Concerns over Syria’s Sunnis
The press conference held by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in Turkey on Sunday was a very significant step, because it finally addressed the increasing fears over the possible rise of Sunni Islamists to power in Syria after the fall of President Bashar al-Assad; with the concern that a religious Sunni regime could pose threats to other sects. Syria is characterized by a great diversity of religions, factions and sects; and it is widely believed that if the country were to transform into a religious state, this would certainly lead to divisions.
However, the Brotherhood’s leadership moved before the fall of the regime to reveal its plan to everyone, and especially the Syrians; declaring it will accept a pluralistic democratic system that treats all groups and sects equally. The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood went further than what was asked of them, declaring their commitment in a national covenant calling for a civil state – not a religious one – where any citizen could become president regardless of faith or race. In other words, the Brotherhood would change the existing constitution that stipulates the president must be Muslim. According to the national covenant, the only precondition for a presidential candidate is that they must be a Syrian citizen.
We could be skeptical and say that the Brotherhood members are skilled politicians who could change their stance once they come to power. Nevertheless, at this moment, the Syrian Brotherhood can do nothing more than declare their commitment in public, as they did on Sunday in Istanbul. This is the best we can hope for from one of the main opposition groups that has wide public support in Syria. It is a courageous step that deserves our appraisal.
Accordingly, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood have proven to be more progressive than their Egyptian or Jordanian counterparts, or other Brotherhood organizations, simply because they have accepted the rules of the democratic process that permits all Syrians to equally participate in the political state. Indeed the Syrian Brotherhood, after their statement on Sunday, have proven to be more progressive than the Syrian regime itself, which claims to be the protector of minority Muslim groups, with the Syrian constitution (as it is) requiring the Syrian President to be a Muslim. This was an issue that preoccupied the late President Hafez al-Assad, who on numerous occasions was forced to declare in public that he was a Muslim and recite the Shahada, in order to respond to those skeptical about his faith, and respond to those who adopted an anti-Alawite sectarian stance.
The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, along with other Syrian opposition groups, should accept the concept that the nation is for all citizens. They should realize that the biggest challenge they face, from now on, is to convince everyone that the future will never be based on religious or racial rules, whether between Sunnis and Alawites, Muslims and Christians, Arabs, Kurds or Turkmen.
Here it is beneficial to recall that what preserved Iraq’s unity after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime was the determination of all countries in the region, as well as the various Iraqi powers and international organizations, to maintain the unity of the country. This is why Iraq has not been divided so far.
In the case of Syria, it is up to its people; if they want, they could preserve its unity, or they could fight and divide the nation into many warring states. There are no regional powers keen to fight for Syria’s unity and ready to defend it. On the contrary, it would even benefit some countries if Syria was divided. For Israel, to see Syria divided into smaller states scattered along its border, this would ensure its occupation of the Golan Heights, as well as guarantee its security for decades to come.
This is why the national opposition powers in Syria, including the Muslim Brotherhood, have no other option than working together. They should assure the Syrians that the fall of Bashar al-Assad and his villainous regime will open the doors to a modern, civil state.
The al-Assad regime does not represent the Alawites, who are mostly marginalized and live under difficult conditions. The al-Assad regime in reality is a suppressive security system and has been for four decades. Its only parallel is the North Korean regime, where the security and military forces control the people and the slightest details of their lives.
By putting an end to the al-Assad regime, prospects would be wide open for a modern democratic Arab, Middle Eastern, developed and enlightened country.