Syria’s MB Controller: MB Welcomes Negotiations with Syrian Regime despite Obstinacy
The Muslim Brotherhood offshoot in Syria is regarded as one of the country’s most powerful pillars despite the long history of oppression practiced by the Syrian ruling regime. Despite repression, the MB political arm was able to survive in the face of aggression. One of the most vocal oppositions to the Syrian regime in the MB were targeted and killed in the Hama massacre which took place in February 1982, when the Syrian army attacked and shelled the town of Hama seeking to quell an alleged revolt by the Muslim Brotherhood. In July 1980, membership in the Muslim Brotherhood was made a capital offense, with the ratification of Law No. 49.
The MB offshoot in Syria recently held its internal elections resulting in the election of a new leadership team, headed by Secretary General Mohamed Riyad Al Shaqfa. In an interview with "Ikhwanweb", the group’s newly-elected leader asserted that the recent elections were held as scheduled between MB members despite allegations to the contrary.
During the interview, Shaqfa asserted that the group has welcomed and is still welcoming efforts at negotiation between the MB offshoot and the Syrian regime. He highlighted the fact that former initiatives were faced with obstinacy by the Syrian government, bringing it to a dead end.
Shaqfa ascertained that talks with the Israeli occupation forces (IOF) remains futile after the Syrian government ignored other options to liberate the land, causing its position to be weakened where it failed to bridge the gap between the regime and the people due to the regime’s repressive practices.
He also stressed that if the government is to negotiate in liberating the land, it must do so without being forced to recognize the usurpers.
The following is a set of questions and answers between Ikhwanweb and Shaqfa:
Ikhwanweb: Some newspapers have discussed internal disputes that have arisen recently as a result of the significant changes of the secretary general and the executive bureau; how do you reply to these claims?
Shaqfa: Changes in the leadership did not come about because of internal disputes. They took place as scheduled and in accordance with the group’s bylaws, which stipulates that every MB member has the right to serve as a Controller-General for two 4-year terms only. Bayanouni has served two terms and may not be elected leader again in accordance with the group’s Shura principle. Every member is entitled to participate freely and transparently.
Ikhwanweb: The previous period was marked by affinity between the group and some Syrian opposition forces including the Damascus Declaration and the National Redemption Front. They later pulled out after the alliance had lasted for more than three years. Will the upcoming period witness increased convergence or divergence?
Shaqfa- We have always had a very open relationship regarding the country’s interest. We withdrew from the NRF as a result of a disagreement about the movement’s decision to suspend its opposing activities after the Gaza war, although we are still one of the key founders of the Damascus Declaration even though its activities were slightly hindered after its leaders were detained in Syria. However, the MB will strive and coordinate with various opposition parties, except those who ask help from foreigners.
Ikhwanweb: Does the MB propose a new mechanism in dealing with the Syrian regime? Have they held direct contact with the Syrian government in the last period?
Shaqfa: We interact positively with all the initiatives carried out by the mediators even though all mediation efforts were forestalled due to the government’s intransigence and we no longer have direct contact with the ruling regime. However, we will be patient and comply with the ideas aimed at resolving the crisis and restoring liberty and freedom to our people.
Ikhwanweb: Do you think the opposition in exile is fruitful for a repressive government like the Syrian regime, which managed over the decades to tighten control of power in Syria?
Shaqfa: The opposition has influence at home and abroad, and of course the opposition at home is more effective. We are forced to live in exile because of Law No. 49 of 1980, which stipulates that membership in the Muslim Brotherhood is a capital offense and this is still effective. We have no option but to continue our struggle for liberty.
Ikhwanweb: Can you explain the duality of Syrian policy when they deal with the MB and Hamas? Does it cause an outrage for Hamas?
Shaqfa: The Syrian regime’s support of Hamas offers it high standing in the eyes of Arab and Muslim people without adversely affecting the domestic situation. As for us, the government is very afraid of the positive role we play internally and we realize that Hamas’ senior leaders are in dire need of the Syrian presence, and this does not cause a problem for us.
Ikhwanweb: What is the MB’s position on the news circulated about holding Israeli-Syrian peace talks, either through mediation or direct negotiations?
Shaqfa: I do not think such talks are futile after the Syrian government has ignored all other options to liberate the land, causing its position to be weakened and increasing the gap between the regime and the people due to the regime’s repressive practices. Like I said before, if the government wishes to negotiate in liberating the land, it is acceptable provided that we are not forced to recognize the usurpers.
Ikhwanweb: How do you see the future of the MB and Syrian opposition amid the current regional and international circumstances?
Shaqfa: Despite Syria’s repressive policies towards the MB and regional and international support, we will continue to demand our stolen rights internationally. I think that the Syrian opposition will grow and expand as long as the regime insists on its intransigent policies, and we do not need assistance from the West.
Unfortunately, the Westerners claim that they have pledged to defend democracy and human rights, neglecting their support for tyrannical regimes that deny their people the most basic human rights and civil liberties.