Syria Muslim Brotherhood

Syria Muslim Brotherhood

In this article, we shall discuss the history of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is a political Islamist organization. We will examine the formation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, its relations with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, its domestic and international relations positions during the Cold War, the politics of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood within the country (during both Hafez Al-Assad’s rule, and also Bashar Al-Assad’s rule), and its more recent positions and actions during the Syrian conflict.

History of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, or the Ikhwan (The Brotherhood) was a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood organization in Egypt. While the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood formed in 1928 in Cairo, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood formed from what were called “jam’iyyat” (associations, or also referred to as societies) in the latter part of the previous century. However, the Islamic based associations grew around the 1920s and 1930s in Syria. So, much of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood’s foundation is localized within the country. But this is not to say that there was no Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood influence. The founder of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood Sibi himself noted the role of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in advocating for this form of Islamic politics (Tietelbaum, 2011). It was the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt that was influential on university students in Damascus. As Teitelbaum (2011) notes, “The group began as a halqa [study circle] at the Syrian University with the aim of preaching spiritual reform: to purge the souls of Muslims, turn them toward god, and inculcate the message of Islam and the Sunna. As the group grew, its leaders decided to expand its activities and range; the first halqa founded outside Damascus was in Aleppo in 1935. This halqa was licensed by the authorities in April 1937 and is viewed by the Ikhwan as the first markaz [office] of the Brotherhood in Syria” (215).

In fact, there were a number of these different religious associations throughout Syria in the 1930s and 1940s. Through a series of meetings and conferences in the late 1930s and 1940s, the majority of the different Islamic organizations then came under the Muslim Brotherhood organization. So, while it is difficult to pinpoint the exact date of the foundation of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, one can argue that the events of the 1930s and 1940s were instrumental in the formation of this organization. Nonetheless, the organization still saw itself very much linked to Al-Bannah’s Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, even though (and unlike the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood’s ties with the Egyptian Ikhwan), there were no official linkages between the two Islamist groups in Syria and Egypt (Tietelbaum, 2011). Even the early documents of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood do not reference the “parent” organization that was the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. In fact, there was even a thought by some that the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood itself could expand into Egypt.

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and Syrian Politics

The politics and social conditions in Syria were an important factor in the rise of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. From World War I, Britain and France agreed to divide up territory in the Middle East. This plan, through the Sykes-Picot Agreement, gave Britain control of Iraq (Britain continued to maintain control of Egypt), and France was given control of Syria and Lebanon. So, the early societies formed as a counter to colonialism in the country.

The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria was very active amongst the middle class of Syrian society. There was an ability to grow numbers, as many professions moved towards the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. Now, as we shall discuss below, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood was not the only group to work for the support of lower and middle class Syrians; secular and communist groups were also cornering that population. However, the Syrian Ikhwan was also able to attract a following among Sunni Muslims in ways that the other groups could not do (Teitelbaum, 2011).

The political and religious messages of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood were quite similar to those of the Brotherhood in Egypt. They both emphasized Islamic principles in one’s personal life, but also in society. Both were Political Islamist movements, thus, there were calls to remove any gaps between religion and politics. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood spoke against religious leaders that they say were not advocating the role of Islam sufficiently, whereas in Syria, there was a great deal of cooperation between the Syrian Ikhwan and the ulema (religious leaders).

