The Brotherhood Covenant… revolution within the corridors of the group… or just a key in intractable stage.
In recent decades, Arab governments have lost the confidence of their citizens. Their failure to liberate occupied Arab lands and eliminate the Zionist entity, is a huge disappointment to Arabs everywhere. The Arabs have become discontented with nationalism and with the spread of corruption in their countries, and with their governments’ inability to achieve social justice and a decent standard of living for all. This has opened the way for Islamist parties to emerge as an alternative to Arab nationalism. People began, more and more, to believe that the only way forward was to restore the glories of the Islāmic nation and to turn to Islam to build their society. The slogan “Islam is the solution” intentionally combined politics and religion.
In the opinion of Indian professor Aijaz Ahmad, political Islam, since the days of the Truman Doctrine, has been considered a great force to counter all insurgent-like nationalist and communist groups in the Middle East. One of the prominent leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as other members of the group, were invited to the White House by Eisenhower. The co-operation between the White House and the Muslim Brotherhood goes back that far. And it is that same process that brought Jihadis to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets. The Americans believed that Islamists would fight both Arab nationalism and Communism. However, imperialist powers defeated the nationalist and communist groups one after another, by means of this co-operation with the Islamists, and now Syria is seen as being the last one left that is yet to be defeated.
Specialists in Syrian affairs, ruled out the arrival of the Muslim Brotherhood or other Islamist organization to power, Patrick Seale, in an interview with Syria-Today magazine argued that there is no doubt an Islāmic opposition existed in Syria, and the Brotherhood is the most active in Syria. But he did not believe that they are able to access to power. He said the Syrian society is secular in nature and will not accept Islāmic rule under any circumstances. Christians and Muslims of different sects are practicing their religion freely, but they are not radicals. This is the biggest obstacle for the arrival of any extremist movement to power. Dr. Sami Moubayed a history professor at the University of Kalamoon agreed with Patrick Seale and wrote in Huffington post by saying that political Islam will not come to power in Syria, for one major reason: demographics. In Syria, 10 per cent of the population is Christian, and they would never vote for the Brotherhood. Neither would the 15 per cent Alawite and Shiite communities, or the 3 per cent Druze, or 2 per cent “others” (Circassians, Jews, Ismailis). Then come 15 per cent Syrian Kurds and 10 per cent tribes and Bedouins, who although Sunni Muslims, would also never support an Islāmic party. That adds up to 55 per cent, topped with no less than 25 per cent of Syria’s 75 per cent Sunni majority, who are secular or ordinary Syrians simply un-attracted to political Islam. That sums up to a majority of voters in any parliamentary elections, meaning that the Muslim Brotherhood or its sister groups would not take more than 20-25 per cent of any incoming Chamber. Meaning, in true internationally monitored parliamentary elections, Islāmic-driven parties like the Brotherhood would be unable to rule on their own with no coalition parties, as the case with the Al Nahda Party in Tunisia.
In light of the political crisis afflicting Syria over a year ago from all over the world, the Muslim Brotherhood issued its political program “Covenant”, which calls for a civil state after toppling the Syrian regime, and guarantee the rights of minorities, women, and pledge not to use democracy in Syria by the majority over the minority. This document is not only a major event in Syria, but some observers considered it as evidence of a revolution within the Brotherhood itself.
Before exploring the current “Covenant” I will discuss the program of the Brotherhood in 2004 – 2005 which includes objectives not covered in the current “Covenant”. If we examine the program of 2005 we will find that the concept of state in the eyes of the Muslim Brotherhood is derived from the identity of Arab and Islāmic Nation and their constant principles (without specifying the nature of the principles). Moreover, the State is based on pluralism, contractual and state of law and institutions. The Movement believes that the unifying essence of Islam, its supreme values are the most convenient to build Syria’s future.
As for the Covenant of 2012, it has entailed mixed reactions in the Syrian street between supporters and opponents of the Brotherhood. When we asked the opinion of some Syrian intellectuals about the “Covenant”, as announced by the Muslim Brotherhood of Syria, and their view regarding the future of Syria, and their pledge to abide to civil state, the political activist Bassem Khouzam said that the last Covenant of the Muslim Brotherhood is another attempt to bleach their page but they are not honest at all, and adds that this is not the first time the Brotherhood issue a letter of this kind, a similar program announced by them in 2005. This change in the language required by their marketing media and by parties supporting and incubating them, but they did not change their way of accessing to power as we have seen clearly in the events of 2011. The Muslims Brotherhood is the real engine of the National Council with their known alliances and currently no others left. Omar Sibai belonging to the traditional civil bourgeoisie not classified within the pro-government or the opposition agrees with Bassem Khouzam and adds that the National Council immediately approved the “Covenant” after the announcement of the Brotherhood of their document, reinforcing the conviction held by many that the Syrian opposition is a Brotherhood alliance covered by some colored civil masks.
Khouzam confirms that, despite the vision of 2005, the Brotherhood used the same approach of the eighties in the recent events in Syria, although they are not on the ground, but they did so by manufacturing the events in the media through the pages of the revolution and by religious channels and the newsrooms of Al-Jazeera specialized in the Syrian affairs. The Brotherhood through these channels put forward religious slogans instead of national, and made sectarian polarization, and urged the declaration of jihad and “liberated areas” and requested external intervention. This is logical to a religious stream because they can’t achieve any political gain without sectarian straining.
The Muslim Brotherhood Covenant has been delayed a year since the beginning of the events in Syria, during this period they did everything contradicts their Covenant, and this indicates that the covenant is just a “Plan B” after exhausting all inflammatory and violent means and beg for military intervention, and they are not interested at all to save their reign, as did the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt Tunisia.
As for Omar Sibai, he believes that the covenant of the Muslim Brotherhood is unimportant; on the contrary it will raise doubts in broad sectors of the Syrian people. Sibai noted that the document of this kind could have been served the purpose if introduced at the beginning of the crisis, and not now after escalation and the return of the reins to the Syrian leadership. The Muslim Brotherhood during the eighties raised concerns and faced by religious minorities, nationalists and secular sectors and even the traditional Sunni center represented by Damascus and Aleppo, and the Ulama institution in these cities.
With the passage of thirty years, time wiped a lot of details of criminal acts carried out by the movement against these parties, and the document was an opportunity for them to declare real and direct apology to all tragedies caused by them, and to open a new page for the organization’s activity in Syria. But what happened, is that the movement pursued more Salafi discourse like never before, and it has emerged clearly in the anti-civil, minorities, women policies, and increased their adherence to the tail of Turkey and the Gulf States.
Dr. Mazen Maghribiye, a founding member of the “Third Trend for Syria” agrees with the earlier opinions about the criminal history of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, but he believes that regardless of their attitudes and their history and what they have done from acts of assassination and bombings in the eighties, the Brotherhood has significant popularity in Syria, because of the severe reaction towards them in the eighties, from unjust trials and executions, in addition to the failure to address the tails of these events, thus the results continue up to this day. Dr. Maghribiye added, it was better for the regime to make reconciliation with them and issue general amnesty and regularisation of the missing people and allow the return of displaced people outside Syria, because it made many citizens sympathize with those because they are oppressed and persecuted, and this injustice has reached even to their relatives and acquaintances, as well as to the existence of Islāmic religious environment in some areas. In addition, they are the most organized among the Syrian opposition parties, along with some Kurdish parties. The greatest proof is that they were the first to have integrated political project for the future of Syria.
Dr. Maghribiye points that we cannot overlook Turkey’s support to them because they want to disseminate the experience of the moderate Islāmic rule in the region on the Turkey style. There are expectations that the Brotherhood to return to the Syrian arena using a name other than the Muslim Brotherhood. Bassem Khouzam supports the return of the Muslim Brotherhood leaders to Syria and apologizes for their mistakes and crimes within a framework of national reconciliation, and to conduct politics in non-religious parties, on a political basis because religious parties will lead to sectarian polarization in a country of many sects. However, Khuzam ruled out Brotherhood’s acceptance for this because it means giving up their political propaganda on a sectarian basis which is the foundation of their movement.
In the same context, Mr. Bassam Kadi, founder and supervisor of the Syrian Women Observatory says that we should applaud the Brotherhood for this “Covenant” it is a smart move at this particular stage, and the Brotherhood are the only ones who have made a comprehensive vision for Syria after the fall of the regime. But Kadi criticized the “Covenant of the Brotherhood” because it liberates them from any obligation in the event they receive power. The document says that the Brotherhood “committed in ensuring that the future Syria is …” and that means they have vowed to do in the future and did not undertake an immediate commitment. Kadi added, in item III of the Brotherhood “Covenant” uses a language which gives them the right to evade their covenant at any moment, by saying: “all citizen has the right to access the highest positions,” rather than to say, “All positions”. The word “highest” allows them to say that the presidency of the Republic is not a position, it is a duty different from other positions of the “state”, or is a “general mandate”, and Islam does not allow non-Muslims to charge Muslims, and therefore there is no place for non-Muslims in this position. The same applies to women.
As for Alia Ali postgraduate student in Britain says she totally lost her hope in the Brotherhood. In her view, the Muslim Brotherhood Covenant which adopts a false respect for the secular state restore to our short-term memory the recognition of the General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood that Burhan Ghalioun (the secular Communist) was just an “interim interface for the National Council ” so that the regime don’t take advantage of that and fight them back. The Syrians did not forget the suspicious birth and the black history of the Muslim Brotherhood and the intimidation that has bedeviled Syria in the eighties, even if presented by the current “Arab spring” under the name of tolerance and civility.
When asking the views of some international relations and diplomacy students about the idea of allowing the Muslim Brotherhood to participate in the political process of Syria, Imad Nahhas said it is supposed for the Syrian government to deal with all shades of the Syrian people, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Since the government is talking about reform, it should open up to all political forces and launch comprehensive national dialogue with all. Bakri Haj Bakri agreed with Nahhas, and added that we cannot build a modern state without the involvement of everyone, without exception. The Syrian state can’t fight the Brotherhood ideology and other emerging Islāmic trends as it will lead to more and more extremism, thus, it is the responsibility Syrian government to organize these groups within a legal framework to pour their work in the service of the country. Most of we talked with them agreed that it is the responsibility of the Syrian government to encourage moderate Islāmic movement through educational curriculum and media to contain the results of religious extremism in some segments of the society. Yamen Al-Shami praised the idea of promoting moderate Islam and said that the sense of political Islam is growing by the day among young people and especially in the rebellious cities. Who refuse the Brotherhood or even Salafist trends; he has to support the emergence of moderate Islamic movements which fit the complexity of the situation in Syria. There is a huge vacuüm, if not filled by suitable trends there is no doubt that there are those who will fill the void, whether we felt it or not.
Finally, to return what Patrick Seale earlier said, the Egyptian experience remains fresh in the minds of many Syrians, despite the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood, was favored by less than 15% of the support of the Egyptian people, but they got +49% of the votes of parliamentary elections, so can the Syrian Brothers repeat the political victory since they are the most organized regionally and internally according to many observers?
 Sami Moubayed, “Challenge for Political Islam in Syria” (Huffington Post, 2011), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sami-moubayed/challenge-for-political-i_b_1129658.html