The Muslim Brotherhood organization, which is officially banned in Syria, said it supports the anti-governments demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad.
The leader of the Brotherhood, Mohammad Riad Shaqfa, who is in exile in Saudi Arabia, told Reuters that his group was not directly involved with the unrest sweeping across Syria, but that he endorsed the movement and supports demands for increased liberties in the country.
We are with the demands of the people. We do not have an organization in Syria… but we do have a large popular presence, said Shaqfa.
Shaqfa described Assad’s minor reform promises as painkillers designed to break the consensus of the masses.
The Brotherhood was formed just prior to World War II and functioned as the legal opposition until 1963 when the Baath party seized power and imposed emergency rule. The Brotherhood has been outlawed ever since.
The Brotherhood has been at odds with the Baathist regime of Syria for decades. The movement was decisively crippled in 1982 when an armed uprising by the group was brutally defeated by the government of Hafez al-Assad (father of the current president) in the town of Hama. The crackdown reportedly killed thousands of people, mostly civilians.
Membership in the Brotherhood in punishable by death in Styria under an edict from 1980.
The Brotherhood is similar in philosophy with Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist militant body that governs Gaza. (Ironically, Hamas is supported by Syria.)
It was in fact Assad’s connection to Hamas that led the Brotherhood to suspend its opposition to the Baath party two years ago. However, that truce broke down last year.
Shaqfa also denied allegations that The Brotherhood are seeking to strike an arrangement to return to Syria under which the 1980 law would be lifted, after rumors arose that he (or other members of the group) met with a senior Syrian police official in Istanbul.
These suggestions are baseless. The authorities had thought that killings and terror would scare the masses. The effect has been the opposite. Repression only fueled the protests, he said.
He also accused Assad of playing to sectarian fears to remain in power.
All tyrants play the same game. They accuse their own people of serving an outside conspiracy while using violence and cunning to survive, he said. Waving the bogey of sectarian strife will not help Bashar because the people are aware of this ploy. Syrians of all sects are taking part in the protests.”
Shaqfa also assured that he did not want Syria to become an Islamic state like Iran or Pakistan. He explained that the Brotherhood is seeking to build a civic society where citizens enjoy freedom without discrimination.
We believe in pluralism and the ballot box. After reaching this stage we will submit a manifesto based on civic rule with Islam as a reference, he said.
It is then up to the people to choose.
A former government figure of Syria said that should Assad’s regime dissolve, it is unlikely that the totalitarian system would replace it, since the demonstrations are dominated by youth.
Syria's true crisis lies in the nature of the regime that has been ruling Syria for four decades now, Abdel Halim Khaddam told the newspaper Al Sharq Al Awsaat.
Khaddam was vice president of Syria from 1984 to 2005, when he fled to exile in Paris, after accusing Bashar Assad of involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
This regime took exclusive control of power and decision-making, sidelined the people's role, and used all means and institutions of repression, Khaddam said. These practices led to the emergence of sectarian tension.
Khaddam added that external military intervention will not be necessary in Syria.
However, the phrase on which everyone agrees is the need to restore freedom, end the mechanisms of the despotic rule, and, in turn, introduce a change, he said.
We must not forget the state of fear in which the Syrians lived because of the security institutions' terrorist acts of detention, killing and imprisonment. We see today that it was the youths of Syria who brought down the wall of fear.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.