February 8, 2006

Assad vs. the Brothers

Hatched by Dafydd

This could get interesting... in the sense of the old supposed Chinese curse, "may you be forced to live in interesting times."

Two old nemeses of the Assad family have joined forces to try to bring down the Assad/Baathist regime: Hafez Assad's former vice president, Abdel-Halim Khaddam, who turned against the son, Bashar Assad, back in December 2005; and the Muslim Brotherhood, which has bitterly fought against the Baath Party and the Assads... well, ever since the Baathist coup d'état in 1963:

Former Syrian Vice President Abdel-Halim Khaddam and the exiled leader of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood agreed on Wednesday to join forces to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

A source at Khaddam's office said the former official held talks with Ali Bayanouni, head of the Sunni Islamist group, in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"There was agreement on a joint vision to save Syria from the crisis that the regime has placed it in," the source told Reuters in Beirut by telephone. "It was also agreed to contact other opposition leaders inside and outside Syria to come up with a joint plan of action."

As fragile and tenuous as Bashar Assad's grip on power now is, with Syria being strongly and credibly accused of ordering the bomb-assassination of popular former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, it's very possible this alliance will be the last push that will cause the brutal and oppressive Syrian government to collapse.

But what will come after? That's the big question.

The history of Abdel-Halim Khaddam is well known:

Khaddam was for 30 years a political ally of Assad's late father, authoritarian president Hafez al-Assad....

Khaddam, a Sunni Muslim who quit in June and has since moved to Paris, broke away from Assad in December. He said last month that Assad was facing growing pressure from economic problems at home and the international investigation into the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

But the history of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria is controversial and confusing (while Wikipedia is a suspect source, because of its provenance, this article seems very well written and researched, even citing its sources; it misses only one big but controversial point, for which see below).

On the one hand, on paper, they renounce all violence; but in practice, on the other hand, they fought a twenty-year war against the Baathists (and later, Baath Party leader Hafez Assad) that included car bombs, terrorist assassinations, armed uprisings, seizing of cities, and so forth.

On the third hand, they were fighting against an oppressive, Stalinist regime. But on the fourth hand, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood seems to have had strong ties to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in the 1930s and 1940s -- right around the time the Syrian version was starting up. This last point is the only major element of the Muslim Brotherhood that the Wikipedia article fails to mention -- possibly because academics don't necessarily accept this yet, since much of the evidence is recent... and perhaps for political reasons, as well.

The Reuters story is incorrect and incomplete on the founding of the Syrian branch (there's a shock); it notes that:

The Brotherhood, founded in Syria in 1945, is widely seen as the most serious rival to the Baath Party which in 1980 made membership of the group punishable by death.

But Reuters fails to note that there was an earlier group, Muhammad's Youth, which was founded in Syria in the 1930s by members of the Egyptian (Cairo) branch of the Muslim Brotherhood; Muhammad's Youth later changed its name to Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. Thus, the organization really does date from the time when some evidence indicates the Egyptian branch was working hand-in-glove with the Nazis:

Here's how the story began. In the 1920's there was a young Egyptian named al Bana. And al Bana formed this nationalist group called the Muslim Brotherhood. Al Bana was a devout admirer of Adolph Hitler and wrote to him frequently. So persistent was he in his admiration of the new Nazi Party that in the 1930's, al-Bana and the Muslim Brotherhood became a secret arm of Nazi intelligence.

The Arab Nazis had much in common with the new Nazi doctrines. They hated Jews; they hated democracy; and they hated the Western culture. It became the official policy of the Third Reich to secretly develop the Muslim Brotherhood as the fifth Parliament, an army inside Egypt.

(John Loftus, who wrote the above article, is an interesting character himself. On the fifth hand -- do I sound like John Kerry? -- he wrote a long article claiming, with some justification, that the Bush family fortune was built on laundered Nazi wealth... though (a) the Bush launderer, witting or unwitting, was Prescott Bush, not either of the presidents; (b) there is no evidence that George H.W. Bush knew anything about it; and (c) Loftus's article is weakest where he tries hard to show that Prescott Bush was no dupe but an active conspirator (it resorts an awful lot to "he must have known").

(On the sixth hand, Loftus also argues very strongly that Iraq did indeed have WMD stockpiles until just before the invasion, and that it transferred the weaponry to Syria after being warned by Russia, which brings us right back on topic. Loftus is not easy to classify politically.)

The Muslim Brotherhood is one of the few groups that I would unhesitatingly call Islamofascist -- because they, unlike Hamas or Hezbollah, really are fascists.

Or they were; that's the big question: have they really changed since they were annihilated by Hafez Assad in his 1982 aerial bombardment of Hama, which slaughtered "between 10,000 and 30,000 people," according to the Wikipedia article cited above?

Although its leadership is in exile, the Brotherhood continues to enjoy considerable sympathy among Syrians. Riyyad al-Turk, a secular opposition leader, considers it "the most credible" Syrian opposition group. The Brotherhood has continued to advocate a democratic political system; it has abandoned its calls for violent resistance and for the application of shari'a law, as well as for Sunni uprisings against Alawites. Al-Turk and others in the secular opposition are inclined to take this evolution seriously, as a sign of the Brotherhood's greater political maturity, and believe that the Brotherhood would now be willing to participate in a democratic system of government.

Well, anything's possible. Most of the Muslim Brotherhood of Syria's violence was directed against Syrian security forces under Baathist control -- though some of its violent attacks were unquestionably just vicious acts of terrorism against civilians. They're very different from Hamas in that respect, as Hamas prefers targeting innocents.

And the Brotherhood is also very different from Hezbollah, which is a creation of the Iranian mullahs, controlled by them, and also by Syria in Lebanon; Hezbollah has always been a state-sponsored terrorist group, while the Brotherhood has fought against the regimes in virtually every country where it has been active: Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories.

But does it fight for democracy, as it claims, or for an "Islamic republic," as it insists it does not? Either way, if it pushes democracy -- even hoping to see the election go the way of the Palestinian Authority vote that elected Hamas -- I see this ganging up on Bashar Assad as a good thing: as democracy sweeps the Middle East (and it will), inevitably some countries will vote in terrorist jihadi groups like Hamas. But terrorists will discover that in a democracy, voters actually demand that the country be governed and governed well; and as terror regimes fail for want of a workable plan to govern, I believe the Arabs (and Iranians) will opt to throw out the terrorist bathwater -- but the not the infant democracy.

Groups like Hamas -- and possibly the Muslim Brotherhood -- will quickly learn that having something is not always so pleasant and easy as wanting something.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, February 8, 2006, at the time of 7:51 PM

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