Syria’s Islamists Disenchanted With Democracy After Mursi’s Fall
Reuters, July 7, 2013
BEIRUT—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 Qaeda, 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 Mursi’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 Qaeda’s international network, published on the day Mursi 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 Mursi’s government in Cairo.
But even pro-democracy Syrian activists say Mursi’s fall has undermined their faith in Western and Gulf-Arab backed movements against autocratic leaders such as Assad and Mursi’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.
Joshua Landis, a U.S.-based Syria analyst, said if Mursi’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.
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.
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.