Syrian Muslim Brotherhood Withdraws from Opposition Coalition


Global media reported earlier this month on the withdrawal of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood from the London-based opposition coalition known as the National Salvation Front (NSF). According to a report by Asharq Al-Awsat:

The Muslim Brotherhood [MB] in Syria has announced its withdrawal from the opposition National Salvation Front [NSF], of which the MB and former Syrian Vice President Abdul -Halim Khaddam were the key components. The MB said the withdrawal was in response to what it described as “a campaign of fabrications and accusations,” which was launched against it by certain parties in the NSF after declaring the suspension of its opposition activities against the Syrian regime. In a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, Khaddam said that the MB was “a burden” on the NSF and that it is currently holding dialogue with the Syrian regime through a security committee set up especially for this purpose. In a statement released in London, a copy of which was received by Asharq Al-Awsat, the MB, which is banned in Syria, said that “after deliberations and consultations, it decided to withdraw from the NSF, now that this group has in effect broken up and become incapable of rising up to the level of the national project and of fulfilling its requirements.” The MB pointed out that its decision, which it declared at the beginning of the year “to suspend its activities against the Syrian regime,” was due to the offensive that Israel launched on the Gaza strip. That offensive, it said, led to a difference of opinion within the NSF and to accusations by some of its components of the MB that “its position contradicted the NSF’s charter.”

The decision by the Syrian Brotherhood to suspend activities against the Syrian regime had been discussed in an earlier post.

In 1982 Hafez Assad, the father of the current Syrian President, launched massive military action against an uprising by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Hama. As a result of this action, large parts of the city were destroyed resulting in an estimated 20,000 deaths. Numerous Syrian Muslim Brothers fled the country and joined the global jihadist network and, until recently, there was no public evidence that the the remaining elements of Syrian Brotherhood leadership in exile were interacting with the global Muslim Brotherhood. This may also be changing in the wake of the Gaza crisis however. A recent post discussed a U.K. Gaza “victory celebration” that featured a list of participants that included Ali Sadruddin Bayanouni, the head of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in exile living in London, together with global Brotherhood leaders such as Kemal Al-Helbawy and Rachid Ghannouchi.

In addition, Bayanouni said in a recent TV interview that he had met with global Muslim Brotherhood leader Youssef Qaradawi in Doha:

Asked if there is a Turkish mediation on this issue, if there is a mediation by Hamas, specifically by Khalid Mish’al, or if Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi visited Damascus recently and spoke about the possibility of “your return to Damascus and about opening dialogue between the regime and the Muslim Brotherhood,” Al-Bayanuni replies: “If there are mediations that we do not know of, this is another matter and I cannot answer you, but I met Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi in Doha a month ago and he spoke to me about his visit to Damascus and there was no mention of Syria’s domestic conditions or the Muslim Brotherhood. A delegation from the World Federation of Muslim Scholars went to Damascus on a specific mission. They met with the Hamas leaders. The issue has nothing to do with the Muslim Brotherhood.” (Note 1)

Despite Bayanouni’s characterization of their discussions, a report by a private forecasting group suggests that Qaradawi is helping to mediate a “rapprochement” between the Syrian Brotherhood and the Syrian regime:

… the Syrian regime, according to Stratfor sources in Syria, has recently engaged in private negotiations with the Syrian MB. The Syrian regime has long kept a channel open with the group to keep an eye on its activities, but the negotiations now appear to have reached a more critical stage and are focused more on following the Jordanian model of working with the more moderate elements of the MB as a way of containing the Islamist populace. This shift made itself evident during the Gaza offensive on Jan. 7 when the Muslim Brotherhood’s London office issued a peculiar statement announcing that the group has “suspended all activities against the Syrian regime in order to direct all efforts toward the diplomatic campaign” against Israel. This shift in the MB’s stance from the Syrian regime to Israel does not appear to stem from a simple desire by the group to capitalize on Arab anger against Israel for the Gaza offensive. Instead, a rapprochement is allegedly taking hold between the Syrian regime and Ali Sadreddine al-Bayanouni, the leader of the Syrian MB. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a highly influential Qatari-based Sunni cleric and spiritual leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, has reportedly played an instrumental role in the Syrian regime’s negotiations with the MB. The Syrian MB also has very close relations with the Saudi royal family, indicating that the move by the MB leadership would likely not have been made possible without Riyadh’s consent.

In 2007, the Wall Street Journal reported on moves by the U.S. Government to reach closer relations with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. Closer relations between the Syrian Brotherhood and the Syrian regime would seem to work against U.S. hopes to use the Brotherhood as a means top pressure that regime.

For a comprehensive account of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, go here.

For a comprehensive account of Islamist activities in Syria, go here.

Note 1 (Source: BBC Monitoring Middle East April 11, 2009 Saturday Syrian Muslim Brotherhood leader gives detailed interview on politics, Gaza Source: Al-Arabiya TV, Dubai, in Arabic 1905 gmt 9 Apr 09)

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