Minority Questions

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?


2 thoughts on “Minority Questions

  1. “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)?”

    So they say. Under former GI Bayanouni the Syrian MB went further than any other MB branch that I know of, by stating that they will accept a female or Christian (and by extension Alawi) president, as long as other issues are sorted out (relegalization, political rights, human rights, looking into past abuses etc). Bayanouni has said as much to me in person, when I interviewed him a couple of years ago, and he’s said the same thing on a number of occasions in the media. They made major shifts towards accepting a secular democracy in the early 00’s, after prodding from the leftist & nationalist opposition (although of course they refuse to use the word “secularism”) and consecrated it by signing the Damascus Declaration in 05 — it has some very tortured phrases about the important role of Islam which they insisted on, but clearly does NOT call for a theocracy or Sunni privilege.

    As for how much of that shift is simple tactics and show, well, that’s another question. Obviously they’d want an Islamic (Sunni) theocracy if they could have one, but they’re pragmatic, and probably count on Sunni religious opinion coming out on top in a democracy by sheer force of numbers. I have no doubt that they are really much more moderate now than before, but they’re also quite… flexible. Their situation as an exiled group post 1982 has been very special, in that they haven’t had to take the views of a strong constituency into consideration, just maneuver on positions for political gain — the revolution might change all that. On that, I recommend Alison Pargeter’s book on the MB, which has a very good chapter on the Syrian wing. They also have their political manifesto (National Charter & Mashrou3 siyasi) online on their website (ikhwansyria.com, I think), but not a lot is translated into English.

    • Thanks for posting this, Alle. Always great to get your insight on these is issues. My comments here are on the vagueness of the article over all and especially since we have all this commentary about the “minority regime” and blanket characterizations of non-Sunnis and so on, which is troubling (and irresponsible) given how that sort of thing plays out very often. Seems to me religious parties in a multi-sectarian country are significantly more complex than the FP article lets on; I mean, he makes only one reference real to non-Sunni communities at all.

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