Furthermore, it seems that that Syrian Muslim Brotherhood was more open in their conversations of what their Islamist movement meant for non-Muslims, whereas in Egypt, there was little reference to Christian groups (Teitelbaum, 2011). While some Islamists were rather direct about the specificity of the Islamic message and the role that it specifically served as a foundation for governance, for Syria, the message seemed to be much more general, and more inclusive. As Teitelbaum (2011) writes: “the Brotherhood in Syria characterized Islam as a kind of a universal supra-religion, above all others but not arrayed against them. The Syrian Ikhwan emphasized that their movement’s message [da‘wa] was religious, but not sectarian: “Religion is brotherhood; sectarianism is enmity” [al-din ikha’ wal-ta’ifiyya ‘ada’]. The Ikhwan’s call to religion, they claimed, was not sectarian, since the Qur’an contains all religions and emphasizes love and cooperation. Since Islamic legislation was universal, in that it did not differentiate between religion, race, or language, it was different from the Jewish Talmud, which was built on sectarian foundations; the shari‘a was closer, wrote Siba‘i, to Roman law with its humanistic and all-inclusive character” (222). As shall be discussed below, the political realities of Syria suggested that for the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood to do well, they would need to appeal to Muslims and non-Muslim groups alike (Teitelbaum, 2011).

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and Parliamentary Politics

The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria was quite active in the political process in Syria. Teitelbaum (2004) argues that part of the reason can be attributed to a lack of power or influence within the military ranks. Unable to rise to power within the military, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood worked within the space that was available, which at the time was the government. This move to operate within the parliament had an effect on the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. For example, working within an electoral system meant that they had to speak out against the use of violence. Furthermore, because of the nature of electoral governments, they could not afford to upset or ignore religious groups within society. And because of the Christian population in Syria, this meant that the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood’s platforms often rose above merely catering to other Islamists in the country.

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood first entered electoral politics in Syria through the 1947 elections. At the time, there existed many political divisions within what were more traditional groups of power; The National Bloc, a formative and well-known political coalition was instrumental in gaining the independence of Syria from France. However, fragmentations were forming within the organization. There were also other groups such as Ba’ath that were looking for political victory in Syria. At this time, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood decided to run not by presenting their own electoral lists, but rather, teamed up with different political tickets. Interestingly, “According to the US legation in Damascus, the Brotherhood presented a complete list in Damascus under the auspices of the Rabitat al-‘Ulama (the League of Muslim Clerics), which the legation mistakenly termed ‘the supreme Moslem religious authority in Syria’.10 The Rabitat al-‘Ulama merely a legitimizing body formed by several Islamic jam’iyyat, or associations, in 1946 to support the Brotherhood bid for seats in parliament by giving the Ikhwan wider appeal”” (Teitelbaum, 2004: 137). Teitelbaum (2004) goes on to add that “The Rabita list in Damascus included four known Ikhwan: Abd al-Hamid al-Tabba’, ‘Arif al-Taraqji, Muhammad Mubarak and Ahmad Mazhar al-‘Azma. In addition to the Jewish candidate, Wahid Mizrahi,’2 also endorsed were several known opponents of Quwatli such as Zaki al-Khatib and Ali Buzu, and two candidates assured of victory, Nuri al-Ibish and Faris al-Khuri. The reasons for Ikhwan support of those opposed to the National Party were similar to those of the Ba’th.”

In terms of electoral politics strategy, similar to other Islamist groups (as well as other religious based organizations running in elections), the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood spread their message through the various mosques in Syria. This led to a backlash by secularists and the National Party who felt that people who should be dealing in matters of religion are now entering the political realm of society (Teitelbaum, 2004). But despite threats by the National Party, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood was able to win three seats within the Syrian parliament, which included Ma’ruf al-Dawalibi in Hama. Following the announcement of the 1947 electoral results in Syria, the founder of the Syrian Ikhwan, Mustafa al-Siba, contacted Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader Hassan al-Bannah  through telegraph, informing him of the news, and expressing the gravity of what the election meant for the Muslim Brotherhood and political Islam in general. The telegraph read: “The election ended with the victory of three candidates from the Muslim Brotherhood: Dr. Ma’ruf al-Dawalibi, Muhammad al-Mubarak, and Mahmud al-Shaqafa. This marks the first time official representatives of the Islamic idea were elected to parliament in any Islamic or Arab state (in Teitelbaum, 2004: 137-138).

Syrian Muslim Brotherhood Issues

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood was focused on domestic Syrian issues, but also international relations issues within the Middle East. For example, similar to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood was an outspoken critic of Israel. For example, they spoke out against the Balfour Declaration, and through a National Charter (published in 1947), they called for a Palestinian state (Teitelbaum, 2004).

With regards to the politics of Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria (during 1947 and 1948) was also critical of the existing government, and, when the military led coup put Colonel Za’im in power, the Syrian Ikhwan was initially supportive of this development. The Syrian Muslim brotherhood thought (and hoped) that Za’im would set up a legitimate democratic system in which people’s voices would be represented. However, Za’im had other ideas in mind. In addition, Za’im also set his sights on the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, looking to weaken them as a force in the country. And sure enough, in 1949, the Syrian Brothers, along with other political parties were banned (Teitelbaum, 2004). Za’im shut down the organization, disallowed the publication of their newspaper, and also increased ties with leaders in Saudi Arabia, and also Egypt, much to the dismay of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.

This is not all Za’im did to upset the Syrian Islamist group. He found ways to increase secularism and secular rule in Syria, something that was initiated earlier on by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Turkey. For example, “Za’im initiated several steps that brought the wrath of the ulama and the Muslim Brotherhood down upon him. He limited the power of those administering the public waqf (waqf khayri) and reorganized the administration of family waqf (waqf ahli). In order to prevent those with other than religious aims from exploiting religion, the wearing of the turban was forbidden to anyone who was not an officially recognized cleric. Steps were taken to restrict the authority of the shari’a and replace it with civilian secular law” (Teitelbaum, 2004: 139). He also went after Syria’s Law of Personal Status, which, how it was written, allowed religious leaders the ability to decide on such matters without the state’s involvement. This in turn did mean some improved rights for women, which further upset the religious conservatives in Syria. The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood disliked his breaking of social norms, especially the norms regards relations between men and women in the public sphere (Teitelbaum, 2004).

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood resumed its political activities however following the ouster of Za’im by Colonel Sami Hinnawi in August of 1949. Not only did the Islamist organization restart their political and social activities, but they also stated their willingness to work with other political parties who had similar objectives as they did. Then, “On 7 November 1949, the Ikhwan began to publish its newspaper once again, this time under the name of al-Manar al-Jadid. On 11 November, the Muslim Brotherhood announced the formation of the Islamic Socialist Front and published its platform – which was conspicuous in its lack of reference to Islam. The platform instead emphasized the problem of corruption and the need for social equality, supporting progressive taxation, land reform, limitation of ownership (tahdid al-milkiyya) and workers’ rights” (Teitelbaum, 2004).

What is interesting about this announcement, and their activities during this time period, is that that Syrian Muslim Brotherhood said little about God in their platform. Other than their belief in God’s word, and the importance of almsgiving, they did not stress religion in their message (Teitelbaum, 2004). One should not be too surprised at this move, however, given that the Syrian Muslim Broterhood was not only looking to build a coalition in Syria, but they also wanted broader support within Syrian civil society. Moreover, there was always a concern that more direct religious overtures could get them into political trouble with the new leadership.

Given the new coup that took place, the Brotherhood was happy that they could operate politically, but continued to pay attention to the policies of the new government under Hinnawi. One thing that particularly troubled the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood was Hinnawi’s relationship with Iraq. There were discussions about the possibility of Syria and Iraq forming one country. The Syrian-Iraq ties were concerning to the Muslim Brotherhood because of Britain’s continued influence in Iraq, not to mention that this might severely limit the freedom that Syria had (Teitelbaum, 2004).

The 1949 elections saw three Muslim Brotherhood and their Islamic Socialist Front coalition with 5 seats, with an additional two seats to members that, while listed as independents, were backed by the coalition. Following the victory of The People’s Party, the talks of unification with Iraq intensified. Interestingly, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood played an important role as an opposition voice to this potential move. But the move with Iraq never happened, as another military coup in late 1949 brought Adib al-Shishakli into power (Teitelbaum, 2004). Following this coup, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood continued to be a part of the political process, by working to form a government with other smaller parties. In this post-coup government, the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria had Dawalibi in the government (running the National Economy), and also Mubarak (who was in charge of Public Works).

Islam as a State Religion in Syria

In an about face from previous strategies to minimally reference Islam, Muslim Brotherhood members in Syria began pushing for Islam to be noted as the religion of the state. This came following the plans to write a new constitution in Syria. While there are beliefs that this was the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood’s chance at establishing an Islamic presence in the state, and they thus took it, others argue “that the Ikhwan was merely trying to attach an Islamic symbol to what was clearly a secular-leaning, temporal government. The main points of the Ikhwan’s position were set out by Siba’i in February 1950, and his tone was above all else pragmatic” (Teitelbaum, 2004). There was a belief that if Islam is made into the state constitution, that this will help Syrians be more invested in Syria. The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood also tried to ease fears that this was a move against Christianity, or democracy by saying that they had great admiration for the Christian faith, and also that the political structures in place were not going anywhere (Teitelbaum, 2004).

Of course, so many people were skeptical of their motivations, and even questioned whether the Brotherhood really thought that this would bring people closer to the Syrian state. But what was for certain was that these actions brought up hostility by Christians, as well as the Ba’th party even set up a petition against the move. But despite efforts to prevent the mention of Islam within the Syrian constitution, not only was Islam referenced, but “the draft [constitution] went far beyond the 1930 constitution, which had specified only that the ‘religion of its [Syria’s] head is Islam’. Article 3 stated that ‘Islam is the state religion; other divine religions and religious minorities will be respected. There will be no discrimination between the citizens of the state on the basis of religion.’ The article was approved by the constitutional committee 14-7, 2 abstaining and 2 absent” (Teitelbaum, 2004: 144). And while the final version chose a wording that was from the 1930 constitution (thus limiting the draft constitution) the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood was still able to introduce additional language within the preamble, which read as the following: “‘As the majority of the people professes Islam, the state declares its attachment to Islam and its noble ideals.’ In addition, the article included the statement that ‘Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) is the main source (al-masdar al-ra’isi) of legislation.'” (Teitelbaum, 2004).

Foreign Policies of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood

As mentioned above, some of the early activity of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood centered around the issue of Palestine related to the Israel-Palestine conflict. But following World War II, the US and USSR divisions were the forefront of international relations. Both the US and the Soviet Union were looking to expand their different political and economic philosophies. Here, neither Syria, nor the greater Middle East were exempt. The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood recognized the positions of both the US and the Soviet Union. While the Brotherhood in Syria was not an enemy of the United States, they did not like the US alliance with both Britain and also Israel.

However, they were also unwilling to align with the Soviet Union and the communists. Some of this was the Soviet Union’s willingness to allow a binational state in Palestine, something that the Syrian Brotherhood felt was essentially a show of support for Israel. Another major reason had in large part to do with the ideology of communism. They detested how God played no role in communist ideology. In addition, they conflicted with the Syrian communist party over supporters. While their messages differed on matters of faith (or the lack thereof), “The Brotherhood and the Syrian Communist Party sought support, to a great extent, from the same constituency – recently socially mobilized urban middle and lower-middle class Sunnis – which surely increased the level of conflict” (Teitelbaum, 2004: 145).

Yet, despite the issues with the Soviet Union and the communists within Syria, it was continued meddling in Middle Eastern politics by the United States and the British (particularly with Israel) that  led the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood to move away further from both. But the relations were more than a separation, or a moving away from the US and Britain. Some within the Brotherhood went so far as to say that US actions in the region were colonialist in nature, and spoke about how the Soviet Union had no embarked on the colonialism of the West that plagued the Middle East (Teitelbaum, 2004). In fact, Syrian Muslim Brotherhood leader “Siba’i expounded further on his view of the Soviet Union at a Muslim- Christian conference held in Bhamdun, Lebanon in April 1954. He noted that while Islam had its own ‘socialist system’ independent of communism (and capitalism), this system did not conflict with communist trends. Muslims should relate to the USSR as to any powerful state; if the state respects the Muslims and their sovereignty, then there can be peace even if ideologies are at variance” (Teitelbaum, 2004: 146). However, many others within the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria attempted to not anger each side, and thus, advocated neutralism (a position carried out by many other non-Islamists in the region as well).

The Muslim Brotherhood and Hafez Al-Assad

The Muslim Brotherhood entered a new phase of the relationship with Syrian leaders following the coming to power of Hafez Al-Assad. Throughout the past decades, there were attempts by Alawite leaders to show that they were part of the Islamic tradition. However, the ability for Alawite leaders to take power in Syria (first in 1963, and then a few years later in 1966, and then in 1970, with Hafez Al-Assad grabbing and consolidating power) was due in great part because of backing from both the military, but also non-Muslims in Syria.  Yet, many of the Muslim Brothers in Syria were opposed to Al-Assad, in part because of what they saw as a very secularized leader. Others took issue with the role of the Alawite military elites in helping France during colonialism in Syria. Furthermore, there were also Islamists upset at Al-Assad’s linkage to the Ba’th party. The Ba’th party continued to suppress the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, banning the group in 1964, while at the same time exiling the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, ‘Isam al-‘Attar. This resulted in a 1964 revolt out of Hama, which was suppressed by the military (Talhamy, 2009). Tensions continued in 1967 following a publication by an Alawite officer, in which, among other things, essentially said that God and religion should not have a place in modern Syrian society. The Muslim Brotherhood was not only furious at this publication, but it underlined their message of placing Islam at the center of Syrian society and Syrian politics.

So, for them, the problem with Hafez Al-Assad was not that he was Alawite, but rather, that he was viewed as corrupt and authoritarian. They Ikhwan was even more upset in 1973 when the new constitution failed to mention Islam as the state religion of Syria. They called Hafez al-Assad “the enemy of God,” and advocated for religious-based violence. In response to the threats by Syrian Islamists, Al-Assad did re-include the point that “Islam shall be the religion of the head of state.” This action was not only an attempt to appease the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists, but it was also his way of furthering the argument that Alawite are indeed Muslims (Talhamy, 2009).

Hafez al-Assad continued to use religious symbolism as a way to heighten his own ties to Islam, and also to reduce tensions with the Brotherhood. So, he would be seen publicly praying at mosques during holidays, he called for new mosques to be built, and he looked to receive religious fatwas (rulings) showing the ties between the Alawite faith and Shia Islam. However, while this may have appealed to some of the Muslim Brothers, others not only viewed the Alawite faith of Al-Assad as un-Islamic, they were also adamant about continuing to fight against Al-Assad, with violence.

Throughout the 1970s and into the early 1980s, the Syrian Brotherhood, as well as secularists both criticized the authoritarianism of Al-Assad. They were unhappy with his actions in Lebanon (the civil war in 1975-1976), along with complains of corruption and favoritism within Syria. The violent elements used violence to target Syrian officials. For example, “[i]n 1979 the Muslim Brothers carried out an armed attack against the Aleppo Artillery School where 83 young recruits, all ‘Alawis, were killed,” which led to a massive crackdown of the Muslim Brotherhood. Then, in 1980, more fights broke out between the Syrian forces and the Ikhwan in Aleppo, It was here that anywhere from 1000 to 2000 people were killed, and 8000 people were arrested (Talhamy, 2009: 567). Then, in June of 1980, it was reported that some members of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood tried to kill Hafez Al-Assad. As a response, many Islamists in a Tadmor prison were killed.

