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

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs