Posted by Joshua on Sunday, September 24th, 2006
Ali Sadraddin Bayanouni, the leader of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, has been improving his answers to the Alawi Question. Does Bayanouni’s answer provide hope that Syria will find a way out of its sectarian dead end? Or that the Muslim Brotherhood is making citizenship and not religion the qualification for political equality? Do such pronouncements promise a soft Syrian landing to democracy? Is this the influence of V.P. Khaddam?
My good friend Khudr, who has written several times about the Alawite predicament in Syria, has sent an interesting analysis of the Muslim Brotherhood’s changing language. He finds it promising.
Before reproducing his analysis, let me provide a baseline of one year ago.
When asked if Alawis are heretical sect by a Jamestown interviewer on (August 11, 2005): Bayanouni answered:
Ali Bayanouni: We do not discriminate against Alawis and as they say they are Muslims, we do not contest that. The problem of Syria remains political, a minority elite has seized a state and is oppressing the majority.
Bayanouni says that the Muslim Brothers will not contest the Islamic bonafides of the Alawis, if they want to call themselves Muslims. Nevertheless, he refuses to say that they are Muslims himself. His followers and most Shaykhs would eat him alive if he did. Of course, there is no reason why he need believe Alawis are Muslims, if the Muslim Brotherhood were willing to separate religion from politics, something the Brotherhood has been expressly against. What is more, Bayanouni calls the Asad regime a “minority elite.”
Let us compare this language of a year ago with today’s language. I now give you Khudr’s analysis as emailed me:
Sept. 20, 2006
1. Here is a Bayanouni interview with el-Mustaqbal TV on the 31st of August (2006). It has been published here by Akhbar el-Sharq, the Muslim Brotherhood publication and by el-Mustaqbal newspaper site here.
Bayanouni dismisses the notion that Syria could slip into civil war should the regime fall, arguing that Alawis have received their share of unfairness and torture. He claims that the Ikhwan, or Brothers, do not differentiate between the various sectarian groups of Syrian society. Rather, he insists, citizenship is the base to deal equally with everybody. He refuses to label the regime either as Baathist or Alawi, claiming it is a “family ruled regime.”
The paragraph concerned is:
وعن إمكانية نشوب حرب أهلية في سورية، قال البيانوني: “لا خوف من حرب أهلية، والنظام هو من أوجد المشكلة”، و العلويون على سبيل المثال نالهم الظلم والتنكيل، نحن لا نميز بين فئات المجتمع السوري على أساس طائفي، بل المواطنة هي الأساس الذي يتعامل على أساسه الجميع. و من الخطأ أن ننسب النظام إلى حزب البعث أو إلى الطائفة العلوية “فهو حكم عائلي“.ـ
Syrian blood is sacred;
He also repeats the MB’s willingness to stand in court and take responsibility for any misdeeds of the past.
He said one thing that I personally really liked because I have been repeating that sentence for the longest time. “Dam el-Souri Haram” (Syrian blood is sacred).
وأكدوا في عام 2004 أنهم يقبلون بلجنة تحقيق قضائية مستقلة تفتح ملف الثمانينات وتحدد المسؤوليات، والإخوان مستعدون لتحمّل أية مسؤولية قد تترتب عليهم أمام القضاء. كما جدد التعبير عن “الألم” لجميع الضحايا الأبرياء الذين سقطوا من كل الفئات، مشدداً على أن “الدم السوري يجب أن يكون محرماً”، و”النفس البشرية حرمها الله”.ـ
Another indication of Baynouni’s softer approach is:
2. Bayanouni interview with El-Jazeera TV on the 17th of August (2006).
You can find it on MB website, here.
The paragraph concerned is:
العلويون في سوريا جزء من نسيج الشعب السوري وهم فئات فيهم فئات وطنية كثيرة في الماضي والحاضر, النظام الحالي حاول أن يتمترس خلف الطائفة وحاول أن يجمع الطائفة في مواجهة المجتمع السوري, لكن أعتقد أن هناك فئات كثيرة من الطائفة العلوية هي معارضة وهناك ناس مقموعين من أبناء الطائفة، لذلك أنا أعتقد أي تغيير أي عملية تغيير في سوريا قادمة لابد أن تشترك فيها كل القوى الوطنية وكل مكونات الشعب السوري بمن فيهم أبناء الطائفة العلوية.
3. Bayanouni interview with Al-Arabiya TV on the 29th of April (2006).
You can find it on the MB website, here.
Here Bayanouni appreciates the diversity of Syrian society and says it should be preserved and is beneficial. The paragraph concerned is:
نحن نعتقد أن سوريا لكل أبنائها والتنوّع الموجود في سوريا سواء كان تنوّعاً عرقياً أو مذهبياً أو دينياً أو سياسياً ينبغي أن يكون حاضراً وهذا التنوّع له إيجابيات كثيرة، نحن نخشى فقط أن بعض الحاكمين في بلدنا يسخّرون الطائفة العلوية لخدمة مآربهم وهذا أمر حاصل، نحن لا نعتبر الطائفة كلها مسؤولة عما يجري، هناك فئة قليلة تتستّر خلف الطائفة وخلف الحزب لتمارس هذه الممارسات القمعية الاستبدادية التي تنتهك حرمات الشعب السوري.
I have the following to say about the above:
1. Many people would say Bayanouni is just paying lip service to Syrian diversity and tolerance. They will insist that we not believe him. I think that what we should appreciate that he has started talking like a politician. This is a great step forward. It distances the MB from the ideological approach that it adopted in the past. In the 20th century, his words might have been dismissed as lies, but in the 21st century, given the power of the Internet and media, he cannot escape such formulations. He will be bound by what he has said. It would seem that the MB has overcome its urge to take revenge on the Alawis. Perhaps the anger and hatred remain, but its policy is no long one of revenge and death. One reason for their change in policy is because they want to capitalize on the chances of being the major political party and best organized entity that has the greatest chance of winning a good chunk of parliamentary seats in an open election.
I strongly believe this is the influence of Mr. Khaddam. The MB’s language has changed considerably since Khaddam allied with it. Mr. Khaddam is certainly a clever politician.
2. It is well known that Bayanouni represents the moderate faction in the MB. There are much more hardliner members of the Brotherhood in the back seats. However, re-electing Bayanouni as a head of the organization for a third term testifies to the willingness of the membership as a whole to side with the moderate faction. The MB of Syria is trying to take, as I mentioned above, a political position more suitable to Syria’s circumstances. Even if this puts the Syrian branch of the MB in disagreement with the MB of other countries. Bayanouni’s decision to ally with Khaddam not only produced considerable turmoil in his own party, but disturbed the other branches of the MB with which Syria maintains very close relations, such as the Jordanian MB. The Jordanian MB was completely against the alliance with Mr. Khaddam and establishment of the National Salvation Front.
The following article, by someone from within the MB talks about these disagreements.