Monday, August 20, 2012

Islamist Rebels Break with the Muslim Brotherhood

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is on the outside looking in as their countrymen threaten to overthrow the regime that crushed their revolt in the 1980s. The new uprising has provided the Brotherhood, exiled to Europe by Hafez al-Assad, with an opening to reassert themselves inside Syria. They have struggled, however, to capitalize on the opportunity. Outside the country, the Brotherhood has become a dominant player in the Syrian National Council (SNC) which many now see as a front for the Brotherhood. Their dominancy within the exiled political leadership, however, has contributed to the weakness and factionalism of the exiles as many secular and minority groups do not want to align themselves with a Brotherhood dominated entity. The SNC is now a hollow body that has lost the confidence of the international community and failed to gain a constituency inside Syria.

Within Syria, the Brotherhood has distributed money liberally to Islamist rebel groups, but this has not always bought the allegiance they hoped for. Ahmed Abu Issa, head of the Islamist rebel group the Suqour al-Sham Brigade, released a video on August 19 denouncing the Brotherhood’s efforts to take control of rebel coordinating bodies. He ended the video by stating that he no longer has any ties to the Brotherhood. It is especially surprising that Issa would publicly break with the Brotherhood as he is an Islamist who aims to create an Islamic state in Syria, and because many of his fighters are related to those who died during the rebellion in the 1980s. This may also indicate that Abu Issa has sources of funds outside of the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood's domination of the exiled political leadership has left it in control of a powerless entity, and if it continues to alienate Syria's new Islamist rebel groups, it will not be able to play the dominant role in post-Assad politics that some observers expect.

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