The revival marks an extraordinary comeback for an organization that was almost annihilated after the last revolt in Syria, which ended in the killing by government forces of as many as 25,000 people in the city of Hama in 1982. Only those who managed to flee abroad survived the purge.
The Brotherhood’s rise is stirring concerns in some neighboring countries and in the wider international community that the fall of the minority Alawite regime in Damascus would be followed by the ascent of a Sunni Islamist government, extending into a volatile region a trend set in Egypt and Tunisia. In those countries, Brotherhood-affiliated parties won the largest number of parliamentary seats in post-revolution elections.
Brotherhood leaders say they have been reaching out to Syria’s neighbors, including Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon — as well as to U.S. and European diplomats — to reassure them that they have no intention of dominating a future Syrian political system or establishing any form of Islamist government.
“These concerns are not legitimate when it comes to Syria, for many reasons,” said Molham al-Drobi, who is a member of the Brotherhood’s leadership and sits on the Syrian National Council’s foreign affairs committee.
“First, we are a really moderate Islamic movement compared to others worldwide. We are open-minded,” Drobi said. “And I personally do not believe we could dominate politics in Syria even if we wanted to. We don’t have the will, and we don’t have the means.”
Signs of jihadist influence
Of far greater concern to the United States and other Western countries are recent indications that extremists are seeking to muscle their way into the revolt, said Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East policy. The double suicide bombing in Damascus last week, in which 55 people died in circumstances reminiscent of the worst of the violence in Iraq, bore the hallmarks of an al-Qaeda attack, deepening suspicions that militants have been relocating from Iraq to Syria.
On Saturday, a group calling itself the al-Nusra Front asserted responsibility for the attack in a statement posted on a jihadist Web site.
The Brotherhood is eager to distance itself from the jihadists, whose radical vision of an Islamic caliphate spanning the globe bears no resemblance to its philosophy.
As the Brotherhood starts distributing weapons inside the country, using donations from individual members and from Persian Gulf states including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, it is going to great lengths to ensure that they don’t fall into the hands of extremists, Drobi said.