Muslim Brotherhood back in Damascus as a Russian solution

Musa Özuğurlu writes: Russia, by any means, wishes to see al-Assad in power at least for another term. It is trying quite unattainable formulas to make it possible for Muslim Brotherhood to return to Damascus after so many years. Let us see whether or not these attempts will bring the political transition and thus relief to Syria?

Musa Özuğurlu

Regarding the future of Syria in general and in particular the future of its administration (Bashar al-Assad), a new scenario has been added to the existing ones in recent days based on the relationship between Russia and Syria.

In a claim/story by Kemal Halef in Raialyoum newspaper on June 26, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov is said to have met former president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces Ahmad Moaz Al-Khatib in Qatar’s capital Doha. According to the story, Bogdanov has asked Al-Khatib to head the “extended national consensus government” to be formed as the prime minister with the condition that al-Assad keeps his position and will run for presidency in the next elections only for once.

The journalist Kemal Halef who wrote this allegation stated that Russia was seriously working on a process that would bring stability to Syria, driving it away from the chaos.

Russia or Al-Khatib did not confirm this story. Russia only said it met with some sides. In the story, it was also written that Moaz Al-Khatib had brought a transitional government suggestion, in which al-Assad was also a member, last year in April. The last claim has not been confirmed but it needs to be written about. This is because this claim brings to mind the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Muslim Brotherhood of Syria has been active in Syria since the 1950s. It is an organization that was effective as to have 10 deputies elected to the parliament in the 1963 elections. They were closed in 1964 by the Baath government and became illegal. After that time, the organization adopted armed struggle within Syria and organized several attacks and assassinations. Especially in the last years of the 1970s, armed attacks of the organization increased and in 1982, it was defeated in a bloody campaign (Hama massacre). Consequently, Ihvan (brother in Arabic) was almost extinct in Syria.

When incidents began in 2011, eyes were again turned to Ihvan. The organization was expected to lead the insurgency and Hama was expected to be the center but the organization did not have its former power. They nevertheless joined the opposition fighting against Al-Assad. More precisely, we can say that the Ihvan thought was represented mostly as an idea and by individuals.

Those who wanted Ihvan the most in Syria were the Turkish Foreign Minister of the time, Ahmet Davutoğlu and the Prime Minister of the time, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Al-Assad had revealed that Erdoğan and also Davutoğlu in their last meeting had asked him to include Muslim Brotherhood into the government as a partner. At that period, Turkey was calculating an Ihvan climate formed in the Middle East. Truly, the wind was blowing on Ihvan’s side then. Almost a century after they were formed, they walked to power in Egypt with Muhammed Morsi. In other countries where the insurgency was continuing (Libya, Tunisia) either themselves or their ideas were walking to power.

However, when Morsi was toppled in Egypt, this dream ended quickly. After that, Turkey became the venue and the center where Ihvan took refuge. The Turkish government is no longer hiding that it is supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

Today, the tense relation between Turkey and Egypt-UAE-Saudi Arabia is because of Muslim Brotherhood to a great extent.

Why is Russia persistent on Moaz al-Khatib or at least sees him as the figure in at least one of its formulas? Moaz al-Khatib is one of the former imams of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. So was his father and grandfather. He belongs to one of the old families in Damascus. When incidents started in 2011, he gave statements against the administration, was detained, released and later went outside Syria. He then resided in countries against al-Assad. Turkey was one of the first of course. So much so that, on the day of the July 15 failed coup in 2016, he was at the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) headquarters in Ankara to submit his new plan for a solution in Syria to the MİT Undersecretary Hakan Fidan.

To have a better insight into the Ankara- al-Khatib - Muslim Brotherhood closeness, it is adequate to take a look at al-Khatib’s words.

Moaz al-Khatib had declared his loyalty to the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood Yusuf al-Qaradawi after 2011. He called him “our great imam.” Also, al-Khatib was denigrating the Shiites. He was demeaning even more the Alevites. Another capital that is supporting Moaz al-Khatib as much as Ankara is Doha. It is not a coincidence that Mikhail Bogdanov met with al-Khatib at Doha, Qatar’s capital. We know that Qatar and Turkey are in the same camp in the crisis that erupted due to the Muslim Brotherhood issue. There are claims that Qatar is supporting al-Nusra.

Russia does not have a special relationship with Muslim Brotherhood. Moreover, The Syrian Ihvan had made a call against Russia in 2015. In one of his precious statements, Moaz al-Khatib said he saw Al-Nusra as “a part of the Syrian revolution.” Russia recognizes Al-Nusra as a terror organization.

We do not know yet the answer to the question whether there is a Turkey effect in Russia’s meeting with Moaz al-Khatib. If so, there are several difficulties if Russia wanted to realize the plan with Moaz al-Khatib.

After so many years of war and so many losses, how will the Syrian administration stomach Moaz al-Khatib and Muslim Brotherhood? Politics of course requires flexibility but explaining this to the people will not be easy for the administration.

The United Arab Emirates is fighting against the Muslim Brotherhood and it has started developing relations with Syria lately. If the Syrian administration accepts such a solution, what would the attitude of UAE be?

On the other hand, Iran has also adopted a negative stance against the Sisi military coup. It is experiencing problems in its relations with Egypt because of its statements supporting Muslim Brotherhood. Iran is also supporting the Government of National Accord of Libya and its prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj, Turkey is acting together with.

Egypt has not developed a special stance against Syria after Morsi but if the Muslim Brotherhood becomes effective in Syria, it could change the climate in Cairo against Syria.

It would make Ankara the happiest if such a government comes to power in Syria. Ankara gaining space in Syria, after it did so in Libya, will extremely annoy Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt.

Russia, by any means, wishes to see al-Assad in power at least for another term. It is trying quite unattainable formulas to make it possible for Muslim Brotherhood to return to Damascus after so many years. Let us see whether or not these attempts will bring the political transition and thus relief to Syria?