Syria´s Muslim Brotherhood rise from the ashes (REUTERS) By Khaled Yacoub Oweis ISTANBUL, TURKEY 05/06/12 6:02am EDT)
Reuters News Service
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(Reuters) - At a meeting of Syria´s opposition, Muslim Brotherhood
officials gather round Marxists colleagues, nudging them to produce
policy statements for the Syrian National Council, the main political
group challenging President Bashar al-Assad.
With many living in the West, and some ditching their trademark
beards, it is hard to differentiate Brotherhood from leftists. But
there is little dispute about who calls the shots.
From annihilation at home 30 years ago when they challenged the iron-
fisted rule of Hafez al-Assad, the Brotherhood has recovered to
become the dominant force of the exile opposition in the 14-month-old
revolt against his son Bashar.
Careful not to undermine the council´s disparate supporters, the
Brotherhood has played down its growing influence within the Syrian
National Council (SNC), whose public face is the secular Paris-based
professor Bourhan Ghalioun.
"We chose this face, accepted by the West and by the inside. We don´t
want the regime to take advantage if an Islamist becomes the Syrian
National Council´s head," former Brotherhood leader Ali Sadreddine al-
Bayanouni told supporters in a video.
The footage is now being circulated by Brotherhood opponents, seeking
to highlight its undeclared power.
"We nominated Ghalioun as a front for national action. We are not
moving now as Muslim Brotherhood but as part of a front that includes
all currents," said Bayanouni.
The Syrian Brotherhood is a branch of the Sunni Muslim movement
founded in Egypt in the 1920s. 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.
Mindful of international fears of Islamists taking power, and of the
worries of Syria´s ethnic and religious minorities, the Syrian
Brotherhood portrays itself as espousing a moderate, Turkish-style
Islamist agenda. It unveiled a manifesto last month that did not
mention the word Islam and contained pledges to respect individual
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.
Extending the loose Brotherhood umbrella to Syria will raise pressure
on the U.S.-backed Hashemite monarchy in Jordan, where the local
Brotherhood has been sidelined by laws that favor tribal politicians
allied with the security apparatus.
Iraq´s Shi´ite rulers could also find they have a hardline Sunni
government as their neighbor, and Lebanon´s Shi´ite guerrilla group
Hezbollah would lose its main Arab backer.
Working quietly, the Brotherhood has been financing Free Syrian Army
defectors based in Turkey and channeling money and supplies to Syria,
reviving their base among small Sunni farmers and middle class
Syrians, opposition sources say.
"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
Tello, however, acknowledged that the Brotherhood has clawed back
influence inside Syria, especially in the cities of Homs and Hama and
the rural province of Idlib on the border with Turkey, hotbeds of the
revolt against Assad.
This is no small feat after three decades in the political
wilderness. Unlike Arab rulers who tried to co-opt the movement by
granting it limited operation, the Assads excluded it and all other
opposition from the political system.
Bashar´s father Hafez al-Assad´s forces killed, tortured and
imprisoned tens of thousands of people after leftists and Islamists
began challenging his rule in the 1970s.
The Brotherhood took the brunt of the repression, and a 1980 decree
singled out membership as punishable by death.
Mulhem Droubi, educated in Canada and one of a younger generation of
Brotherhood leaders, said the group is not primarily concerned with
"We are a party that presents moderate solutions. We are not
extremists, neither to the left nor to the right and our program is
the most accepted by the Syrian street," he said.
"We are working for the downfall of Bashar al-Assad and not to find a
popular base. We leave competition for the future in a free Syria,"
the softly spoken Droubi told Reuters.
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 sharply divided the group in the 1980s, when it took up
arms against the president. Assad´s forces killed nearly 20,000
people when they overran the city of Hama in 1982, where the
Brotherhood´s armed division made it last stand.
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. It 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.
Bassam Ishaq, a Christian opposition figure who has worked with the
Brotherhood within the SNC, said the manifesto bore the marks of the
"If they get a chance to seize power by themselves they will do it,
but they realize that it will be difficult in country where 30
percent of the population are ethnic or religious minorities," said
"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," he added.
In a demonstration of their financial muscle, Brotherhood operatives
were dispatched last month with suitcases of cash to a dusty camp for
Free Syrian Army defectors in a Turkish region bordering Syria near
Sources in the camp said the Brotherhood was supporting Colonel Riad
al-Asaad, one of the first prominent defectors last year, now at odds
with more senior officers who deserted later.
Colonel Asaad now sports a Brotherhood-style beard. Street activists
who have had little to do with the Brotherhood are also being lured
by promises of instant support for the revolt.
"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," he added. (Editing by Dominic Evans and Peter Graff) (©
Thomson Reuters 2012. 05/06/12)
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