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SYRIA: Muslim Brothers, the Question of Alliances...

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Talia al Mukatila... The question of alliances -- both internal and external -- has long been one of the main sources of strain within the brotherhood. Disagreements over the handling of Hama were the last straw and seem to have set the seal on a split which had in any case become inevitable. For as Adnan Saadeddin became increasingly preoccupied with broadening the base of the brotherhood’s support inside Syria and the region, he was obliged to modify the movement’s ideology to make it acceptable to his new allies.

This, however, proved to be totally unacceptable to the more traditional and hardline members who are now centred around Adnan Okla’s Talia al-Mukatila (Fighting Vanguard). Adnan Okla finally split with Adnan Saadeddin in December 1981 after a nine-month attempt to form a unified leadership had failed. Adnan Saadeddin’s  organisation made the separation formal in April 1982 after Adnan Okla had refused to join the National Alliance.

Differences within the Syrian Brotherhood

The first clear signs of differences within the Syrian Brotherhood had appeared in 1970, when some members began to question whether the then Superintendent General, Dr Issam Attar, could provide effective leadership from the exile that had been imposed on him in 1964. A new leader more in touch with developments in Syria was needed, it was argued. The following year, Attar became director of the islamic Centre in Aachen, Gerrmany, giving his critics more reason for their doubts.

Adnan SaadeddineAdnan Saadeddin was elected Superintendent General in 1975 but Issam Attar still commanded the loyalty of a significant number of Syrian Brothers -- including Adnan Okla, who split from Adnan Saadeddin for the first time that year. The Talia is now strictly Syria-based and it is adhering closely to the brotherhood’s original goal of an Islamic state, without considering the possibility of any compromise. It is also adopting the traditional brotherhood methods of secret underground organisation and selective violence to achieve its ends.

Adnan Saadeddin’s tendency, on the other hand, is advocating a Western-style liberal parliamentary democracy based on a multiparty system, the only difference being that “our system will be bound by the basic rules of Islam”. These policies are embodied in a 59-page detailed manifesto published in December 1980 as “The declaration and Programme of the Islamic revolution in Syria”.

This was the political basis of an Islamic Front established the following month, in which Adnan Saadeddin’s wing of the brotherhood was joined by the Islamic Liberation Party and various Sufi groups, under the overall leadership of Ali Bayanouni.

An invitation to non-Islamic groups

But the programme was also a clear invitation to other non-Islamic groups to give their support to the brotherhood by offering them guarantees that they would enjoy freedom of action under a brotherhood-dominated regime. Adnan Saadeddin stressed at the time in a long interview that if the brotherhood came to power it would permit all opposition groups to express their views -- “provided they do not advocate atheism or seek links with a foreign power”.

Talia al MukatilaThe programme includes detailed plans for reorganising Syria’s economy. It proposed a mixed economy “restored and cleaned from the corrupt and pileferers”, and advocates land redistribution by breaking up the large state-owned farms. In industry a measure of workers’ participation would be introduced and the tax and banking systems would be reorganised according to Islamic principles.

In a sense, the economic programme reflects the fact that the brotherhood’s traditional support has always come from oppressed sections of the community and especially the small merchants and farmers who were hard hit by nationalisation measures.

As to regional policy, the programme calls for Arab unity based on Islam, with the recovery of Palestine through Jihad (holy war) as a priority. The 1980 programme is careful to avoid any reference to any specific Arab states, clearly leaving open all options for  alliances and support in the future. Rumours persist, however, that Adnan Saadeddin enjoys considerable backing from the moderate Gulf states which support him indirectly through organisations in Europe and Pakistan. He denies this, but significantly refuses to be drawn into any criticism of these states.

The political tendency’s attitude to Iran is a good example of the extent to which this group’s policies are dictated by its alliances. In 1979, according to well-informed sources, the organisation contacted Ayatollah Khomeini and asked him for support, but he refused. They subsequently turned to the Gulf states, and after the Gulf war broke out in late 1980 the group’s attitude to Iran hardened. With the formation of the National Alliance last year which brought them Iraqi backing, they have become highly critical of Iran, accusing it of “deforming” Islam.

