Syria's Muslim Brotherhood rise from the ashes

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.

Syria's Muslim Brotherhood rise from the ashes

World Bulletin/News Desk

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

Supporting armed resistance

Mulhem Droubi, educated in Canada and one of a younger generation of Brotherhood leaders, said the group is not primarily concerned with political prominence.

"We are a party that presents moderate solutions. We are not extremists, neither to the left nor to the right and our programme 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 programme 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.

 

Güncelleme Tarihi: 06 Mayıs 2012, 16:56

Muhammed Öylek

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