Scholar Raphaël Lefèvre has published an article titled “The Brotherhood Starts Anew in Syria” which looks at the current status of the Syrian Brotherhood within Syria. The article begins:
August 19, 2013 While the Egyptian Brotherhood makes global headlines and Tunisia’s Ennahda Party struggles to remain in power, very little is publicly known about the state of Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood. In recent weeks, much has been made of the decrease in the group’s influence over the Syrian National Coalition (SNC). In contrast, not a lot has been said on the Brotherhood’s actual influence inside Syria and its strategy for the revolution. How exactly does the movement plan on dealing with recent trends in the conflict, such as the rise of Islamic extremism in opposition ranks?
A series of interviews conducted with prominent Syrian Brotherhood members and other members of the opposition in Istanbul and Beirut reveal that the group is adapting to an increasingly fragmented Syria made up of competing centers of power. But even if it seems to be gaining some traction on the ground through humanitarian assistance, political activism and armed opposition, the Syrian Brotherhood is still facing enormous external and internal challenges.
The Brotherhood makes itself at home ‘We’ll have to deal with two major problems in the coming months and years,’ one member of the Syrian Brotherhood leadership remarked bluntly. ‘The first is to continue to rebuild our structure and, perhaps most importantly, our image [which has been]tainted by 30 years of absence.’
In Syria, membership in the Muslim Brotherhood has been punishable by death since a law was passed to that effect in July 1980. In February 1982, a large-scale regime massacre in the city of Hama led most remaining members to flee to neighboring countries, where they are today estimated to number around 7,000–10,000. ‘The second problem,’ argued the Brotherhood leader, ‘will be to deal with our own internal challenges.’ The thirty-year exile of Brotherhood members has indeed stirred up tension within the group along regional and generational lines. An election to select the next leader is due next year, and it could be a turning point in the group’s future.
It was this simmering tension that led the Brotherhood leadership to agree, early on in the uprisings, on a ‘decentralization’ policy: every regional sub-group forming the core of the Brotherhood would have to decide on the best strategy to return to Syria, rebuild a local following, and contribute to the revolutionary effort.
‘Each ‘province’ of the group started working on its own on funding and, to an extent, on organizing, too,’ explained a young Syrian Brother close to the leadership. This decentralization initially had a positive effect, as it attracted funding from many Syrian businessmen living in the Gulf who are more aligned with regional sub-groups, such as those in Aleppo or Hama, than with the whole Brotherhood leadership. However, because some cities—including Raqqa, Latakia, Dera’a and Deir Ezzor—have fewer members, and therefore less funding, most of the Brotherhood’s reconstruction and relief efforts have thus far focused on some cities more than others. ‘It’s painful for some of us,’ complained a Muslim Brother from the east of Syria, ‘as it ultimately means that the bulk of the group’s funding for charity projects is now centered on Aleppo and Idlib, to the detriment of the rest of the country.’
In these two cities, the Brotherhood has opened offices for Ataa Relief, its charity wing. For the first time in thirty years, the group is also engaging in political activism on the ground by participating in the provincial and city councils that run the daily affairs in the ‘liberated’ areas of Idlib and Aleppo. But it is its military presence that is increasingly being felt.
Read the rest here.
The GMBDW reported in April that the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood was planning to open offices inside Syria for the first time since it was quashed by then Syrian President Hafez Assad in 1982. In May , we reported that the Syrian Brotherhood had opened direct contact with opposition groups.
The Syrian National Coalition was created in November 2012 and included members from the Syrian National Council (SNC), an earlier group that was dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report had also identified three SNC leaders that were tied to the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood as well as pointing out that Ghassan Hito, recently chosen by the Syrian National Coalition as its interim Prime Minister, was also part of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood. The SNC and Global Muslim Brotherhood leader Youssef Qaradawi enjoyed close relations and Moaz Khatib, identified above as the SNC President, is also close to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.
Journalist Frederick Deknatel has written an article titled “The Syrian And Egyptian Brotherhoods – Different Histories, Different Outlooks” which looks at some of the differences between the two organizations.
For a comprehensive account of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood as of 2006, go here.