By Roula Khalaf in Cairo
Published: February 13 2011 The Financial Times
On a side street off Tahrir Square, Mohamed el-Kassas fields constant telephone calls, doling out organisational advice to his callers.
A stocky, serious young man of 36, dressed in baggy grey sweater and corduroy trousers, Mr Kassas, a leader of the youth branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, looks preoccupied the day after he helped give birth to a new Egypt.
Looking towards the square, Mr Kassas, a television producer in his day job, says that, despite the recent events, the task ahead remains difficult.
“We all have a problem capturing and leading people because they think politics is dirty; that it’s about repression and corrupt business,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group banned under the administration of Hosni Mubarak yet considered the largest opposition group, joined the January 25 revolution only after it saw the size of the crowds on the streets. But its youth movement was part of the uprising from day one, working with other groups of young Egyptians through Facebook to mobilise support for the extraordinary uprising that swept aside the old regime.
Mr Kassas is one of the young Brotherhood leaders who are part of the “coalition of youth of the Egyptian revolution”, which organised the protests and occupation of Tahrir Square. The coalition has now joined political figures to form the “Defence of the Revolution Front” in an attempt to translate the aspirations of protesters into a political platform in a country where old traditional parties have little credibility.
“The general mood of the street is that we don’t want anyone to speak for us because we’ve lived for so long under Mubarak and a corrupt regime that claimed to speak for us as people,” says Mr Kassas. “But politics is different, and those who are politicised in the youth movements need to turn the revolution into political work.”
The success of Mr Kassas’s group is also encouraging it to push for the evolution of the Muslim Brotherhood (or Ikhwan) into a more modern participant in Egypt’s political future.
Made up of students and graduates under 40, the youth branch of the Ikhwan has been a reformist voice in the Islamist organisation in which some leaders remain stuck in the past.
It was out of the youth movement that calls for the establishment of a political party were born in recent years, though never adopted. The young Brothers also led calls for political participation in elections – against the wishes of more conservative older leaders, who believed that the Brotherhood should focus attention instead on preaching and social work.
The enormous challenge now facing the people of Tahrir Square is the transformation of the revolutionary spirit and individual discovery of popular power into political activism during an army-led transition.
While the youth branch of the Brotherhood has carved itself a role in an opposition front, Mr Kassas makes clear that it was a contributor, not a leader, of the revolt. “We learnt to co-operate with others, and this was a very big achievement,” he says.
Curiously, the top leadership gave the youth branch more leeway than usual during the 18-day revolution, allowing it to decide for itself whether it wanted to be involved in the initial call for protests on January 25. The question that young Brothers are now asking themselves is whether this room to manoeuvre can become a more permanent gain.
The Ikhwan leadership has announced that it wants to be part of the political future of a democratic Egypt. But in an attempt to assuage the fears of the outside world and secular Egyptians, it reiterated at the weekend that it would neither put forward its own candidate for president nor seek to win a majority in parliament.
The goal of the new generation of Islamists, says Mr Kassas, is to convince the senior leaders to allow the formation of an affiliated political party based on the values of the Brotherhood but not strictly religious.
“The idea of political participation has won and there will be change in the Ikhwan,” he says.
Does he hope for a political group modelled after Turkey’s AK party, which is now in power?
“Egypt is a different society,” says Mr Kassas. “But the Ikhwan will have to evolve more politically and towards a more contemporary view.”