Bayanouni Improves on Alawi Question

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
Syria Comment
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.

Comments (12)

t_desco said:

Testing… 😉

Juan Cole on Negroponte, Lebanon and al-Qaeda.

“Radical Salafi Jihadis are rare in Lebanon, where the Sunni population is probably about 20 percent of the 3.8 million population (i.e. 760,000 persons).”

I would even argue that radical Salafi Jihadis are almost always statistically insignificant. Nethertheless they can do much damage.

“There have been a handful of religious radicals among the Palestinians in the camps, one of whom appears to have assassinated former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri after having fought the Americans in Iraq.”

There were some rumous that Ahmed Abu Adas had fought in Iraq, but these early reports seem to have been wrong. When he disappeared on 16 January 2005, an unidentified caller indeed told the mother that Adas “wanted to go to Iraq”.
Secondly, DNA evidence seems to indicate that the suicide/”suicide” bomber wasn’t him but somebody else (Brammertz II, §50).

“Sunnis who attacked the Danish embassy in Beirut over the caricatures of the Prophet may have included some Salafi Jihadis, though that was probably a relatively spontaneous act of an urban crowd.”

It was an urban crowd from Tripoli which went on the rampage in Beirut.

Professor Cole also has the BBC Monitoring translation of Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah’s speech.

September 24th, 2006, 8:48 am


t_desco said:

Ups… *Nevertheless… 😀

It would be nice to have the possibility to delete/edit one’s own comments, like on the old blog. Does the new software have such an option?

September 24th, 2006, 8:57 am


t_desco said:

New SPIEGEL interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Asad:

“America Must Listen”

US to blame for attack on its embassy-Syria’s Assad

Interestingly, US intelligence agencies may agree with that assessment:

Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terror Threat

Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Hurting U.S. Terror Fight

September 24th, 2006, 11:09 am


idaF said:

Congrats on the new format Josh, I liked the new “globalized” interface (with the auto-translation).

On Bayanouni, I do agree that Khaddam is now manipulating the MB. Bayanouni is now trying to compensate his severe loss of supporters among Syrian Muslims with Alawites under the advise of Khaddam.

The MB has made an irreparable mistake among Syrian Muslims by aligning himself with Khaddam. Blindly adopting the anti-Syria Lebanese rhetoric and appearing on Future TV is also not helping him all among Syrians in general and Sunnis in particular.

To assess how bad the damage to the MB’s credibility and popularity is, one can look at the following recent example: Few days ago Bayanouni called for a “day of rage” against the pope’s remarks on Islam in Syria last Friday after the Friday prayer. Syrian Sunnis I spoke to said they are satisfied with the pope’s “apology” and are “not going to allow politicians to exploit their religion”. Instead, Friday afternoon, after the prayers all Syrians I know (Muslims and Christians alike) gathered in festive atmospheres and were glued to TV screens waiting for Hasan Nasrallah’s speech.. and he did not disappoint them.

Ironically, some Alawites are now starting to think positively about the Khaddam/Bayanouni alliance. Many because they are feeling that they are loosing the “exclusive advantages” that they had under Hafez. Khaddam was always good at exploiting religious feelings and sectarian manipulation as a political power tool. After all, he has been very well trained in Lebanon during the civil war.

I am reading this as follows: Bashar is being increasingly perceived by Syrians as a national non-sectarian leader. His unrivaled and growing popularity among Sunnis in Syria and his slightly diminishing popularity among Alawites are clearly indicating that, unlike how they saw his father, Syrians are seeing Bashar as a “national leader” and not a “sectarian” one.

September 24th, 2006, 11:46 am


Sasa said:

I understand what you mean Idaf, that Khaddam/Bayouni are trying to grab support wherever they can. But Khaddam brings absolutely no Alawi constituency with him. He has less than zero support in the Alawi community. They hate him more than the rest of the country.

Khaddam/Bayouni was seen as a dream union to double support. It may, in fact, have done the exact opposite. Now Alawis hate Bayouni too, and Takfiris hate Khaddam as well.

Khaddam never did know how to play the power game.

September 24th, 2006, 6:46 pm


norman said:


September 24th, 2006, 8:38 pm


MO said:

i have been readin ur blog for about a year now, and frankly i always tought that it i shouoldn’t put a comment because it is very well showen ur ties with the syrian regime. i can tell you this Mr Joshua, ther isn’t a honest syrian that likes Bashar or his goverment. I am suni, and i always considered Khaddam as my leader. AND HE STILL IS. so befor spreading ur lies for dollars, think about those poor syrians that dream of democratie, the honest men that sacrfice everything for their country. You should be ashamed of urself

September 24th, 2006, 10:42 pm


George Y. Krikorian said:

A lot of people forget that Abdul-Halim Khaddam was one of the rising figures in the pre-Hafez Assad “Baathist” regime, and that he joined the winning faction of the new Hafezist era immediately after.

My first personal impression when listening to his own words during an interview on a local Arabic radio did not impress me at all about the personality of a Foreign Minister like Khaddam.

I am not at all minimizing the importance of a central figure like Khaddam at all; but any public figure staying in power for such a long time would become a shrewd politician if he has a minimum of brain. Nothing to do with his “genius”…

Moreover, Khaddam and consorts embezzled, as all the others, the government, made money from their powerful positions, and for sure his tears upon late Rafik Hariri’s tragic death reflected more the closeness and sudden stoppage from benefitting from the Lebanese PM largesses anymore.

Does he have really an agenda for Syria?

I doubt it, after he proved to all that he had a part in his constant embezzlement from Syrian coffers!

His legacy? He was instrumental in implementing the brilliant Hafez Assad machiavellian strategy! So all the credit to his former boss, not to himself at all!

His new alliance with the MB? He does not have any other alternative, and a divorce is looming at the horizon!

Then, what future to Syria? A reform from inside, with more freedom, justice and transparency! No need for Khaddam or MB to be part of it, unless their part is a constructive, purely nationalistic, sincere and definitely an honest one.

September 25th, 2006, 3:26 pm


Samy said:

Any true political change inside Syria is impossible without MB’s participation.In a pluralistic parliamentarian system, the brotherhood could expect 30-40% of the syrian vote.Also,We sould not underestimate the importance of pro liberal trend in the syrian society,it was the major political force during pre-baath democratic era.

September 25th, 2006, 6:43 pm


ziad said:

you are a big liar mester bayanouni ;i think you forgot when you killed the womens and the childrens of alawi in 1980 and a lot of innocent people bye bonbing and chooting ; that is the truth about you

March 24th, 2007, 2:31 pm


Syria Comment » Archives » “The Syria Muslim Botherhood: Leadership Transition from Bayanouni to Shaqfa” by Aron Lund said:

[…] – Bayanouni link up here and about Bayanouni’s changing language on the Alawites, here. Also see Anthony Shadid’s 2005 Washington Post article here. Posted by Joshua at 1:25 pm | […]

August 21st, 2010, 1:25 pm


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