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Syria Muslim Brotherhood Rises From Ashes

Published: 20/05/2012 08:19:02 PM GMT
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DAMASCUS - Crushed by former president Hafez Al-Assad after challenging his rule 30 years ago, Syria's Muslim Brotherhood is rising from ashes to become the dominant force of the revolution against his son Bashar. We are w (more)

DAMASCUS - Crushed by former president Hafez Al-Assad after challenging his rule 30 years ago, Syria's Muslim Brotherhood is rising from ashes to become the dominant force of the revolution against his son Bashar.

"We are working for the downfall of Bashar al-Assad and not to find a popular base,” Mulhem Droubi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader, told Reuters.

“We leave competition for the future in a free Syria.” Syria Uprising…Salafist or Not

The Syrian Brotherhood is a branch of the Sunni Muslim movement founded in Egypt in 1928.

It was a minor political player before a 1963 Baath Party coup but its support grew under the authoritarian 30-year rule of Hafez al-Assad, as his minority Alawite community dominated the majority Sunni country.

The group led a revolt against Assad's rule in 1982, prompting the government to launch a bloody crackdown on the town of Hama, leaving tens of thousands of people dead.

The Brotherhood became a dominant force in the 14-month revolt against the 11-year rule of Asssad's son, Bashar, in which thousands of people have been killed.

The group is an active member in the umbrella opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), which is led by Paris-based professor Bourhan Ghalioun.

Opposition sources say the Brotherhood is financing the Turkey-based free Syrian Army, the armed wing of the Syrian opposition against Assad's rule.

The group is also seen reviving its base among small Sunni farmers and middle class Syrians.

"We bicker while the Brotherhood works," said Fawaz al-Tello, a veteran opposition figure who is a pious Muslim while being on the liberal end of the Syrian political spectrum.

"They have gained control of the SNC's aid division and the military bureau, its only important components," said Tello, a former political prisoner who fled Syria four months ago.

"But they still have to work more do to get support on the inside. Lots of clerics, activists and rebels do not want to be linked to them."

Moderate Brotherhood

Brotherhood's members say the Islamist group provides pragmatic solutions to Syria's problems.

"We are a party that presents moderate solutions,” Droubi told Reuters.

“We are not extremists, neither to the left nor to the right and our program is the most accepted by the Syrian street.”

The Muslim Brotherhood portrays itself as espousing a moderate, Turkish-style Islamist agenda for Syria.

It unveiled a manifesto last month that did not mention the word Islam and contained pledges to respect individual rights.

With backing from Ankara, and following the political ascendancy of the Brotherhood in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya since Arab Spring revolts broke out two years ago, the group is poised to be at the top of any new governing system in Syria.

Droubi, however, acknowledged that the road to democracy will be even more bloody, adding that the Brotherhood began supporting armed resistance in earnest a month ago.

The issue of armed struggle sharply divided the Brotherhood in the 1980s, when it took up arms against Hafez Al-Assad.

Droubi said there is no dispute now about the need for armed resistance, alongside street protests against Assad.

"Too many of our people have been killed. Too many have been raped," Droubi said, adding that Brotherhood was committed to a setting up a multi-party democracy if Assad is toppled.

Droubi pointed to a political program unveiled by the Brotherhood last month in Istanbul, which committed to multi-party democracy in a future Syria.

The Program said a new constitution would be reached through consensus and guarantee fair representation for diverse ethnicities and religious groups.

"Our proposals are more advanced than the Brotherhood in other countries," he said.


Non-Muslim Syrians opine that the Brotherhood's manifesto reflects the group's pragmatism.

"If they get a chance to seize power by themselves they will do it,” Bassem Ishaq, a Christian opposition figure who has worked with the Brotherhood within the SNC, told Reuters.

“But they realize that it will be difficult in country where 30 percent of the population are ethnic or religious minorities.”

The majority of Syria's 22.5 million population are Sunni Muslims.

The country is also home to Christians and a minority Alawite Muslim community, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, which controls the ruling Baath party for close to 50 years.

"The street has lost faith in leftist politicians. After the repression in the 1980s, the leftists dispersed. The Brotherhood kept together and rebuilt while in exile, aided by donations from wealthy Syrians in and support in the Gulf," said Ishaq.

The Brotherhood is also using its financial might to lure support for the revolution against Assad's regime.

"I approached them and they instantly gave me 2,000 euros when I asked for help...and I am not even Ikhwan (Brotherhood)," said veteran activist Othman al-Bidewi, who regularly travels between Syria and the border region in Turkey to drum up support for street demonstrations against Assad in Idlib province."The Brotherhood wants to restore its political base. It is their right.”

Reproduced with permission from