My latest at FPM is about the failed UN peace plan being pushed by former Sec Gen Kofi Annan and the “Friends of Syria” getting closer to calling outright for the arming of the rebels in the Free Syrian Army.
But I was a little surprised to read about the extent of Islamist influence in the councils of the opposition — including the “moderate” Muslim Brotherhood.
The SNC met earlier in the week, trying with little success to paper over its differences. The Kurdish delegation walked out in the middle of the conference, claiming their concerns were not being met, while several secular members had quit in disgust last month, saying that the organization was “undemocratic” and was being dominated by Islamists. Working feverishly, Turkish diplomats managed to save the conference from catastrophe by luring back many of those who quit, getting the SNC to agree to expand its membership and try to work more democratically. The Kurds, however, refused to return citing the SNC’s unwillingness to include a reference to Kurdish autonomy in its statement on a post-Assad Syria.
So far, the SNC and the rest of the Syrian opposition has been hopelessly fractured in almost every way - from agreeing on an immediate agenda to help the FSA to violent disagreements over the future of a post-Assad Syria. But there is one group within the SNC that is organized, dedicated to throwing Assad out, and clear about both its immediate goals and long term plans.
The Muslim Brotherhood - once banned in Syria - is on the comeback trail and its resurgence should give Western powers pause before agreeing to arm any of the opposition groups.
The Brotherhood was last seen in Syria during the 1980s when Assad’s father Hafez cracked down on its headquarters in the city of Hama, murdering up to 10,000 during a bloody insurrection. But in reality, the Brothers had never left - they simply went underground. While most of the leaders were in exile, the structure of the group remained intact through a network of cells and activists. It was the same tactic used in Egypt after Hosni Mubarak’s crackdown and has led to victory at the polls there. While Assad continued to arrest and execute Brotherhood members, he could never stamp out the movement completely.
Now, with the secular opposition in disarray, the Muslim Brotherhood is re-emerging with surprising strength and cohesiveness. Some opposition members say that the Brotherhood is using money and weapons to gain influence in the council, tapping its donor base spread throughout the Middle East. One secular dissident who broke away from the SNC last month, Kamal Labwani, claims the SNC is “a liberal front for the Muslim Brotherhood. ” Islamist members of the council deny this, saying that they want a pluralistic Syria where all factions and sects are represented in government.
What’s clear is that at the SNC meeting last week, the Muslim Brotherhood was forced to compromise and expand the SNC to include more secular groups. Of the 350 members of the SNC, it is believed that 270 are Islamists, Salafis, and other Sunni radicals who want to depose Assad both because he is a member of the Alawite sect of Shia Islam and because of his oppression.
I saw the term “moderate” applied to the Brotherhood in both the New York Times and by AP. Are they serious? What is their definition of “moderate?”
My definition does not include the destruction of the state of Israel as a part of its charter. Or the murder of Jews as many of the more radical members call for.
I am not insensate to the realities of politics in the Middle East - especially since the Brotherhood was the only organized political force in many countries where oppressive governments ruled. But before supporting the Islamists, I would think that as an absolute minimum requirement for our granting them legitimacy would be for them to foreswear their desire to destroy Israel. This is ridiculously simple minded. And for the US government to deal with outfits like the Muslim Brotherhood as if they were simply the kinds of thugs and dictators who we have dealt with in the past is just nuts.