This led to another Brotherhood attack by targeting Alawite leaders, which in turn led to additional killings. The government also criminalized membership in the Muslim Brotherhood the same year (Talhamy, 2009). Then, “In November 1980, as the next step in their anti-regime struggle, the Muslim Brothers issued a manifesto that contained their detailed program for the future Islamic state of Syria. The manifesto included an attack against the corrupt, sectarian ‘Alawi regime of the “Asad brothers,” and emphasized that a minority cannot and should not rule over a majority” (Talhamy, 2009: 568). Then, in 1982, following Brotherhood attacks which led to the killing of roughly 100 government officials, the Syrian government carried out the Hama massacre, killing thousands of Brotherhood members and supporters (Talhamy, 2009; Conduit, 2016).

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood After Hama

In the years after the Hama massacre, Hafez al-Assad adjusted his position towards the Muslim Brotherhood and Islam in society. Part of this had to do with weakening external relations (both with the West, but also Arab states). So, he was using religion as a bridge to improve international relations. Part of this initiative led to increased ties between Syria and Iran (Talhamy, 2009). Interestingly, while Syria’s relations with Iran improved after the 1979 Revolution, it was the Syrian Brotherhood that hoped what happened in Iran could also occur within their country, against Hafez al-Assad. However, the Iranian government, while calling for similar revolutions elsewhere, was a staunch supporter of Al-Assad. Much of this had to do with the loyalty that Al-Assad showed, and support he gave to Iran during the Iran-Iraq War (Talhamy, 2009).

Thus, “For their part, the Syrian Muslim Brothers, as well as the Kuwaiti Muslim Brothers, began to view Iran as a sectarian Shi’ite regime. Parallel with the growing ties between Syria and Iran, the Muslim Brothers of Syria sup ported and were supported politically and financially by the Iraqi regime under Saddam Husayn.67 In the 1980s, the attacks of the Muslim Brothers against the Islamic Republic of Iran intensified” (570). However, even after the war, the Muslim Brothers continued to distrust Al-Assad. They never forget his actions in Hama, Aleppo, and elsewhere. Furthermore, his continued ties with Iran were a source of ongoing concern for the Syrian Ikhwan. So, even with Al-Assad’s statements for the Palestinians, and his position towards Israel, this was of no matter for the Muslim Brothers (Talhamy, 2009).

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and Bashar Al-Assad

The Muslim Brothers in Syria have remained critical of the Al-Assad regime, even after Hafez al-Assad passed away in 2000, and his son, Bashar al-Assad came to power. To them, this was an extension of the same family, the same religion, the same authoritarianism, and the same connections to Iran and other Shia actors such as Hezbollah. So, to them, these three entities have been united in their Shia identities. The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria has spoken out against Hezbollah actions. While Hezbollah has been critical of Israel, the Syrian Brotherhood has viewed their war in 2006 with Israel as something driven by Iranian interests (Talhamy, 2009).

Their criticism of the Iran-Syria alliance continued in the years after the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, with the brotherhood wondering what Iran’s long term objectives were, particularly with Syria and Hezbollah as it related to Israel. However, following the Israeli invasion of Gaza in 2008, it was Iran, Syria, and Hizbollah that spoke out for Hamas, whereas the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood was blamed by Hezbollah for staying relatively quiet on this issue (Talhamy, 2009). So, what the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood decided to do during this period was to challenge Al-Assad as the conflict was going on. It was then in 2009 that some argued the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood was moderating its tone and position towards the government of Bashar al-Assad (Talhamy, 2009).

