Posted by Joshua on Saturday, August 21st, 2010
The Syria Muslim Brotherhood: Leadership Transition from Bayanouni to Shaqfa
By Aron Lund
Syria Comment, Aug. 21, 2010
I saw the note about the Muslim Brotherhood in your latest blog post. However, what’s really worth pointing out — it’s mentioned briefly in the Khaleej article — is the fact that they’ve elected a new general inspector and top leadership. Ali Sadreddin el-Bayanouni held the post for 14 years, but has now, or so it seems, gracefully stepped aside. I interviewed him in London last year, and he told me he wouldn’t run for a new term since that was not allowed constitutionally, and indeed it seems he stuck to his word. That deserves some recognition, I think, considering how rare it is to see Syrian opposition parties (not to mention ruling parties) change their leaders at mandated intervals. I can think only of Riad el-Turks SCP/SDPP having done so before, but I hope it catches on. The opposition’s calls for democracy become rather more credible if they’re actually practicing democracy in their own organizations…
On the other hand, things may not be as settled as they appear. El-Quds el-Arabi [Aug 2] reported that the new GI, Mohammed Riad Shaqfa is backed by a hawkish faction of “war veterans”, centered around his deputy, one Farouq Teifour from Hama. Everyone they name in the new leadership is from Hama, interestingly enough, since Bayanouni was said to be backed by an Aleppo faction, and there was a three-way faultline between Damascus-Aleppo-Hama in the group during the 70s. On the other hand, both Shaqfa and Bayanouni deny any sort of internal “coup” in el-Sharq el-Awsat [Aug 8] and appear to try to minimize differences.
Be that as it may, it would be a shame if it’s true that Bayanouni’s line has lost influence. He deserves a lot of credit for having spent his time as GI pushing for moderation of their sectarian message and trying to find common ground with both the secular opposition and with the regime. Sadly, the regime did absolutely nothing to encourage this, effectively slapping Bayanouni in the face when he gambled on reconciliation in Spring 2009 by “suspending opposition activity” over the Gaza war and ditching Abdelhalim Khaddam.
el-Quds el-Arabi claims that the “suspension” communique and the regime’s cold shoulder response in 2009 was the final straw that led to a “hawkish” counter-faction taking over. If that’s true (again, I don’t know, and I hope not), this has been amazingly poorly played by Assad — actively burning bridges to people with influence in the conservative Sunni majority might comfort the most isolationist and hardcore elements of the regime, but it’s certainly not what Syria needs. The country will never get safely past the 80s unless there’s some form of public reconciliation involving both the regime and the MB.
I’m a Swedish freelance writer, mostly on Middle Eastern issues, with a special fascination for Syria. I spent much of 2005 studying Arabic at Damascus U, and really learned to love the country. Hope to be able to go back for a longer stay some time!
My book (the one I interviewed you for) is being published next month. It’s called Drömmen om Damascus (The Dream of Damascus), and it is published by SILC Förlag. As far as I can tell it’s the first book on Syrian politics in Swedish ever, so it’s about time… It’s intended to be sort of a non-specialist introduction to Syrian politics, focusing on how Hafez constructed the modern state, on Bashar’s first decade, the rise and fall of the Damascus Declaration, and on the various opposition movements. I’ve been interviewing opposition leaders in- & outside of the country for the past two years, incl. people like Khaddam, Bayanouni, Turk, Seif, Abdelazim, and many others.
Aron added in a note:
I just want to underline again that this is newspaper speculation. I’m not privy to their internal politics, and I personally don’t know which version is true. Unfortunately I think there’s good reason to suspect that el-Quds el-A has it about right, but that’s just guessing from what I’ve heard and read.
Further information on Bayanouni (by Landis)
Ali Sadreddine Bayanouni (علي صدر الدين اليانوني) was born in 1938 in Aleppo and brought up in a religious family, where his father and grandfather were both well known Muslim scholars. He joined the Muslim Brotherhood while in secondary school, in 1954, and went on to receive training as a lawyer. After spending time in prison, he emerged to become the deputy leader of the Brotherhood in 1977. He left Syria two years later and eventually settled in Jordan, where he remained for twenty years. Britain accepted him as a political refugee in 2000, after the Jordanian authorities requested he leave the country. In 2005, he joined with secular leaders of the Syrian opposition to call for elections and freedom in Syria in what was called the Damascus Declaration. In March 2006 he joined Abdel Halim Khaddam in forming the National Salvation Front in an attempt to unite with defectors of the Syrian Baath Party, as well as the secular opposition. The stated principle upon which all elements of the opposition seemed to agree was the need for elections and pluralism in Syria. This was new. Shortly after the Bush administration in the United States was replaced by President Obama’s, which did not place such heavy emphasis on the “Freedom Agenda” but instead called for engagement with Syria, Bayanouni broke with Abdel Halim Khaddam and the NSF was effectively dissolved.
I have been told by reliable sources that Khaddam’s daughter-in-law traveled to Syria this spring to see if a possible pardon could be arranged for her father-in-law and extended family. Her efforts were in vain. Some 22 members of the Khaddam extended family were required to leave Syria and lost their property following Abdel Halim’s Khaddam’s announcement in 2005 that he expected the downfall of the Syrian regime in six months and would work to promote that end by leading Syria’s opposition from France.
For further reading on Bayanouni read this 2006 article by Gary C. Gambill and this interview by Mahan Abedin in 2005. Also see my post about the Khaddam – Bayanouni link up here and about Bayanouni’s changing language on the Alawites, here. Also see Anthony Shadid’s 2005 Washington Post article here.