At the international level, the brotherhood’s programme rejects alliance with either superpower. Adnan Saadeddin is especially critical of the USSR and of Syria’s friendship treaty with Moscow, which he says is “null and void” as far as the brotherhood is concerned.

For the future, the differences between Adnan Saadeddin and Adnan Okla seem certain to increase, although publicly a veil will continue to be drawn over the split. At one level, the two groups seem to have, in effect, divided political functions between them -- the Talia doing most of the groundwork and military operations, and Adnan Saadeddin’s group operating regionally to win diplomatic support. But Adnan Okla’s supporters argue that allies, whether domestic or regional, are fickle and that the political and ideological concessions Adnan Saadeddin has had to make to win them are too exopensive.

There is little doubt that this split will hamper the brotherhood’s efforts to relaunch a military campaign against the regime in Syria  and it is not at all clear whether such a campaign would win the support it enjoyed in the late 1970s.

Many Syrian view the brotherhood with suspicion, and Adnan Saadeddin’s compromises are unlikely to allay these fears. Even if the brotherhood once again becomes the focal point of widespread opposition to the regime this support would stop short of bringing the movement to power in Damascus, Syrian oppoosition sources believe. “For real brotherhood policy we don’t look to Adnan Saadeddin but to Adnan Okla”, one oppositionist says, “and all the manifestos and declarations in the world will not change that”.

The Fighting Vanguard: Men have no right to choose to govern themselves.

Q: Is Talia al-Mukatila just an armed organisation, or is it also a political movement?

A Talia al-Mukatila official: Talia al-Mukatila is a homogeneous Islamic movement with an ideology, a programme and a goal. Armed struggle is the result of a precise political idea. The establishment of our organisation is the establishment of an Islamic state, through jihad. Military action is needed to overthrow this regime. Jihad is the use of all possible forces, except as prohibited by the Quran, namely against innocents. We do not hit blindly. We hit the “pillars” of the regime. But military action without ideas is nothing; We fight to spread our ideas and to implement our policy. No military organisation can exist without a political organisation behind it.

Q: You have broken away from the unified command of the Muslim Brothers. Don’t you think this was a suicidal decision and a victory for the regime?

A: An agreement for a unified leadership was signed to group all forces against the regime, but it went the opposite way. Our forces were frozen because the others are not trained and are not ready to fight. We made three conditions for joining the leadership: that we would not lay down our arms or give up jihad; that we would never negotiate with the regime; and that there would be no alliance with the political parties. They did not stick to their word and made a secret alliance with the political parties.

Q: Why do you refuse to join the alliance?

A: After all the losses we suffered, we cannot give up and change our goal: the establishment of an Islamic state. To set up a democratic state is not our problem. We have already had experience with these parties and they are mere dictators.

Q: What about a transition period, with elections to let the people decide what they want?

A: For us, men have no right to choose to govern themselves; they must be ruled by the order of God.

Q: How will the head of state be elected in your Islamic state?

A: Whoever is head of Talia al-Mukatila at the time will be the caliph. If Adnan Okla is correct and pious, he will stay. If not, we will change him.

Q: Do you have a draft constitution?

A: We have a general draft, but no precise details. The most learned people, the ulema, will write it. We are not going to ask people from the street to do it.

Q: What will be your economic policy?

A: What I make by my own efforts, legally, I keep; otherwise the state has the right to take it back. This is very precise in Islamic books.

Q: By refusing to join the alliance won’t you isolate yourself from the Arab countries which were ready to help you?

A: We would do better to make an alliance with the regime. We would not loose our Mujahidin (fighters).and we would get portfolios in the government. If we have the help of others we won’t get an Islamic state.

(The Middle East magazine (Excerpt), May 1983)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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