Syria's Muslim Brotherhood rise from the ashes

Sun May 6, 2012 6:02am EDT
 
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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, as his minority Alawite community dominated the majority Sunni country.

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.

Extending the loose Brotherhood umbrella to Syria will raise pressure on the U.S.-backed Hashemite monarchy in Jordan, where the local Brotherhood has been sidelined by laws that favor tribal politicians allied with the security apparatus.

Iraq's Shi'ite rulers could also find they have a hardline Sunni government as their neighbor, and Lebanon's Shi'ite guerrilla group Hezbollah would lose its main Arab backer.

EYEING VICTORY

Working quietly, the Brotherhood has been financing Free Syrian Army defectors based in Turkey and channeling money and supplies to Syria, reviving their base among small Sunni farmers and middle class Syrians, opposition sources say.

"We bicker while the Brotherhood works," said Fawaz al-Tello, a veteran opposition figure who is a pious Muslim while being on the liberal end of the Syrian political spectrum.

"They have gained control of the SNC's aid division and the military bureau, its only important components," said Tello, a former political prisoner who fled Syria four months ago.   Continued...

 
Local residents walk near anti-Assad graffiti that have been painted over, during a field visit by U.N. observers in Douma city, near Damascus May 5, 2012, one of the locations where there are protests against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri