The Brotherhood starts anew in Syria

Raphaël Lefèvre writes: 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.

“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. [Continue reading…]

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