Mohammed Abbas, then a member of the Muslim Brotherhood Youth, remembers being shocked by the sheer number of bodies in Tahrir Square on the afternoon of Jan. 25, 2011 -- estimated at 50,000. Abbas helped mobilize his group's members despite the Muslim Brotherhood's official ban on joining the early protests, and he fell to his knees to "thank God" for the turnout, he says.
These days, things have changed. Abbas is no longer in the Brotherhood Youth, nor is he impressed with just 50,000 people in the street. In June, influential members of the Brotherhood Youth broke with the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, over what they saw as a lack of internal democracy within the 84-year-old Islamist group. Thirty ex-Brotherhood Youth members founded the Egyptian Current Party, which works to mobilize youth in support of a civil state that protects individual civil liberties and embraces Islamic values, but does not enforce Islamic law.
The Brotherhood leadership promptly launched an investigation and booted the participating members. Abbas received the call that he had been kicked out when he was at a leadership conference in Malaysia.
Abbas ran for parliament as a member of the Current Party in Banha, the capital of the Qalyubiyah governorate, north of Cairo. His party was trounced, however -- contesting 10 seats but winning none. Despite losing, Abbas remains hopeful. "I think our party will be a leader in a few years," he says.
Although Abbas understands the importance of street mobilization and will be out again this year, he's unconvinced continued protests will bring about much-needed systemic changes. "It's also time to be realistic and pragmatic. The majority of us took part in the elections because we realized how important it was and how important the parliament is to achieve the demands of the revolution and to remove the power of the military rulers," he says.
While the Muslim Brotherhood and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces have decided to commemorate the anniversary of the revolution, Abbas is skeptical that there is much to celebrate. "We only achieved a step or two from our demands. We are still under military rule which applies emergency law, detains activists, and applies military trial for civilians," he says. "I think anyone who intends to go and celebrate on Jan. 25 needs to go and reconsider this choice because we still have a long way to go."