News / Middle East

Syria's Islamists Disenchanted with Democracy After Morsi's Fall

A Free Syrian Army member cleans his weapon on a street in Deir al-Zor, July 7, 2013.
A Free Syrian Army member cleans his weapon on a street in Deir al-Zor, July 7, 2013.
Reuters
Syria's Islamist rebels say the downfall of Egypt's popularly elected Muslim Brotherhood president has proven that Western nations pushing for democracy will never accept them, and reinforced the view of radicals that a violent power grab is their only resort.
    
Radical Islamist groups, some of them linked to al-Qaida, have lately been in the ascendancy in Syria's two-year conflict as the death toll rises above 100,000.
    
Assad has celebrated President Mohamed Morsi's fall as a symbolic blow to the Islamist-dominated opposition, though on the battlefield, where his troops are already making gains, it is likely to have little impact given the Brotherhood's limited role in the fighting.
    
Hardliners in the rebel ranks have long overshadowed the Muslim Brotherhood, a regional movement with a more moderate Islamist brand, and often criticized it for working within the framework of democracy instead of demanding an Islamic state.
    
"[We] always knew that our rights can only be regained by force and that is why we have chosen the ammunition box instead of the ballot box," said a statement by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the local franchise of al-qaida's international network, published on the day Morsi fell.
    
"If you want to shake off injustice and create change it can only be done by the sword. We choose to negotiate in the trenches, not in hotels. The conference lights should be turned off," it said, in an apparent reference to the Western and Gulf Arab-backed meetings for the Syrian opposition's National Coalition meetings in Istanbul this week.
    
There, Syria's own Muslim Brotherhood movement, which has dominated the political representation for the opposition abroad since its inception, also took a hit. For the first time, a non-Brotherhood president was elected, though that was expected even before the collapse of Morsi's government in Cairo.
    
Psychological blow
    
Pro-Assad groups were buoyed by the Egyptian army's removal of Morsi after millions protested against him. Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for more than four decades, called it "the fall of so-called political Islam".
    
Assad's father and predecessor put down an uprising by Syria's Muslim Brotherhood in the 1980s, killing thousands and leveling parts of the city of Hama in its suppression of the group's violent uprising there.
    
Since then, the Brotherhood has been nearly non-existent inside the country and became an expatriate movement.
    
A supporter holds a poster of Egypt's Islamist President Mohamed Morsi with Arabic that reads, A supporter holds a poster of Egypt's Islamist President Mohamed Morsi with Arabic that reads, "Sisi traitor," during a rally, in Nasser City, Cairo, July 4, 2013.
x
A supporter holds a poster of Egypt's Islamist President Mohamed Morsi with Arabic that reads,
A supporter holds a poster of Egypt's Islamist President Mohamed Morsi with Arabic that reads, "Sisi traitor," during a rally, in Nasser City, Cairo, July 4, 2013.
But even pro-democracy Syrian activists say Morsi's fall has undermined their faith in Western and Gulf-Arab backed movements against autocratic leaders such as Assad and Morsi's predecessor Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for 30 years.
    
"Apparently armies in 'democracies' can topple presidents elected by the majority? This is a bad sign for revolutions," said Tareq, an Aleppo-based activist, speaking by Skype.
    
The Brotherhood's fall in Egypt will be felt by Syrian activists as more of a psychological blow than a strategic one. Activists say the Syrian branch is already learning from the regional movement's mistakes and had begun negotiating a new relationship with anti-Brotherhood regional powers such as Saudi Arabia.
    
But others say rebels may take more of a hit than they expect. One activist, who asked not to be named, said it could hurt the flow of weapons and cash coming from Libya as well as Egypt, where the erstwhile Brotherhood president had recently endorsed jihad, or "holy war" against Assad in Syria.
    
"Egypt was the transit point for some of those supplies and with the Egyptian army now in power, that might stop. And some Islamist groups that were providing us support will probably be more concerned with their own affairs," the activist said.
    
Joshua Landis, a U.S.-based Syria analyst, said if Morsi's downfall did weaken the Syrian Brotherhood, it would deprive the opposition of its only organized institutional force.
    
"Whatever our views of the Brotherhood, it was the only group that was organized and had structure. If it is weakened, all you will have is these small, extreme Islamist groups on the ground who can't gain support of Syria's middle class Sunnis," he said.
    
'No more games'
   
While Syria's Brotherhood had dominated the fractious National Coalition's negotiations with foreign powers for military and financial aid for the rebels, it never had a strong presence on the ground. A myriad array of mostly Islamist units along with army defectors run day-to-day affairs in rebel areas.
    
Many secular parties and groups that were loyal to autocratic leaders toppled by in the region's "Arab Spring" have celebrated what they see as a blow to Islamists who took power in post-uprising states such as Egypt and Tunisia. But radical groups fighting in unfinished revolts, as in Syria, say the ultimate outcome will be quite the opposite.
    
"Whether we supported Syria's Muslim Brotherhood or not, many Islamist rebels accepted that we might have to work within a civil state. Now, it is clear that world powers and their allies in the region are targeting Islam, first and foremost," said a rebel called Abu Nidal, from the Mustafa Brigades in Damascus.
    
"Now the Islamists reject any more of the international community's political games."
    
Soldiers loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad are seen at an industrial area in the al-Kaboun neighborhood in Damascus after taking control of it from the Free Syrian Army, July 6, 2013. (Photo distributed by Syria's national news agency SANA)Soldiers loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad are seen at an industrial area in the al-Kaboun neighborhood in Damascus after taking control of it from the Free Syrian Army, July 6, 2013. (Photo distributed by Syria's national news agency SANA)
x
Soldiers loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad are seen at an industrial area in the al-Kaboun neighborhood in Damascus after taking control of it from the Free Syrian Army, July 6, 2013. (Photo distributed by Syria's national news agency SANA)
Soldiers loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad are seen at an industrial area in the al-Kaboun neighborhood in Damascus after taking control of it from the Free Syrian Army, July 6, 2013. (Photo distributed by Syria's national news agency SANA)
As Assad's forces gain momentum in the fight and continue to batter opposition areas with air strikes and artillery, many local opposition leaders have already turned their backs on the external opposition anyway.
    
They are frustrated at the inability of their political leadership abroad to create a unified front that could convince foreign powers to provide the opposition with more military and financial support.
   
"Muslim Brotherhood or otherwise, all these guys are becoming increasingly irrelevant," the analyst Landis said.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs