in Tahrir Square, in which up to 90 people were killed, according to Egyptian news website Bikya Masr, brought out a large number of Brotherhood youth, according to 24-year-old MB member Omar Yusri.

“I couldn’t stay home and watch the carnage on television. I had to come out and protest the killing. I was in Tahrir Square from November 23 to 27,” he said.

But as the parliamentary elections neared, Yusri – along with a large faction within the Brotherhood youth – has chosen to stay off the streets.

“I came out to protest the killing and wounding of protesters,” he said. “But I won’t participate in the ongoing sit-ins, which I consider ill-timed. We can’t give the SCAF any excuses to postpone the election. We’d be handing power to them on a plate if we chose to stay on the streets and protest at a time when the Egyptian population should be going to the polls,” Yusri said

Yusri believes that the time has come to take the struggle “into a new phase. We will only consolidate the achievements of the revolution by voting and by doing well in the elections.”

While one of his concerns was that the SCAF might postpone elections that the MB will almost certainly dominate, Yusri was also upset that a number of protesters in the square over the weekend said they plan to boycott the vote.

Activists from other political currents, however, are not planning to boycott the elections even though they believe that it is not the right time to hold them.

Revolutionary socialist Mohammadein, for example, says he will not boycott the elections. “We do not have the right conditions in the country for a vote, however, a great many of the people present in Tahrir at the moment will be voting for sure starting tomorrow,” he says.

Within the Brotherhood youth, there is no doubt that those who did participate in the weekend’s protests will be going to the polls starting Monday.

“I’ve taken part in the sit-ins throughout the weekend because I believe the SCAF needs to resign, not because I ever thought these protests would affect the timing of the election,” said Yusri’s friend, MB youth activist Ahmed Samir. “I don’t believe that the electoral and street battles need be seen as contradictory.”

In a constantly changing political atmosphere, such disagreements among activists are a reflection of the process the country is currently undergoing. Each Brotherhood youth member, for example, had a different take on just how far they should veer from their leadership’s line.

“Some of the Brotherhood youth might even be afraid to come out onto the streets now, not because of the security forces, but because of the potential repercussions that may have on their position within the movement,” said analyst Gad.

In a sense, the Brotherhood youth’s dilemma is a reflection of a broader debate within the protest movement pitting direct action against the electoral process.

While to Yusri, the time is ripe to return to the Brotherhood fold, to Samir the call of the street is too strong to refuse.

But whatever the outcome of the parliamentary elections and the Brotherhood’s tactical shift out of the street, youth activists Yusri, Samir, and Montash can agree on one thing: They will all be protesting, once again, for the fall of the SCAF starting Wednesday.

“My life has changed forever,” said Montash. “I make my own decisions now. If I agree with the leadership, I listen. If I don’t, I do what I feel is right. I think that’s what happened to all the young people who took part in the revolution. As a movement, I think realizing all of our goals is impossible right now, because we can’t agree on strategy. But we have come this far already. We will get there.”


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