August 25, 2004 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 186

Muslim Brotherhood Activists' Possible Return to Syria

August 25, 2004
Syria | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 186

Recently, there has been frequent mention in the Syrian media of the possible return to Syria of members of the Muslim Brotherhood – an organization that has been banned in Syria for two decades, with membership being punishable by death. While Syrian government officials' statements have been repeatedly preparing the ground for this possible change, Muslim Brotherhood leaders are denying the existence of any contacts with the Syrian government on this matter. For example, while Syrian MP Muhammad Habash revealed that there had been contacts between the Muslim Brotherhood and Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood Inspector-General in Syria, Sheikh 'Ali Sadr Al-Din Al-Bayanouni, [1] denied it vehemently.

Rumors of Return Began With Assad's Statements

The rumors about the possible return of Muslim Brotherhood members started with statements by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad himself, who in April 2004 told Al-Jazeera: "Some Muslim Brotherhood leaders who were in the past involved in events have returned to Syria. These leaders, who in the 1980s were imprisoned and who were responsible for destructive operations, even those in the most senior echelons, have now left the prisons, and now most of the Muslim Brotherhood [members] are living normal lives in Syria. It is possible.

"With regard to those outside Syria, some have returned to Syria, and those from the rank and file who are not leaders but who belong or identify with the Muslim Brotherhood have returned in a quiet and orderly manner. There is acknowledgement of past mistakes, such as the killing and destruction against Syrian citizens." [2]

Foreign Minister Farouq Al-Shar'a has recently acknowledged their existence of Syrian Muslim Brotherhood exiles: "President Assad does not want there to remain even a single Syrian who feels deprived or outcast… Ultimately, the Syrian leadership stands alongside all Syrian citizens. I do not want it to be understood that abolishing such deprivation can occur all at once, as there is much information that requires verification, but this trend has set out on its way.

"From time to time, the Syrian Muslim Brothers publish opinions ranging from negative to positive. Overall, I see them as positive. In the past four years, thoughts have opened in the right direction, and we are hoping that this trend will continue without it being exploited in the opposite direction." [3]

Muslim Brotherhood Official: No Contact, Syria Must Abolish Death Penalty for Membership

However, the Muslim Brotherhood Political Bureau Chairman in Syria, Muhammad Farouq Tifour, denied the existence of contacts between the Muslim Brotherhood and Syrian authorities regarding a return of Muslim Brotherhood members to Syria and their future participation in Syria's political and national process. Tifour also called for a halt to the "sweeping arrests" in Syria, for revealing the fate of the "disappeared [members of the organization," for dealing with the matter of Syrian expatriates and exiles, and for the abolition of Law No. 49, which sets out the death penalty for anyone belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood. [4]

Minister of Expatriate Affairs: 'This is … a Political Matter on a Level Above the Ministry – There is a Policy of Openness Led and Directed by [President] Assad'

Syria's Minister of Expatriate Affairs, Buthayna Sha'ban, told the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai Al-'Aam: "[President Al-Assad] has released many [prisoners], but the Ministry [of Expatriate Affairs] does not deal with this. This is … a political matter on a level above the ministry. There is a policy of openness led and directed by [President] Assad, and there are many expatriates who have returned to the country after not being here for many years, after the obstacle [preventing them from returning] was removed.

"Everything can be solved, and we have instructions to solve it in cooperation with the authorized bodies. We play an important role [in the link] between the expatriates and the homeland. Many expatriates are filling in questionnaires with all the information that they have… The information is the exclusive property of the Ministry for Expatriate Affairs. No one can see it, and we have not asked anyone to look at it. We are working with the expatriates with transparency and love, and I see nothing but the buds of love and trust amongst them." [5]

[1] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), May 24, 2004.

[2] See MEMRI Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad on Al-Jazeera, May 14, 2004, 'Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad on Al-Jazeera.'

[3] Akhbar Al-Sharq (Syria), July 31, 2004.

[4] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 16, 2004.

[5] Al-Ra'i Al-'Aam (Kuwait), August 13, 2004.

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