Piotr Zalewski’s piece on the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in Foreign Policy leaves the reader with questions. The piece changes in the Syrian Brotherhood’s attitude toward religion and politics since its violent encounters with the Syrian regime in the 1970s and 1980s; the Syrian Brothers, he quotes one as saying, “have faced a revolution in our thoughts.” Zalewski describes this process broadly; he touches on very few specific questions and relies primarily (though not wholly) on interviews with Syrian Brotherhood members in the diaspora, in Turkey or Europe. The bulk of the article is concerned with explaining the influence of Turkey’s AK party as a “model” for Syrian Islamists. The party’s worldview has been influenced heavily by generational shifts and the success of Turkish Islamists. But the piece suffers heavily from avoiding a discussion of specific changes in the party’stance on specific questions.
For example: It would make sense to consider the Brotherhood’s position on the rights of religious minorities in the Brotherhood’s Syria. Given the strong sectarian element in Syria’s politics and the deep (and sometimes irrational) fear many Syrian minorities have at the prospect of the Ba’th regime falling and leading to even the possibility of “domination” by the Sunni majority (by means of the Brotherhood, for example) it is just as relevant to explore the Brotherhood’s “evolution” in this context as well as its view of the female dress code or the “light” role of ideology in general. Should a non-Muslim have the right to be the head of state (recall the Brotherhood’s campaign against the this provision in Syria’s proposed 1973 constitution)? Should Islam be the state religion? What do Brotherhood members when they refer to free “practice” of religion? How are their positions on these questions different from what they were in the 1970s and 1980s? How does the Brotherhood’s sectarianism relate to the sectarianism elsewhere in Syrian society?