Syrian Muslim Brothers and the Syrian-Iranian Relationship.

Syrian Muslim Brothers and the Syrian-Iranian Relationship.

 The ‘Alawis of Syria are part of the Shi’a stream; this has led to an alliance with Iran, the center of Shi’ite Islam. This alliance aggravated the oppositionist Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (MB), whose members have been in exile since 1982. According to them, the alliance is a stage in a Shi’ite scheme to take over the Sunni countries, including Syria. However, during the past year the MB has changed their strategy, and we are currently witnessing a rapprochement between the Brotherhood and Damascus.

The purpose of this article is to examine the attitude of the Syrian Muslim Brothers towards the ‘Alawi regime as a sectarian Shi’ite regime and as a part of a Shi’ite/Iranian scheme that intends to take over the Sunni world.

The Muslim Brothers of Syria, the prominent opposition to the current regime, are a Sunni Islamist movement, while the ‘Alawis, the current rulers of Syria, are defined as Shi’ites. This brings to the surface the old Sunni-Shi’ite schism wherein each accuses the other of deviation from the true path of Islam. The situation in Syria, in which a Shi’ite minority rules over a Sunni majority through the secular Ba’th Party, is considered unacceptable by the Sunni Muslim Brothers, who believe that this situation ought to be changed – even by the use of force. The Muslim Brothers believe that Syria should be ruled by Sunni Shari’a (Islamic law) and not by the heretic Nusayris, as the Shi’ite ‘Alawis are called. As a result of the violent Muslim resistance to the secular Ba’th regime during the 1960s and against the secular, sectarian Asad regime during the 1970s and 1980s, many Brothers were killed and imprisoned while the Brotherhood’s leadership left Syria and has never been allowed to return. Today the Syrian Muslim Brothers reside in London, under the leadership of ‘Ali Sadr al-Din al-Bayanuni.

The Nusayris of Syria

The ‘Alawis, the dominant elite of Syria, were known up until the 1920s as Nusayris. The term Nusayris is derived from the name Muhammad ibn Nusayr who lived in the ninth century. Ibn Nusayr claimed that ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, was divine, and he placed him above the Prophet Muhammad. The Nusayris also believe in the Trinitarian concept of ‘A.M.S. (‘Ali. Muhammad. Salman.).1 They believe in the transmigration of souls, and they resort to religious dissimulation, or taqiyya. Since the 13th century they have inhabited the mountain region known after their name, Jabal al-Nusayriya (the Nusayriya Mountain) in northwest Syria and in the Hatay region in southern Turkey.2

For centuries, the Nusayris, though considered an extremist Muslim sect, were ill-treated by the local Syrian Sunnis and by successive Sunni governments, which considered them to be heretics outside of Islam. The Nusayris lived in isolation in their mountains, and their encounters with the local inhabitants, both Muslims and Christians, were rare. They did not cultivate their lands and lived by raiding neighboring villages and robbing travellers, which earned them a negative reputation.

At the beginning of the French Mandate period in Syria (1920-1946), the group changed their name to “‘Alawis.” Some researchers, such as Daniel Pipes, say that the French gave them this name in order to win them over to their side.3 Others argue that the Nusayris were the ones who wanted to change their name to “‘Alawis,” meaning the adherents of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, which made them more closely tied to Islam.4 Adopting the name ‘Alawis and obtaining fatawa (legal opinions) that related them to Shi’ism were supposed to help them integrate with the Syrian Muslim population and end their heretic status. As Nusayris, they were regarded as an outcast sect, but as ‘Alawis, and the adherents of ‘Ali, they were part of Shi’ism and thus part of the Muslim community. Although during the French Mandate and the struggle for independence, Sunni nationalists had put national solidarity above religious allegiance and recognized the ‘Alawis as fellow Arabs, there were still many who referred to them as “Nusayris,” implying that they were disbelievers and extremists who are related neither to Sunni nor to Shi’ite Islam.5 However, unlike the Sunnis, the Shi’ites embraced the ‘Alawis and ultimately won their support.

The Sunni/Shi’a Schism

To understand the divisions between Shi’a6 and Sunni we must first understand the historical roots and doctrinal differences that led to this dichotomy. After the death of the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century and the internal disputes over who would inherit the place of the Prophet as leader of the Muslim community, a division occurred between the Sunnis and the Shi’ites. The disagreements between the two became particularly acute regarding the process of succession (vis a vis the Caliphate and the Imamate) and the role of Islamic law absent a clear Qur’anic statement on a certain matter.

Today the Shi’a are a minority in the Muslim world consisting of approximately 10%-15% of the population, including all the different sects such as Ismailis, Zaydis, and ‘Alawis. Although the ‘Alawis are considered a sect within the Shi’ite doctrine, there are few similarities between the Shi’ites and the ‘Alawis. They both revere ‘Ali and the 12 Imams – although they hold different views concerning them – and they both resort to religious dissimulation (taqiyya), but the similarities end there. For example, the Nusayris/’Alawis have many beliefs that are not accepted by the Shi’ites, such as the belief in the transmigration of souls, their placement of ‘Ali above the Prophet Muhammad, and their own religious books and ceremonies.

Yet their theological differences did not prevent the two Shi’ite-ruled states of Iran and Syria from becoming allies. Some regarded the alliance as being based on political, security, and economic interests, but the Syrian Muslim Brothers saw it differently. According to them, this alliance is only a stage in the Iranian/Shi’ite scheme of forming an Iranian/Shi’ite empire throughout the Muslim world with the purpose of taking over the Sunni world. Before continuing to examine the subject deeply we must first answer the question as to how and when the Nusayris became Shi’a.

Becoming Shi’a

For centuries the ‘Alawis/Nusayris had suffered both socially and economically under successive Sunni rulers. Under the Ottomans, who ruled Syria for 400 years, the ‘Alawis suffered greatly. Isolated in their mountain redoubts, living in ramshackle villages, they had to endure famine and poverty while being exploited by their mainly Sunni landlords, who held them in contempt and considered them infidels.7 After the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, Syria came under the French Mandate in 1920. This was seen by the Nusayris as an opportunity to obtain autonomy or independence in the region of the Nusayriya Mountain where they constituted the majority.

With the beginning of the French Mandate in Syria, the ‘Alawi leaders asked the French to give them their own state. The French, who pursued a policy of divide and rule, granted the ‘Alawis their own state, the “State of the ‘Alawis” (1920-1936) in the Nusayriya Mountain area along the coast of Syria, thus preventing the inner regions of Syria from having an outlet to the Mediterranean Sea. Though they enjoyed autonomy during those years, the ‘Alawis were divided among themselves. Some ‘Alawis, mainly those who were educated, supported a broader nationalism and desired the unification of the whole of Syria, while others supported separatism and wanted to keep their independent state. Among the separatists was ‘Ali Sulayman al-Asad, the father of Hafiz al-Asad. While the supporters of separatism relied on religious differences as the basis for their demand for an independent state, serious measures were made, mainly by the nationalist ‘Alawis, to stress their links with the Shi’ite doctrine.8

The ‘Alawis who supported nationalism saw that the only way to preserve their existence was through integration within a united Syria rather than having their own country, and they fostered this idea beginning in the 1920s. They realized that it was important for them first to be recognized as part of the Muslim community as Shi’ites. As Nusayris they were viewed as infidels by both Sunnis and Shi’ites, but as ‘Alawis they would become part of Islam and no longer be regarded as an outcast sect.

In 1926 the ‘Alawis took the first step towards becoming part of the Muslim faith when a group of ‘Alawi shaykhs issued a proclamation stating that: “Every ‘Alawi is a Muslim … every ‘Alawi who does not confess his Islamic faith or denies that the Qur’an is the word of God and that Muhammad is his Prophet is not ‘Alawi … The ‘Alawis are Shi’ite Muslims … they are the adherents of the Imam ‘Ali.”9 In April 1933 a group of ‘Alawi ‘ulama’ held a meeting and issued a declaration connecting the ‘Alawis with Islam, and asked to be recognized in the population registers under the name “Alawi Muslims.”10 In July 1936 another major step was taken to support ‘Alawi integration into the Muslim faith when the Palestinian Mufti, Hajj Amin al-Husayni,11 a pan-Arabist who supported the idea of Greater Syria, issued a fatwa recognizing the ‘Alawis as Muslims. His fatwa was published in the Syrian newspaper al-Sha’b [The People].12 The aim of Hajj Amin was to unite all Muslim Arabs for one cause – Arab unity and the struggle against occupation by the Western powers. This fatwa was the first official religious decree recognizing the ‘Alawis as Muslims.

It was during this year that the ‘Alawis lost their independent, autonomous state and were annexed to Syria, which was then still under the French Mandate. During the Mandate (1936-1946), the ‘Alawis who supported separatism continued to demand that the French restore their independence, but to no avail. At the same time, the nationalist stream among the ‘Alawis was gaining strength. On one hand, the nationalist ‘Alawis continued to stress their connection to Islam, and on the other hand the Muslim community, both Sunni and Shi’ite, wanted to win them over to the cause of the Syrian nation-state by issuing several fatwas and declarations legitimizing the ‘Alawi sect as part of the Muslim faith. The French left Syria in April 1946, and the ‘Alawis who supported separatism knew that they had no alternative other than integration with the independent state of Syria.

Although during the 26 years of the French Mandate the ‘Alawis adopted Shi’ism, helping them become integrated with the Muslim world and in the Syrian nation, they had never learned its doctrines. In 1947, the leading Shi’ite authority in Najaf, Ayatullah Muhsin al-Hakim, decided to make the first formal step towards embracing the ‘Alawis and making them part of the Shi’ite community. In 1948, the first delegation of ‘Alawi students went to Najaf to study Shi’ite theology and to pursue legal studies.13 This step was unsuccessful, since the ‘Alawi students were faced with Shi’ite hostility and were viewed as extremists (ghulat), causing most of the students to drop out and return home. After this failure, a Ja’fari (Twelver) Society was established in Latakia, which undertook educational work and religious guidance, and inaugurated several branches in other towns such as Jabla, Tartus, and Banias.

Despite these actions, the ‘Alawis were still not regarded as true Muslims even by the Shi’ites, who believed that they needed more guidance.14 Between 1950-1960 some ‘Alawi students studied at the Sunni al-Azhar University in Cairo, which granted its graduates a diploma recognized in Syria.15 It was during those years that the Ba’th Party under ‘Alawi leadership seized power in Syria as a preliminary stage to taking over the whole of the country. As Martin Kramer puts it: “This situation was rich in irony. The ‘Alawis, having been denied their own state by the Sunni nationalists, had taken all of Syria instead.”16

The ‘Alawi Regime and the Syrian Muslim Brothers

There were two main channels that helped the ‘Alawis capture power in Syria: the socialist, secular Ba’th Party, which especially attracted the rural class and non-Sunni minorities, and the armed forces, where various religious minorities were over-represented during the French Mandate and continued to be so after their departure. The coup d’etats of March 1963 and February 1966, in which the ‘Alawis played a major role, marked the ‘Alawis’ consolidation of power. The last Syrian coup occurred in November 1970, and was known as the “Asad coup.”17 In 1971 Hafiz al-Asad became the first ‘Alawi President of Syria. However, some branches of the Syrian nation refused to accept this fact. These were mainly the Muslim Brothers of Syria who, from 1964 to today, are the main Syrian opposition to the rule of the Ba’th Party and to the “sectarian” rule, as they call it, of the Asad family.18 In 1945-1946, Dr. Mustafa al-Siba’i founded the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, which fought against the French for an Islamic state.19 During the first years after its establishment, the society published newspapers and literature and played an active role in Syrian politics. Within that same period the secular Ba’th evolved, and in contrast with the Muslim Brothers, who fought against secularization, it gained support from different sectors of Syrian society, especially among minorities, thus becoming the most important political party in Syria.

The secular doctrine of the ruling Ba’th Party only augmented the fears of the Sunnis, and clashes between the secular, socialist Ba’th and the religious Muslim Brothers were inevitable. In 1964, the Ba’th regime outlawed the Muslim Brothers, and its new leader, ‘Isam al-‘Attar, was exiled. During the same year a revolt led by the Muslim Brothers and other opposition factions, including socialists, liberals, and Nasserists, erupted in the city of Hama against the secular, rural, and minority nature of the Syrian ruling elite. The revolt was put down after a bombing of the city’s Al-Sultan Mosque, which caused many casualties.20

Clashes between the two sides were renewed in April 1967 when a young ‘Alawi officer named Ibrahim Khallas published an article in the army magazine Jaysh al-Sha’b (The Army of the People) under the title “The Path Towards the Creation of a New Arab Man,” wherein he announced that belief in God and religion, feudalism, capitalism, imperialism, and all of the values that had controlled society should be placed in a museum.21 This article caused strikes and disturbances in different parts of Syria, which were led by the ‘ulama’, including members of the Muslim Brotherhood and even Christian clergy. As a result, Khallas was discharged from office.22 According to the Muslim Brothers, they opposed the Ba’th because it was a secular party. They believed that Islam should be declared the state religion and that Shari’a should be the basis of legislation.23 They also opposed Asad not because of his ‘Alawi origins, but because, in their view, his regime was sectarian, tyrannical, corrupt, oppressive, and unjust.24

During the 1970s, relations between the Asad regime and the Muslim Brothers deteriorated. In 1973, disturbances erupted again when the Syrian Constitution was publicized and did not designate Islam as the state religion. The Muslim Brothers demanded that Islam be the state religion, although it had never been designated as such. In 1950, the Syrian assembly announced the Syrian Constitution and, at the request of the MB, added a clause that the religion of the Head of State would be Islam. This clause was later omitted, and after ascending to the presidency, Asad reinserted this clause into the Syrian Constitution, but when the Constitution was introduced for public census, the clause was once again omitted. This act caused a wave of angry demonstrations organized by the Muslim Brothers, who referred to Asad as the “enemy of God” and called for a jihad against him and against his “atheist and corrupt regime.”25As a result, Asad reinserted a clause into the Constitution that “Islam shall be the religion of the head of the state,” meaning that since he was the President, he considered himself a Muslim. In addition, during that same year, he ordered the printing of a new Qur’an with his picture on the frontispiece, to be called the “Asad Qu’ran,” thereby arousing the anger of the Sunnis and the Muslim Brothers.26

Asad made many conciliatory gestures to gain the trust of the Sunni majority and the Muslim Brothers. He prayed in mosques on Fridays27 and on the main Muslim holidays such as ‘Id al-Fitr and ‘Id al-Adha.28 He abolished restrictions on religious institutions and allowed the construction of new mosques.29 In December 1972, he obtained a legitimization from Hasan al-Shirazi, an Iraqi Shi’ite cleric in exile in Lebanon, stating that “the beliefs of the ‘Alawis conformed in every respect to those of their Twelver Shi’ite brethren.”30 Later, in July 1973, Musa al-Sadr, head of the Lebanese Shi’ite Supreme Council and a confidant of Asad,31 declared that the ‘Alawis were a Shi’ite sect,32 and the following year Asad performed the ‘umrah to Mecca. Asad also was declared a devout Muslim by the Grand Mufti of Syria, Shaykh Ahmad Kaftaru.33 But the Muslim Brothers still considered him a non-Muslim and led a violent struggle against the Asad regime.34

During the 1970s the Muslim Brothers also suffered from internal problems, splitting into two factions. One faction, which was in Jordan, opposed violent opposition, while the other faction, stationed in Aleppo, called for jihad against the Asad regime and for its replacement by a Sunni regime.35 From 1976 to 1982, the Asad regime faced both secular and Islamist opposition. The intervention in Lebanon in 1976 and domestic problems such as inflation, official corruption, and the domination of the ‘Alawis in every sphere of life in Syria were the driving force for the opposition’s efforts to overthrow Asad’s non-Muslim, tyrannical regime.36 The Asad regime was viewed as a sectarian government in which an infidel religious minority ruled over the majority. According to the Muslim Brothers, this was an unnatural situation that ought to be changed.

In 1979 the Muslim Brothers carried out an armed attack against the Aleppo Artillery School where 83 young recruits, all ‘Alawis, were killed.37 The Minister of the Interior, ‘Adnan Dabbagh, accused the Muslim Brothers of being agents subservient to the United States and “the Zionist influence,”38 and as a result many Islamists were imprisoned and others were executed.39 In April 1980, armed clashes between the Muslim Brothers and the security forces occurred in the city of Aleppo. Using tanks, armored vehicles, and rockets, the government troops, backed by armed party irregulars,40 occupied the city after killing between 1,000 and 2,000 people and arresting some 8,000.41

In June 1980, the Muslim Brothers were accused of a failed attempt to assassinate President Asad, and as a result Rif’at al-Asad, the President’s brother, led a revenge campaign against the Muslim Brothers held in Tadmor (Palymra) prison, massacring hundreds of defenseless Islamist prisoners.42 The Muslim Brothers struck back by attacking ‘Alawi officials and placing car bombs outside government installations and military bases, killing and injuring hundreds. In response, the government carried out brutal reprisals against the Islamists. Many were arrested, summary executions were carried out, and thousands went into exile.43 In July 1980, membership or association with the Muslim Brothers was made a crime punishable by death.44

In November 1980, as the next step in their anti-regime struggle, the Muslim Brothers issued a manifesto that contained their detailed program for the future Islamic state of Syria. The manifesto included an attack against the corrupt, sectarian ‘Alawi regime of the “Asad brothers,” and emphasized that a minority cannot and should not rule over a majority.45

The Hama Massacre

The city of Hama was one of the main centers of the Muslim Brotherhood opposition to the regime. The first encounter between the Muslim Brothers and the military in the city occurred in April 1981 when the Brothers ambushed a security checkpoint. In revenge, special forces units moved into the city and began a house-to-house search. About 350 people were killed, many fled into exile, others disappeared or were imprisoned, and clashes between the two sides continued.46 When Anwar al-Sadat was killed by Islamists on October 6, 1981, flyers were distributed in Damascus threatening Asad with the same fate, and the confrontation between the rival forces became inevitable.47 In February 1982, bloody clashes between the Syrian army and the Muslim Brothers occurred in the city of Hama, where about 100 government and party representatives were killed by the armed Brothers. Special forces were sent to the city to fight the rebels. The city was strafed by helicopters and bombarded with rocket, artillery, and tank fire. Large parts of the city were destroyed, leaving hundreds of people homeless. Many more deserted the city. Estimates of the number killed vary, but it is clear that thousands were killed or injured.48

In the same period, there were several violent demonstrations against the regime that were unrelated to the Muslim opposition. In March 1980, violent demonstrations against the government erupted in the small town of Jisr al-Shughur (between Aleppo and Latakia). The government regained control in the town after using mortars and rockets. Many houses and stores were destroyed and 150-200 people were killed. Demonstrations also erupted in Idlib, Ma’arra (March 1980), and Dayr al-Zur (April 1980).49

After the clashes with the Muslim Brothers, Asad felt that his position was in danger, and he accused Israel, Egypt, and the United States of using the Muslim Brothers against him.50 In a speech that he gave on the 19th anniversary of the Ba’th revolution, Asad shouted, “Death to the hired Muslim Brothers who tried to play havoc with the homeland! Death to the Muslim Brothers who were hired by US intelligence, reactionaries and Zionists!”51

During the following years Asad decided to change his internal and external policy. Internally, many Muslim Brothers in Syria and abroad were granted amnesty, and many were released from jails. He also allowed the opening of new Qur’anic schools and the building of new mosques, and he lifted the restrictions on Islamic publications and dress.52 Externally, he was alienated since, in addition to his unfriendly relations with the West, his relations with some Arab countries, such as Iraq, Egypt, and Jordan, were remarkably bad. He felt that he needed new allies in the region, and therefore began to enhance his relations with different countries and Muslim organizations. Among the countries with which Asad chose to strengthen his alliance was the Islamic Republic of Iran. Among the Muslim organizations that gained Asad’s support and hospitality were the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (Sunni) and the Lebanese Hizbullah (Shi’ite).53 After the peace treaties signed by Israel with Egypt and Jordan, and the unofficial relations between Israel and other Arab countries, Syria under the Asads (both father and son) remained the only frontline Arab country carrying the banner of the pan-Arab, anti-Zionist, and anti-Israeli campaign, thus gaining the support of the Arab population.54 However, the recent Syrian-Iranian alliance has aroused suspicion among the Arab population and leadership concerning the motivations for this alliance with the Shi’ite, non-Arab Islamic Republic of Iran.

Syria and Iran Become Allies

The relationship between Syria and Iran began in the 1970s. During those years the Syrian authorities accorded privileges and protection to some major Iranian opposition figures.55 In 1978, President Asad offered to receive the main Iranian opposition leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini,56 in Damascus after he was expelled from Iraq in 1978. Khomeini declined Asad’s invitation, and instead settled in Paris until the 1979 revolution, when he returned to Iran as head of state and became the only leader in the Muslim world to combine political and religious authority through the doctrine of velayat-e faqih.57 The Muslim Brothers in general, including those in Syria, supported the Iranian Islamic Revolution and saw it as a revolution of all the Islamic movements of the various schools and sects. Shortly after assuming his position, Khomeini began calling for Islamic revolutions across the entire Muslim world. The Syrian Muslim Brothers saw this as a positive step for change, and hoped that it would lead to a similar revolution in Syria and the overthrow of the oppressive “Asad rule.”58 Although the Brothers had publicly stated their support of the Iranian Revolution, to their disappointment the Islamic Republic of Iran maintained close relations with the Asad regime59 despite the fact that the Ba’th Party proclaimed itself to be a socialist, secular, Arab party whereas Iran was a Muslim, non-Arab theocracy.60

Since the 18th century, the Iranian Shi’ite ‘ulama’ have enjoyed wide religious and political power, but during the 20th century the Pahlavi Shah of Iran, Muhammad Reza, took official measures to erode the position of the ‘ulama’. Following the revolution and the overthrow of the Shah, Iran became a kind of informal center for the Shi’a of different countries. The Iranians tried to export their revolution to neighboring Arab states, causing turbulence in Arab Gulf states with Shi’ite populations such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain. In 1981, the Iranians even backed an unsuccessful plot to overthrow the Sunni government of Bahrain, a country with a Shi’ite majority.61 Later, the Gulf region became an arena of terrorism against local and Western targets, and was shaken by suicide attacks. These Iranian terrorist actions in support of other Shi’ites led to a violent response by the Kuwaiti Sunni Muslim Brothers, who bombed Iranian offices in Kuwait. The Kuwaiti Brothers even denounced the Shi’a as anathema.62 Today, in retrospect, the Kuwaiti Brothers perceive these terrorist actions as part of a long-term Shi’ite scheme to take over the Sunni world.

It is hard to explain the reasons behind Khomeini’s preference for Asad over the Muslim Brothers, or as Martin Kramer puts it, “when religion is subordinate to politics, miracles again become possible, and Syria’s ‘Alawis may get recognition as Twelver Shi’is.”63

During the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), Syria, unlike other Arab countries, supported Iran, and the cooperation and strategic alliance between the two countries grew stronger in the following years.64 In exchange for their support, the Iranians supplied Syria with free petroleum products and oil at concession rates.65 In April 1980, when there were clashes between the Muslim Brothers and security forces in Syria, the Iranians condemned the actions of the Muslim Brothers, accusing them of conspiring with Egypt, Israel, and the United States against Syria.66 For their part, the Syrian Muslim Brothers, as well as the Kuwaiti Muslim Brothers, began to view Iran as a sectarian Shi’ite regime. Parallel with the growing ties between Syria and Iran, the Muslim Brothers of Syria supported and were supported politically and financially by the Iraqi regime under Saddam Husayn.67 In the 1980s, the attacks of the Muslim Brothers against the Islamic Republic of Iran intensified. In a book written by Sa’id Hawwa, the chief ideologist of the Syrian Muslim Brothers in the 1980s, he stressed that the People of the Sunna are the real Muslim community, thus widening the gap between the Muslim Brothers and Iran.68 In April 1982, a coalition of different Syrian opposition groups, including the Syrian MB, set up the “National Alliance for the Liberation of Syria,” which was backed by the Iraqi regime.69 During the 1980s relations between Iran and Syria remained generally close, despite the fact that some Iranian actions had aggravated the Syrians, such as the announcement of a four-stage plan for the establishment of an Islamic Shi’ite regime in Iraq in early 1982. In March of the same year, some Iranian “tourists” (who were actually Iranian revolutionary activists) had visited Syria and distributed posters of Khomeini and hung religious slogans on the walls of the Damascus airport and its surroundings.70 Such actions caused a cooling in the relationship between the two countries, but since Iran was alienated from the rest of the region due to the war with Iraq, its relations with the Arab countries were nearly universally poor, making Syria too precious an ally for Iran to lose. The Iranian leadership did whatever was needed to maintain its alliance with Syria, the only Arab state with which it had good relations.

At present, the Shi’ite Hizbullah of Lebanon, currently under the leadership of Secretary General Hasan Nasrallah, is another ally of the Asad regime, constituting the third component of the Shi’ite triple alliance. In the early 1980s, while the Syrians were in Lebanon, the Iranians began to cultivate the Shi’ite community of Lebanon. Iran sent Shi’ite clerics to the country to indoctrinate the local Shi’ites with their ideology.71 Iran regarded Lebanon as fertile soil for exporting its revolution, and Hizbullah was the means through which Iran planned to “overcome” Lebanon in order to attack the “Zionist” enemy, Israel, from the north, and to liberate Palestine. Iran supplied Hizbullah with money, weapons, and military and religious guidance,72 in addition to supporting health, education, and social welfare institutions.73

According to the Syrian Muslim Brothers, the basis of the alliance between the three parties – Syria, Iran, and Hizbullah – is their common Shi’ite doctrine. This allegation was not true in the 1980s, when the relationship between Hizbullah and the Asad regime was marked by tension. During the 1980s, relations between Syria and Hizbullah were indeed more of a rivalry than an alliance, despite Iran’s dissatisfaction with this lack of accord between her two allies.74 In February 1987, the Syrians even perpetrated a massacre against Hizbullah militiamen. After Hizbullah abducted a number of Western citizens, Syrian troops deployed in Beirut’s southern suburbs, where 23 Hizbullah members were subsequently killed. As a result thousands of outraged Lebanese Shi’ite mourners protested against Syria, with some even accusing it of conspiring with Israel.75 For its part, Iran never held Syria responsible for this action but rather attributed it to renegades within the Syrian army. But Iran, knowing this was not true, warned Syria that any action against its allies in Lebanon would be considered an attack against Iran.76

Despite the tension between the two states, Iran was careful not to lose its ally and continued to supply it with free or discounted crude oil. As it became increasingly isolated from the rest of the Arab and Western states, Iran’s relations with Syria became more valuable, especially since there were some diplomatic efforts made on the part of the Arab states to separate the two allies and restore Arab unity.77 During 1987, Iran faced another problem that needed Syrian mediation when Iranian pilgrims demonstrated in Mecca, resulting in bloody clashes with the Saudi security forces. In the incident, 275 Iranians and 85 members of the Saudi security forces were killed, causing a crisis in Saudi/Arab- Iran relations. This incident was regarded by Saudi Arabia as an Iranian plot intended to shake the foundations of Sunni Saudi Arabia. The situation deteriorated to a level where the Iran-Iraq War became regarded as war between the Arabs and the Persians.78

According to the Syrian Muslim Brothers, considering all the aforementioned violent actions committed by Iran in different Arab countries, the Shi’ite Iranians, under the cover of Islam, are more dangerous to the Muslim countries than the Zionists or the Americans. According to the Brothers, the latter’s plan is obvious, but the Shi’ite Iranians manage to obtain Sunni support by waving the flag of war against the Zionists and the Americans, while their genuine aim is to take over these countries and rebuild the Shi’ite Safavid empire.79

In 1987, Sa’id Hawwa, the chief ideologist of the Syrian Muslim Brothers, wrote a book called The Khumayniyya: Deviation in Beliefs and Deviation in Behavior (al- Khumayniyya: shudhudh fi al-‘Aqa’id wa-shudhudh fi al-Mawaqif), in which he presents the disappointment of the Muslim Brothers in the Islamic Revolution in Iran and exposes the “deviation” of Khomeini. In his book, Hawwa quotes from works written by Khomeini himself that, according to Hawwa, reveal the deviation in Khomeini’s thoughts and Shi’ite beliefs. Hawwa goes so far as to regard the Shi’ites and Khomeini as a danger to the existence of the Sunni world, warning young Sunnis against believing the false statements of this “Muslim Revolution.”80 According to Hawwa, the purpose of this revolution is to take over the Sunni world and turn it into a Shi’ite world. To prove his claims, Hawwa points to the Iranian interference in Lebanon and its support for Shi’ite movements such as Hizbullah and Amal, and also presents the odd relationship between Iran and Syria. In his view, the main purpose of the Iran-Iraq War was to “conquer” Iraq and turn it into a Shi’ite state, and then conquer the rest of the Gulf Arab states as a preliminary stage in taking over the whole of the Sunni world.81 Hawwa concludes his book by stating that the Shi’a are different from the Sunnis, their beliefs are different, their prayers are different, and whoever supports them is considered a traitor against God and his Prophet.82

The Iran-Iraq War ended in 1988, and Khomeini died the following year. ‘Ali Khameine’i, who had been Iran’s President, became its Supreme Leader,83 and Akbar Hashimi Rafsanjani84 was elected President, remaining in office until 1997. Rafsanjani and the Presidents who suceeded him, under the guidance of Khameine’i, pursued Khomeini’s legacy. In March 1991, the Arab states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Egypt, and Syria participated in the Damascus meeting,85 and later on in October, the Arab countries, including Syria, participated in the Madrid peace talks with Israel. These actions caused tension between Syria and Iran, but after the failure of these talks, the tension between the two allies declined.86 During the 1990s, Syria also played an important role as mediator between Iran and the Arab Gulf states.87 Syria played a mediating role in the dispute between Abu Dhabi and Iran over Iran’s annexation of Abu Musa Island in the Persian Gulf in early 1992, and in the internal Shi’ite disturbances in Bahrain in early 1995.88

Until the 1970s, the ‘Alawis and later President Asad sought religious confirmation as Shi’ite Muslims from prominent Muslim leaders, and especially from Shi’ite leaders. After the Iranian Revolution and the imposition of religious rule, Iran sought an ally in the region, and Syria was that ally. It is fair to say that these two countries built their alliance out of mutual necessity. Over the years their alliance faced numerous obstacles, but managed to survive. Many elements contributed to the survival of this alliance, amongst them the failure of the peace talks in the Middle East, the Palestinian problem, and Western policy that seemed to favor the Israeli side, thus driving Syria to seek a strong ally as a counterweight. Asad’s commitment to the Palestinian cause did not change the attitude of the Muslim Brothers towards him, because they still regarded his regime as an oppressive, sectarian regime and sought to overthrow it, and his alliance with Shi’ite Iran only aggravated them and aroused their suspicions.

The Shi’ite Revolution

The Muslim Brothers of Syria view the ‘Alawi/Shi’ite Asad regime as a part of a Shi’ite/Iranian scheme intended to establish or restore the glory of the old Persian empire and impose Shi’ite doctrine in the various Arab and Muslim states. To support their claims of this purported scheme, they rely on an alleged secret letter that was published in 1998 by the Iranian Sunni League in London, and which they claim was sent from the Iranian Revolution Assembly to different Iranian provinces. This alleged letter included a very detailed five-stage Iranian/Shi’ite plan on how to “export” the Iranian/ Shi’ite revolution to other Muslim countries. The duration of each stage of this plan is ten years, with a total duration of 50 years. The plan’s goal is to unite the Muslims by striking at the Sunni regimes that consider Shi’ite doctrine heretical. According to the plan, controlling these countries would result in control of half the world.

The first step of this plan is: “To improve the relations between Iran and the neighboring Arab states. When the cultural, the economic and the political relations between Iran and those states are good, it will be easy for Iranian agents to enter those countries as immigrants.”

The Iranian agents will buy houses, apartments, and lands and help their Shi’ite brothers living in these countries. They will foster good business and personal relations with the powerful figures in these countries, obey the laws of these countries, and obtain permits to celebrate their feasts and to build their own mosques … Obtain local nationality through bribes or by using their connections. Encourage the young Shi’ites to incorporate themselves within the local administrations and to enlist in the local army … Arouse suspicion and mistrust between the local authorities and the [Sunni] religious authorities by spreading flyers allegedly published by religious leaders criticizing the actions of the local government. This action would lead to friction in the relations between the two sides causing the government to suspect every act of the religious leaders.

The third step is: “After incorporation within the local bureaucracy and army, the task of the Shi’ite religious leaders, contrary to the local Sunni religious leaders, will be to declare publicly their loyalty to the local government, thus gaining their goodwill and trust. Then begins the step of striking at the local economy.”

The fourth step is: When mistrust is caused between the religious and political leaders and the collapse of their economy, anarchy will prevail everywhere, and the agents will be the only protectors of the country. After building trust with the ruling elite, the crucial stage will begin by announcing the political leaders as traitors, thus causing their expulsion or their replacement by the Iranian agents. Incorporating Shi’a in the different governmental offices will arouse the anger of the Sunnis who will respond by attacking the government. The agent’s role at this point is to ‘stand by’ the head of state and buy the property of those who decide to flee the country.

The fifth step is: “Help to regain peace in those countries by appointing a People’s Assembly, where the Shi’ite candidates will have the majority and will later take over the country, if not through those peaceful measures, then by causing a revolution. After taking over the country, Shi’ism will be imposed.”89

The Syrian Muslim Brothers used this letter to prove90 that the alliance between the ‘Alawi regime and Iran was actually a part of the Shi’ite scheme against the Sunni world. Dr. Muhammad Bassam Yusuf, a Syrian author of the Muslim Brothers information bureau, published a series of articles on the Syrian Muslim Brothers’ official website under the title “The Suspicious Iranian Safavid Persian Scheme in the Arab and Muslim Countries” (al-Mashru’ al-Irani al-Safawi al-Farisi al-Mashbuh fi Bilad al-‘Arab). The aim of these articles was to reveal the Iranian scheme and the true face of the ‘Alawi regime. In his articles, Dr. Yusuf begins with a description of how the Shi’ite Safavids took over Iran in 1501, and how their influence expanded to Iraq down to the present time. In addition, he emphasizes that the Iranians’ cruel treatment of the Sunni inhabitants under their rule is an illustration of their hate for the Sunnis.91

Actually, Dr. Yusuf’s allegations coincide with Khomeini’s declarations. In his speeches and religious sermons, Khomeini regarded some Sunni governments as illegitimate, claiming that the only truly Islamic state was Iran, and thus believing that Iran has the right to force these states (including by the use of violence), even those that claim to advocate Islamic law, to adopt reforms.92 In his sermons and speeches, Khomeini also attacked the Western powers, especially the United States and their allies (or “puppets” as he called them) in the region. He fiercely attacked Saudi Arabia, the unofficial leader of the Sunni world, for betraying Islam, as well as Saddam Husayn’s Iraq, which he regarded as an infidel, atheistic government.93 Khomeini’s death did not end the implementation of the Iranian scheme; his successors continued his legacy. The Muslim Brothers believe that the overthrow of Saddam coincided with the goals of Iran, which, according to the Brothers, is working inside Iraq more than ever to turn it into a Shi’ite state.94

According to Dr. Yusuf, what we are seeing now in countries such as Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Sudan, Yemen, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon is the implementation of the Iranian five-stage scheme. In Syria, for instance, the plan is being implemented under the protection of the Asad regime, and it is the duty of the Muslim Brothers to stop them and “save” Syria.95 On their official website, the Muslim Brothers elaborate and illustrate the Iranian “conquest” of Syria and their attempts to turn it into a Shi’ite state. “What is conquest?” they ask;

Is it the existence of foreign intelligence in the country that works side by side with local intelligence and controls it? Is it the existence of foreign weapons, troops, and military bases such as the Iranian weapons, troops, and military bases that exist in Damascus? Is not the massive Iranian missionary activity in the villages and the towns of Syria under the protection of the government an attempt to turn them into Shi’a? Is not taking over some regions, by buying them or by using force, and building shrines on them through the help of the government an attempt to turn Syria into a Shi’ite center? They say that they strive for ‘Muslim Unity’ and wage actions against the West and the Zionists to deceive the Muslim world and build their Empire.96

These allegations of the Muslim Brothers are refuted by the Syrian Grand Mufti, Ahmad Badr al-Din Hassun, who has stated that these allegations are false and “ridiculous,” rejecting their doubts that ‘Alawis are Muslims, and emphasizing again that the ‘Alawis, Isma’ilis, and the Druze are all true Muslims.97

The Muslim Brothers view the alliance between Syria, Iran, and Hizbullah (or the “Khameine’i Party,” as they call it) as the implementation of the Shi’ite scheme, since the common link between the three is Shi’ism. According to the Muslim Brothers, Hizbullah’s provocative act, in which two Israeli soldiers were abducted in July 2006, precipitating that summer’s Israel-Hizbullah war, only caused the destruction of Lebanon because the war’s goals, such as freeing Lebanese prisoners in Israel and liberating the Sheb’a Farms, the Golan Heights, and Palestine, were never achieved.98 The only achievements of this “Divine Victory” were the death and injury of many innocent people, the crippling of the Lebanese economy, and the destruction of many houses and villages, which left thousands homeless. According to the Muslim Brothers, the Lebanese discovered that this “Divine Victory” was their destruction, rather than the destruction of the Zionist enemy.

The Muslim Brothers regard the war with Israel as a part of the Iranian scheme. The goal of the war was not to fight in Lebanon’s name, but to destroy the country as a preparatory step to taking it over by causing the fall of its legitimate government, and dominating the country in accordance with the Iranian scheme.99 To support his thesis, Dr. Yusuf relies on Iranian statements during the war, in which they declared that if the war extended to Syria, they would stand by the side of the Syrian regime. In addition, according to him, it is well known that the Iranians supplied Hizbullah with the weapons used in the war.100 To support their arguments, the Muslim Brothers also quote the words of the Secretary General of Hizbullah, Hasan Nasrallah, who, according to the Brothers, proclaimed that he is merely a “small soldier” under the service of the Imam Khameine’i and that his soldiers fought in the name of Khameine’i and the Imam Husayn (‘Ali ibn Abi Talib’s son), rather than in the name of God. According to the Muslim Brothers these statements are heresy, and Nasrallah’s loyalty is first and foremost to Iran and not to God or the Arab world. His army and military preparations, which were funded by the Iranians, will soon turn against the Arabs, and especially the Syrians, Lebanese, and the Palestinians. The Syrian Brothers believe that it is their duty to warn the Sunni world before it is too late.101

In March 2008, they sent a letter to the Arab leaders at the Arab summit held in Damascus complaining of the Syrian regime’s aggression against the Syrian people and the Syrian Muslim Brothers, underlining the alleged Shi’ite scheme that endangered Syrian identity and demography.102 The bloody clashes in Lebanon on May 7, 2008, when armed Hizbullah “soldiers” turned their weapons against their fellow Lebanese, both Sunnis and Christians, only served to strengthen the claims of the Syrian Muslim Brothers that an Iranian-armed Hizbullah was planning to take over Lebanon to implement velayat-e faqih in Lebanon.103 However, during the June 7, 2009 elections in Lebanon, Hizbullah did not win, as most polls had anticipated. The election results were viewed by the Muslim Brothers as a victory for democracy.104 Some observers say that Hizbullah lost the elections because they had turned their weapons against the Lebanese, which they had promised they would never do, and because Nasrallah called this act of aggression a “glorious day for the resistance,” stating that it would be easy for Hizbullah and its allies to govern Lebanon.105 Some say that this result was due to Western interference, while others say that it was Hizbullah that chose to lose the elections.

During most of 2008, the Muslim Brothers continued their attack against the Syrian-Iranian alliance, accusing Asad of allowing Iran to control Syria’s economy, politics, and army.106 According to them, there is a contest in the region between two main forces – Iran and the United States – but Iran has the advantage because it shares the same religion with the people of the region. In their view, neither Israel nor the United States can compete with Iran in this sphere. Since many Muslims regard Iran as a strong Muslim state facing off against the Zionist/American program in the region, there are many “crazy advocates” of Iran, as they call them, who disregard much of Iran’s own program in the region and defend its overall regional policy.107 According to them, the different assassinations that took place in Syria, such as the assassination of Brigadier-General Muhammad Sulayman, Asad’s right hand man and security advisor, are warnings by a fretful Iran and Hizbullah to the Asad regime for making conciliatory gestures towards Israel, Lebanon, and the West.108

The Syrian Muslim Brothers continued their attack against Iran’s hidden regional agenda, questioning the real reason for Iran’s eagerness to free Palestine: “Do they want to free Palestine for the Palestinians or for the velayat-e faqih and its interests in the region?”109 However, the Syrian Muslim Brothers faced a problem in late 2008 when Israel attacked the Gaza Strip. The prominent supporters of the Hamas government in Gaza were Syria, Iran, and Hizbullah, while Egypt faced heavy criticism for not opening its border with Gaza. Hasan Nasrallah attacked Egypt for its actions and accused it of complicity with Israel. The Egyptian government saw this as an intentional act by Hizbullah, with Iran’s backing, aimed at causing the fall of the Egyptian government. Hizbullah had attempted to undermine Egypt’s role as a leading Arab country, because Egypt had sought to preserve its relations with Israel rather than help the besieged Palestinians. For their part, during the Israeli attack against the Gaza Strip, the Syrian Muslim Brothers decided to suspend their actions against the Syrian regime,110 and this action was considered by some opposition figures as an act of rapprochement towards Damascus.111 Yet the Muslim Brothers were in an awkward situation: it was Syria, Iran, and Hizbullah, their enemies, who stood with the Palestinians, and they could not attack them anymore.

During the months that followed the Gaza Strip war, the Muslim Brothers’ attacks moderated. In March 2009 they published an article under the title “Is It Not about Time?” (“Ama ‘an al-‘awan?”), in which they revealed their disappointment at the cold reaction of the regime towards their attempts at rapprochement. They stated that they wanted to be able to return to their country, to work within Syria for what is best for the nation.112 Since 1982 the main leaders of the Syrian Muslim Brothers had been residing outside Syria, and neither they nor their children were allowed to return.

In April 2009, when a Hizbullah terrorist cell was caught in Egypt, relations between Egypt and Hizbullah deteriorated even further. The cell was intended to help the Palestinians in Gaza against Israel. Egypt accused Hizbullah of using its soil for terrorist actions and also accused it of spreading Shi’ism in Egypt.113 Like the Syrian Muslim Brothers, Egyptian President Husni Mubarak accused the “Persians” (Iran) of trying to take over the Arab countries;114 however, the Muslim Brothers did not make any statement regarding this affair.

Though the Syrian Muslim Brothers believe that Syria is endangered by the Shi’ite Asad regime and that it is their duty to awaken the Sunni community and save it from the Iranian-‘Alawi/Shi’ite scheme before it is too late, they have changed their behavior towards the government. Early in April 2009 they withdrew from the “National Salvation Front,” which had been formed in June 2006 under the leadership of ex-Vice President ‘Abd al-Halim Khaddam, since, according to them, this alliance only caused damage to their image.115 Khaddam accused them of seeking a rapprochement with Damascus and meeting with agents of the regime.116 Although the Muslim Brothers did not cease their attacks against the Asad regime, Iran, and Hizbullah, they became more moderate. It seems that after over 30 years as an opposition force outside of Syria, they understood that this caused them to be a weak opposition. Today, they no longer have an ally, such as Saddam Husayn, to support them, and the support they receive from some Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan, where some of the Muslim Brothers reside, depends upon the relations between these countries and Syria. When these relations are good, the Muslim Brothers are not granted the same privileges and the freedom to attack the Syrian regime as when relations are bad. They know that they cannot change the situation inside Syria while remaining outside it, and therefore they are striving to return to Syria. But so far the regime is not showing any flexibility in response to their conciliatory actions.

In the last few months we are viewing, to the dissatisfaction of the Muslim Brothers, signs of rapprochement between Syria and some Arab countries such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia, backed by a new American policy towards Syria which attempts to shatter its Iranian alliance and to isolate Iran in the region. The recent bloody disturbances that occurred in Iran after its presidential elections on June 12, 2009 – when the regime was accused of forging the results – might cause Syria to notice that its interests are with the West and the Sunni Arab countries rather than with Iran, where the future of the current regime is in doubt. The Syrian Muslim Brothers supported117 the presidential candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi, who stood for election in opposition to Asad’s ally, Mahmud Ahmadinejad.


The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood has sought to emphasize the religious dimension of the triple alliance between Syria, Iran, and Hizbullah, since they see Shi’ite doctrine as the link among the three. The MB has claimed for several years that these allies portray themselves as protecting the Muslim world from the Zionists and the West, but they have relied on religious segregation to reach their goal. They carry the flag of protecting the Muslim world as a cover for their real intention, which is to take over the Sunni states. The MB has tried to stir up Sunni fears in Syria, and worldwide, of a possible Shi’ite takeover of Syria and other Sunni states. The fact that Iran, Syria, and Hizbullah are regarded by many Muslims worldwide as the primary front against the Zionist/American program has minimized their ability to convince the Muslim world generally and Syrian Sunnis specifically of their claims. To their disappointment, the strategy they had adopted until recently has kept them from emerging as a strong opposition and as a possible future alternative to the existing regime.

As an opposition with a leadership residing outside Syria, they face a major problem because they have lost contact with the Syrians still living in the country and neither they nor their children have been allowed to return to Syria. Their attachment to their mother country is therefore becoming weaker as years go by, and they are viewed by many Syrians as outsiders. With the recent rapprochement in which the United States and the Arab states are courting Syria in order to advance the peace process and weaken its alliance with Iran, the MB has understood that they too should change their approach and adopt a new policy which will help them achieve their aims, since their previous strategy did not garner much success. Probably for this reason, during the past year we have witnessed a significant change in the attitude of the MB. For the first time after more than 40 years of attacking the Ba’th regime, and after 27 years in exile, they finally decided to suspend their opposition to the regime and President Bashar al-Asad. They now claim that the Muslim world is in danger and is under attack and that defending it is more important than fighting the regime in Syria; they do not call for an armed resistance of any kind inside or outside Syria. They also have left the Syrian “National Salvation Front,” which they now view as having damaged their image, particularly in their alliance with ‘Abd al-Halim Khaddam, who was for over 30 years one of the most powerful figures in the Syrian regime. They now emphasize that the suspension of their actions against the regime stems from their perception of a more significant threat to the Muslim world, the “open war against the Arab and Muslim States.” They also emphasize, perhaps for the first time, that they do not hold President Asad responsible for the past, but they want changes in Syria for the benefit of the country and its people. Despite their denial that there is a rapprochement with Damascus, all signs show that the MB has moderated their attack against the regime. Despite these conciliatory gestures, some questions remain: Are these gestures genuine, or are they merely a tactical maneuver to allow the MB leadership to return to Syria and regain their hold inside it? Furthermore, will President Asad respond positively to these gestures and allow the MB leadership to return to Syria?

1. For more on the Nusayri religion see “A Catechism of the Nusayri religion,” in Meir Bar-Asher and Aryeh Kofsky, The Nusayri-‘Alawi Religion (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2002), pp. 163-199.

2. About the Nusayriya/’Alawi religion see: Bar-Asher and Kofsky, The Nusayri-‘Alawi Religion.

3. Daniel Pipes, “The Alawi Capture of power in Syria,” Middle East Studies, Vol. 25, No. 4 (1989), pp. 429-450.

4. Umar F. Abd-Allah, The Islamic Struggle in Syria (Berkeley: Mizan Press, 1983), p. 44.

5. Martin Kramer, Shi’ism, Resistance, and Revolution (Boulder: Westview Press, 1987), pp. 237-238.

6. The largest denomination within the Shi’ite sect is Ithna ‘Ashriyya/Twelver Shi’ism, also known as Ja’fariyya or Imamiyya.

7. For more on the history of the ‘Alawis/Nusayris in the 19th century see Yvette Talhamy, “The Nusayriya Uprisings in Syria in the 19th Century,” PhD thesis, Haifa University, 2006.

8. Kais M. Firro, “The ‘Alawis in Modern Syria: From Nusayriya to Islam via ‘Alawiya,” Der Islam, Bd. 82 (2005), pp. 1-31.

9. ‘Ali ‘Aziz Al-Ibrahim, al-‘Alawiyun wa al-tashayyu’ (Beirut, 1992), pp. 87-88.

10. Gitta Yafee, “Between Separatism and Union: The Autonomy of the Alawi Region in Syria, 1920-1936,” PhD thesis, Tel-Aviv University, 1992, pp. 251-257.

11. For the fatwa see: Paulo Boneschi, “Une fatw? du Grand Mufti de J?rusalem Muhammad ‘Amin al-husayni sur les ‘Alawites,” Revue de l’Histoire des Religions [Review of the History of Religions], Vol. 122 (July-August 1940), pp. 42-54.

12. Husayn Muhammad Al-Mazlum, al-Muslimun al-‘alawiyun: bayna muftarayat al-aqlam wajawr al-hukkam (1999), p. 127

13. Sulayman Ahmad Khadir, al-Irfan, Vol. 37, No. 3 (March 1950), pp. 337-338.

14. Ayatullah Muhsin al-Hakim of Najaf assumed the ‘Alawis to be deficient in their understanding of the true religion and in need of additional guidance. Kramer, Shi’ism, Resistance, and Revolution, p. 244.

15. Kramer, ed., Shi’ism, Resistance, and Revolution, pp. 244-245.

16. Kramer, ed., Shi’ism, Resistance, and Revolution.

17. Pipes, “The Alawi Capture of power in Syria,” p. 440.

18. Abd-Allah, The Islamic Struggle in Syria, p. 43.

19. Raymond A. Hinnebusch, “The Islamic Movement in Syria: Sectarian Conflict and Urban Rebellion in an Authoritarian-Populist Regime,” in Ali Hilal Dessouki, ed., Islamic Resurgence in the Arab World (New York: Praeger, 1982), p. 151.

20. Hinnebusch, “The Islamic Movement in Syria,” p. 157.

21. Eyal Zisser, “Hafiz al-Asad Discovers Islam,” Middle East Quarterly, Vol. VI, No. 1 (March 1999), p. 49.

22. Adrienne L. Edgar, “The Islamic Opposition in Egypt and Syria: A Comparative Study,” Journal of Arab Affairs, Vol. 6, No. 1 (April 1987), p. 88.

23. Raymond A. Hinnebusch, Authoritarian Power and State Formation in Ba’athist Syria (Boulder: Westview Press, 1990), p. 278.

24. Abd-Allah, The Islamic Struggle in Syria, p. 43.

25. Moshe Ma’oz, “Damascus vs. Washington: Between the ‘Axis of Evil’ and ‘Pax Americana’,” in Bruce Cummings et al, eds., Inventing the Axis of Evil: The Truth about North Korea, Iran and Syria (New York: The New Press, 2004), p. 183.

26. Robert Olson, The Ba’th and Syria, 1947 to 1982: The Evolution of Ideology, Party and State from the French Mandate to the Era of Hafiz Al Asad (Princeton: Kingston Press, 1982), p. 169.

27. R. Hrair Dekmejian, Islam in Revolution: Fundamentalism in the Arab World (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1995), p. 107.

28. Mordechai Kedar, “In Search of Legitimacy: Asad’s Islamic Image in the Syrian Official Press,” in Moshe Maoz et al, eds., Modern Syria from Ottoman Rule to Pivotal Role in the Middle East (Eastbourne: Sussex Academic Press, 1999), p. 24.

29. Ma’oz, “Damascus vs. Washington: Between the ‘Axis of Evil’ and ‘Pax Americana’,” p. 182.

30. Martin Kramer, “Syria’s Alawis and Shi’ism,” in Kramer, ed., Shi’ism, Resistance, and Revolution, p. 249.

31. Patrick Seale, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988), p. 352.

32. Hanna Batatu, “Syria’s Muslim Brethren,” MERIP REPORTS, Vol.12, No. 110 (November/ December 1982), p. 20. Musa al-Sadr was of Iranian origin, and was one of the opponents of the Shah of Iran.

33. Ma’oz, “Damascus vs. Washington: Between the ‘Axis of Evil’ and ‘Pax Americana’,” p. 182.

34. The Muslim Brothers accused and still accuse Asad of treason. According to them, during the 1967 war, Asad, who served as Minister of Defense, handed the Golan Heights to Israel without a struggle.

35. The factions also split over questions of leadership. Edgar, “The Islamic Opposition in Egypt and Syria: A Comparative Study,” p. 88.

36. Middle East Watch, Syria Unmasked: The Suppression of Human Rights by the Asad Regime (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991), p. 8.

37. Middle East Watch, Syria Unmasked, p. 10.

38. Thomas Mayer, “The Islamic Opposition in Syria, 1961-1982,” Orient (1983), p. 589.

39. Middle East Watch, Syria Unmasked, p. 10.

40. Seale, Asad of Syria, p. 328.

41. Middle East Watch, Syria Unmasked, p. 15.

42. Middle East Watch, Syria Unmasked, p. 16.

43. Middle East Watch, Syria Unmasked, p. 17.

44. Dekmejian, Islam in Revolution, p. 109.

45. For the full manifesto translated to English see: Abd-Allah, The Islamic Struggle in Syria, pp. 201-267.

46. Middle East Watch, Syria Unmasked, pp. 17-21.

47. Seale, Asad of Syria, p. 331.

48. Middle East Watch, Syria Unmasked, pp. 17-21.

49. Middle East Watch, Syria Unmasked, pp. 10-13.

50. Seale, Asad of Syria, p. 335.

51. Seale, Asad of Syria, p. 337.

52. Ma’oz, “Damascus vs. Washington: Between the ‘Axis of Evil’ and “Pax Americana’,” p. 184.

53. Ma’oz, “Damascus vs. Washington: Between the ‘Axis of Evil’ and “Pax Americana’,” p. 185.

54. Ma’oz, “Damascus vs. Washington: Between the ‘Axis of Evil’ and “Pax Americana’,” p. 187.

55. Particularly the opposition to Muhammad Reza Shah’s rule.

56. Khomeini was expelled from Iran in 1964; he spent his exile years in Najaf, Iraq until 1978. When he was exiled from Iraq he moved to Paris, France.

57. Hussein J. Agha and Ahmad S. Khalidi, Syria and Iran: Rivalry and Cooperation (London: Pinter Publishers, 1995), p. 4. Khomeini was the Supreme Leader of Iran. The Supreme Leader is elected by the Assembly of Experts and is considered the ultimate head of the Iranian political and governmental establishment, above Iran’s President, who is elected by a direct public vote.

58. Abd-Allah, The Islamic Struggle in Syria, p. 184.

59. Abd-Allah, The Islamic Struggle in Syria, pp. 186-187.

60. Yair Hirschfeld, “The Odd Couple: Ba’athist Syria and Khomeini’s Iran,” in Moshe Ma’oz and Avner Yaniv, eds., Syria under Assad (London: Croom Helm, 1987), p. 105.

61. Joseph Kostiner, “Shi’i Unrest in the Gulf,” in Kramer, ed., Shi’ism, Resistance, and Revolution, p. 180.

62. Kostiner, “Shi’i Unrest in the Gulf,” p. 184.

63. Kramer, ed., Shi’ism, Resistance, and Revolution, p. 14.

64. Zisser, “Hafiz al-Asad Discovers Islam,” p. 52.

65. Middle East Watch, Syria Unmasked, p. 194.

66. Abd-Allah, The Islamic Struggle in Syria, p. 183.

67. Hinnebusch, Authoritarian Power, p. 285.

68. Batatu, “Syria’s Muslim Brethren,” p. 13.

69. Hirschfeld, “The Odd Couple: Ba’athist Syria and Khomeini’s Iran,” p. 115.

70. Hirschfeld, “The Odd Couple: Ba’athist Syria and Khomeini’s Iran,” pp. 113-114.

71. Jubin M. Goodarzi, Syria and Iran: Diplomatic Alliance and Power Politics in the Middle East (London: Tauris, 2006), p. 88.

72. Goodarzi, Syria and Iran, p. 144.

73. Agha and Khalidi, Syria and Iran: Rivalry and Cooperation, p. 81.

74. Goodarzi, Syria and Iran, pp. 200-206.

75. Goodarzi, Syria and Iran, p. 202.

76. Goodarzi, Syria and Iran, p. 204.

77. Goodarzi, Syria and Iran, pp. 212-217.

78. Goodarzi, Syria and Iran, p. 228.


80. Sa’id Hawwa, al-Khuminyya: Shudhudh fi al-‘Aqa’id wa-Shudhudh fi al-Mawaqif [The Khumayniyya: Deviation in Beliefs and Deviation in Behavior] (Amman: Dar Amman li al-Nashr wa-al- Tawzi’, 1987).

81. Hawwa, al-Khuminyya: Shudhudh fi al-‘Aqa’id wa-Shudhudh fi al-Mawaqif, pp. 45-46.

82. Hawwa, al-Khuminyya: Shudhudh fi al-‘Aqa’id wa-Shudhudh fi al-Mawaqif, pp. 55-56.

83. ‘Ali Khameine’i also served as Iran’s President during 1981-1989.

84. President Rafsanjani was succeeded by Muhammad Khatimi (1997-2005) and later by Mahmud Ahmadinejad (2005 to the present).

85. In March 1991, after Operation Desert Storm, the Arab states of the GCC, Egypt, and Syria participated in the Damascus meeting, issuing the “Damascus declaration” wherein they declared their intention to establish a deterrent force to protect Kuwait.

86. Agha and Khalidi, Syria and Iran: Rivalry and Cooperation, p. 65.

87. Agha and Khalidi, Syria and Iran: Rivalry and Cooperation, p. 31.

88. Agha and Khalidi, Syria and Iran: Rivalry and Cooperation, p. 87.

89. The letter was published on the following website: aspx?id=1568&page_id=0&page_size=5&links=False&gate_id=0.

90. This letter was sent from the opposition Iranian Sunni League in London and first published in al-Bayan magazine and later published in several Sunni and anti-Shi’ite websites, magazines, and newspapers. Those publications presented the letter as authentic and regarded the situations in Arab Sunni countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan, Yemen, the Gaza Strip, and others as the implementation of this Shi’ite scheme. The letter seems to be genuine, but one always should bear in mind that since it was published in Sunni media, its publishers may have had an ulterior, sectarian motive in publishing it. Sharif Qindil,

91. id=84.

92. Marvin Zonis and Daniel Brumberg, “Shi’ism as Interpreted by Khomeini: An Ideology of Revolution Violence,” in Kramer, ed., Shi’ism, Resistance, and Revolution, p. 50.

93. Zonis and Brumberg, “Shi’ism as Interpreted by Khomeini: An Ideology of Revolution Violence,” p. 52.

94. Ma’d Fayad, e=419648.

95. Muhammad Bassam Yusuf, task=view&id=2223&itemid=84.

96. ‘Abdallah al-Qahtany, =view&id=3638&itemid=5.


98. Samir Quntar and four Lebanese prisoners were freed from Israeli prisons on July 16, 2008 in exchange for the bodies of the two abducted Israeli soldiers.

99. Muhammad Bassam Yusuf, task=view&id=2876&itemid=84.

100. Muhammad Bassam Yusuf, &task=view&id=2876&itemid=84.

101. Faysal al-Shaykh Muhammad, ent&task=view&id=3564&itemid=5.

102. “Kitab maftuh ila al-qadah al-‘arab fi mu’tamar al-qimah,” index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=7107&Itemid=141.

103. Muhammad Sayf, w&id=7744&Itemid=141.

104. Zuhir Salim, /9jcWuI24e75yktXIABuVESOmQJmmy+mz/FVxNNqb9vKfB3u7HIZFUEhBMfok=.

105. Therese Sfeir, “Nasrallah hails May 7 ‘glorious day’ for Resistance,” Daily Star, May 16, 2009,

106. Muhammad Sayf, w&id=8771&Itemid=141.

107. ‘Abdallah al-Qahtany, view&id=8955&Itemid=141.

108. Muhammad Sayf, w&id=10142&Itemid=141.

109. ‘Abdallah al-Qahtany, view&id=11031&Itemid=141.

110. Zuhir Salim, =11558&Itemid=141.

111.”Ab’ad al-inshiqaq fi jabhat al-khalas al-suriyya al-mu’arida,” ar/default.aspx?xyz=U6Qq7k+cOd87MDI46m9rUxJEpMO+i1s7+GaiuXiRmBqRtZgsgsy kAcSnsH3WAi1ZfnptOdZW9bNFwgladkbU8ynWKIGQnf3DCaCvEqPmpHzaNwy+OsX20i80 DFmQSFPDk5/3LB8PZt4=.

112. Hassan Riyad, id=12689&Itemid=141.

113. Bahiya Mardiny,

114. Ian Siperco, “Iran: Shia Tide Rising,” Middle East Policy Council, resources/Siperco001.asp.

115. “Hawl al-mawaqif min jabhat al-khalas al-wataniya,” php?option=com_content&task=view&id=12824&Itemid=141.

116. “Jama’t al-ikhwan al-muslimin tansahib min jabhat al-khalas al-wataniya al-suriyya al-muarida,”

117. On their site, the MB proclaimed that the Iranians were fed up with 30 years of velayat-e faqih and wanted change. The MB asked the international community to support the Iranian people in achieving this goal. They see Moussavi as a good man who was part of the Iranian Revolution, but who did not join any political party and is very supportive of the poor and stands against Ahmadinejad. For the MB’s support of the Moussavi see: Faysal al-Shaykh Muhammad, http://www.ikhwansyria. com/ar/default.aspx?xyz=U6Qq7k+cOd87MDI46m9rUxJEpMO+i1s7JD1nshrHNqO0H sQSEugYBxUZbV5VAz3gJta60uHHeRODBb71fi57OOCRZWqfyddaMdPa0oJ3KiVLDZXzBX6R z64g+IgYmt6rZVzphhEtAAE=; Faysal al-Shaykh Muhammad, 8ULIQMnL/5rTaf970+zKegLai6vZaNUw5Nm5W4zTDKPiS+mxbaRqXbc+RmhnQO KarMvYUPw1FB4I0a/QmbboaOo=.

Dr. Yvette Talhamy is Fellow Teacher in the University of Haifa’s Department of Middle Eastern Studies. Her forthcoming publications will appear in the British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Middle Eastern Studies, and Chronos History Journal. She spent 2008-9 on a post-doctoral fellowship in Tel Aviv University’s Department of Middle Eastern and African History.

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Talhamy, Yvette “Syrian Muslim Brothers and the Syrian-Iranian Relationship, The“. Middle East Journal, The. 15 Dec, 2009.