The Muslim Brotherhood and the Syrian Uprising

Like many other political Islamist organizations throughout the Middle East–who were carefully deciding whether to participate in the uprisings or not (Muedini, 2014), as was the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. Islamist groups (as well as other opposition groups) had to calculate the risks and rewards of becoming involved in the protests. Were they to get involved too quickly (when the outcomes of overthrow were far from certain), then this could have given the regimes in power an excuse to not only go after the Islamists, but the leaders could also blame the protests on these groups, instead of the largely secular, non-party affiliated movements that they were. So, in the case of Syria, the Muslim Brothers waited months until any official statement calling for regime change. Again, we have to remember that since the Hama massacre, the Brotherhood has not had much ability to operate in Syria, and begin a member meant death (Hassan, 2013).

Then, “In October, the Muslim Brotherhood participated in the establishment of the Syrian National Council in Istanbul, which brought together different factions of the Syrian opposition. The Muslim Brotherhood is deemed the most influential Islamist component within the council, represented by Mohammad Riad al-Shaqfeh and his deputy, Mohammad Farouk Tayfour, both of whom seek to present a moderate face of the Brotherhood for the benefit of their allies and the international community” (Carnegie, 2012).

In the months that followed, the Muslim Brotherhood has continued its condemnation of Bashar al-Assad’s actions, and also the unwillingness for allies of the government to do anything to stop him. The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood continued offer comments about they wanted Syria would look like following the end of Al-Assad’s regime. For example, “On March 25, 2012, the Brotherhood issued the “Covenant and Pact,” which outlines concepts for post-Assad Syria in broad strokes. It calls for the establishment of a modern, democratic, and pluralistic civil state” (Carnegie, 2012).

In addition, ” It also calls for the adoption of a republican parliamentary system with representatives and officials elected in free, fair, and transparent elections. It demands equality for all citizens regardless of their race, religion, beliefs, or affiliations in a state based on the equal rights and opportunities. The document further calls for the “institution of a State that respects human rights as enshrined by divine texts and international instruments, such as dignity, equality, freedom of thought and speech; [a state] where no citizen’s beliefs or religion shall be subject to prejudice”” (Carnegie, 2012).

In the recent years, it has been argued that the Muslim Brothers have increased their power in Syria (Hassan, 2013), although reports have come out suggesting divisions in the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood leadership (between those willing to work with opposition groups, and more hardliners with the organization (Lefevre, 2014)). Furthermore, the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria has continued to condemn Al-Assad’s forces for the actions they have committed. For example, The Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement condemning Syrian and Russian airstrikes in the city of Aleppo in the Fall of 2016 (, 2016). The Muslim Brotherhood sees the war as one in which Russia and Iran are willing to ignore human rights standards to ensure that their ally, Bashar al-Assad, remains in power.

Syrian Muslim Brotherhood References

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (2012). The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. Diwan. Carnegie Middle East Center. February 1, 2012. Available Online:

Lefevre, R. (2014). A Revolution in Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood? Diwan. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Carnegie Middle East Center. January 23, 2014. Available Online:

Conduit, D. (2016). The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and the Spectacle of Hama. The Middle East Journal, Vol. 70, No. 2, pages 211-226.
Hassan, H. (2013). How the Muslim Brotherhood Hijacked Syria’s Revolution. Foreign Policy. March 13, 2013. Available Online: (2016). Syria Muslim Brotherhood Statement on Aleppo Devastation., October 2nd, 1016. Available Online:
Muedini, F. (2014). The Role of Religion in the “Arab Spring”: Comparing the Actions and Strategies of the Islamist Parties. Oxford Handbooks Online. July, 2014, pages 1-13.

Talhamy, Y. (2009). The Syrian Muslim Brothers and the Syrian-Iranian Relationship. Middle East Journal, Vol. 63, No. 4, pages 561-580.

Teitelbaum, J. (2004). The Muslim Brotherhood and the ‘Struggle for Syria’, 1947-1958 between Accommodation and Ideology. Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 40, No. 3, pages 134-158.

Teitelbaum, J. (2011). The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, 1945-1958: Founding, Social Origins, Ideology. The Middle East Journal, Vol. 64, No. 2, pages 213-233.


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