Some Western observers doubted Arab regimes would fall last year, then doubted Islamists would beat Twitter users at the polls, and now insist that Islamists will sweep elections in a post-Assad Syria.
Elie Fawaz at Beirut’s Lebanon Renaissance Foundation takes a different view in evaluating the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, who now dominate an opposition coalition based in Turkey called the Syrian National Council.
“As you look at the Muslim Brotherhood, they are... old. All of them are aging and they are abroad. They live in Turkey. They are in Britain. They are also in Germany. The Syrian National Council has not proven to be the force that can lead Syria when the Assad regime will fall.”
Tunisia’s Islamist leader is also an old man who came back from exile and he effectively controls the country. Fawaz explains why he thinks the Syrian Brotherhood won't succeed.
“One simple reason: they’ve been smashed by the Assad regime. [Do] you remember the Hama massacre in ’82? The Assad regime did not even give any leeway or room for the Muslim Brotherhood to become an underground party like in Egypt or even in Tunisia. It’s completely different in Syria.”
Fawaz draws a key distinction between the Syrian struggle against Bashar al-Assad and last year’s revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. It’s much more lethal and it’s been going on much longer.
“If the situation in Syria takes a longer time to come to an end, these young people will have more time to get together and form some kind of political party, or a political group that can lead Syria. Right now, their focus is on the ground – on fighting, resisting the Assad regime – more than they are focused on the political process on the future of Syria at the moment. But talking with these people you feel that they’re clever. They know what they’re doing. They’re linked together. They have a strategy. This is the feel you get from talking with these young guys.”
In that respect, today’s Syrian revolution might more closely resemble the Algerian struggle against French rule that led to independence in 1962. That fight, which lasted eight years, was a crucible that yielded a new, young political leadership as well as a new sensibility that prevailed in the country for decades.
The Rise of the Islamists / Executive Producer: Aaron Lobel / Produced by: Monica Bushman, Joseph Braude, David Enders, Julia Simon, and Flawn Williams / Web Producers: Javier Barrera and Sam Lavine / Photo: Imrane Binoual, Zeinab Mohamed, Freedom House
Host: Katherine Lanpher / Length: 51 minutes / Airdate: March 2012