January 8, 2008 Special Dispatch No. 1796

Senior Leader of Muslim Brotherhood in Syria on Assad's Regime and Syria-Iran Relations

January 8, 2008
Special Dispatch No. 1796

The Paris-based weekly Al-Watan Al-Arabi recently published an interview with Farouq Tayfour, deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. In the interview, Tayfour said that Syria was under strong Iranian influence in the religious, economic and military spheres. He also stated that his movement was following a policy of non-violence and civil resistance, and was not acting against the regime –so that there would be no recurrence of the 1982 massacre in Hamat, and because of the lack of regional and U.S. support for activity against the Syrian regime.

The following are excerpts from the interview:[1]

Anyone Who Opposes Iran's Influence Is Persecuted

Interviewer: "The Syrian regime is currently under siege, [just] like its ally, the Iranian regime. Evidence suggests that [the Syrian regime] no longer has the capability, or the nerve, to destroy and to slaughter. [Don't you agree?]"

Tayfour: "The Americans and the Israelis are opposed to a change of regime in Syria and to the Islamists coming to power in Damascus. Furthermore, the Islamist movement in Syria is under siege and is unable to act. The situation in Iraq does not encourage the opening of additional [fronts] in the region; furthermore, the [overall] situation of the Arabs is complicated.

"Iran's intervention in the Arab arena has had a great impact as well. Iran has infiltrated Syria to a very great extent, and in spite of the danger this represents, no one has pointed out the true meaning [of this development].

"Firstly, Syria is being flooded with Shi'ite religious propaganda; secondly, the Iranians are in control of the Syrian economy – so much so that Syrian institutions, government ministries, and industries have all passed into Iranian hands; thirdly, there has lately been Iranian military intervention in Syria. For six months now, missile batteries have been deployed around Damascus, and the teams in charge of them are from Iran's Revolutionary Guards. Syria has fallen under Iranian occupation."

Interviewer: "Doesn't the Syrian people see this and rise up against it?"

Tayfour: "There are negative reactions against the Iranians and the Shi'ites; however, the Syrian apparatuses of oppression act against anyone who [dares to] say anything about the Iranians. They either intimidate them or throw them in jail..."

Interviewer: "What can we do to extricate [ourselves] from this conundrum?"

Tayfour: "[Support] from within is not enough – it is necessary to have regional and international support as well, which we do not have at present. We don't want to swim against the current and be defeated once again."

We Fear a Recurrence of the Hamat Massacre

Interviewer: "...Observers believe that the Muslim Brotherhood [in Syria], as an underground Islamist movement, is capable of stirring up the domestic [arena] in Syria... [So] why this stagnation? What are you waiting for?

Tayfour: "I believe that the reason [has to do with Syria's] blood-soaked history, with the dictatorship, and with the massacres perpetrated against the Syrian people by the [regime's] apparatuses of oppression."

Interviewer: "Some analysts believe that if you were to do even one percent of what you did in the past to resist the Syrian regime, [this regime] would not be able to repeat the oppressive [actions it carried out in the past] – in fact, [such acts] would [now] lead to its collapse."

Tayfour: "We are afraid that what happened in Hamat in the 1980s [i.e. the 1982 Hamat massacre][2] might recur, and that the international [community will once again] look the other way..."

The Countries of the Region Do Not Support a Change of Government in Syria

Interviewer: "But isn't Syria isolated in the Arab arena on account of its alliance with Iran?"

Tayfour: "At present, the countries in the region do not support an internal change in Syria, though we do want [to establish] a democratic and pluralistic government – as is evident from our political platform and from our support of the Damascus Declaration[3] and the Salvation Front."[4]

Interviewer: "Some argue that if Iran were attacked, the Syrian regime would collapse. Do you share this opinion?"

Tayfour: "The [possibility of] an attack on Iran is a major weakness [of the Syrian regime], since this regime has lately placed all its eggs in the Iranian basket. This was a grave error, which will ultimately lead to its demise."

Interviewer: "What is the position of the Muslim Brotherhood [in Syria] vis-à-vis Dr. Yousef Al-Qaradhawi's call to Muslims to rally around Iran's religious regime and to support it, even though it is oppressing the Sunnis in Iran?"

Tayfour: "Unfortunately, some Muslim scholars are not aware of the danger posed by the Iranian and the Syrian regimes and by Hizbullah in Lebanon. We must explain to Al-Qaradhawi about the suffering [caused to] the Sunnis in Iraq as a result of Iran's influence, and about the suffering [caused to] the Syrian people by the spread of Shi'ism and by the Iranian chokehold over Syria."

At This Stage, Non-Violence is the Best Policy

Interviewer: "Many people rebuke the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria for relinquishing its jihad branch and for... rejecting and denouncing its jihadist past. Isn't it time to reassess this defeatist position vis-à-vis the government?"

Tayfour: "This question is very complicated. I have written a 50-page study on the subject, and have concluded that the best course... at the moment is [one of] civil resistance and non-violence. Even Nelson Mandela adopted Gandhi's approach."

Interviewer: "But Mandela did not reject resistance or define it as violence. You have completely renounced your jihadist past."

Tayfour: "We did not declare war on the regime. We defended ourselves in this war [because] we had no choice."

Interviewer: "[But] why have you rejected the Islamic principle of 'jihad against a despotic ruler?'"

Tayfour: "No one may reject jihad, but every [move] has its proper stages. The Prophet said: 'Jihad continues until the Day of Judgment.'"

Interviewer: "But haven't you been rejecting jihad for 25 years, that is, since the Hamat uprising and the takeover of the Muslim Brotherhood by the Halab people?"

Tayfour: "Each period has its own [guiding] rule. Based on my assessment of the domestic situation [in Syria], I believe that non-violence, civil resistance, and demonstrations against the regime are the most effective [methods] at the present stage."

[1] Al-Watan Al-Arabi (Paris), November 13, 2007.

[2] In 1982, the Syrian military put down an Islamic uprising in the city of Hamat, killing tens of thousands of residents.

[3] The umbrella organization of Syrian opposition parties and forces.

[4] A Syrian oppositionist front headed by former Syrian vice president 'Abd Al-Halim Khaddam.

Share this Report: