The Syrian Civil War, which has lasted more than seven years, has claimed the lives of at least 500,000 people, displaced more than 12 million from their homes and cost others, too many to count, their arms and legs, each victim lost in the fog of war.
And yet, Syrian President Bashar Assad – who has been widely accused by the international community of targeting civilians and being responsible for the majority of deaths – looks set to take back full control of the once opposition-held Daraa province, a step closer to presiding fully over the embattled country with impunity.
It’s a reality, the recently revived Syrian Muslim Brotherhood says, which will only lead to more bloodshed and instability in the years to come – with or without an official war.
“The tolerance of the United States and Israel with the crimes committed by Bashar al-Assad will not contribute to stability in the region. The revolution of the Syrian people aims to end oppression and gain freedom,” Omar Mushaweh, the Istanbul-based head of media and communications for the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, told Fox News. “What is happening in Syria is a violation of the values of freedom and human rights that America preaches around the world. The American administration should not remain silent in the face of the crimes committed by the regime.”
Despite Trump twice targeting Assad’s assets directly with missiles, and Israel striking their Iran counterparts in Syria numerous times, Mushaweh lamented that no sincere effort has been made to oust the dictatorial leader.
“If there was a serious desire to do that, the regime would have been targeted in the early years of the revolution. The regime could have been easily overthrown and the large number of casualties avoided,” he said. “Therefore, the only entity capable of overthrowing Assad is the Syrian people alone, without assistance from anyone. That was about to happen in 2014, if it wasn’t for the intervention of Iran and then Russia.”
Although now on the losing side of the conflict, what the long-running uprising in Syria has done is rejuvenated the once fizzled Syrian Muslim Brotherhood movement. After more than thirty years of absence from the political forefront, the war breathed a fresh resurgence into the controversial organization, which quickly set about mobilizing activists abroad and providing humanitarian aid.
The overarching Muslim Brotherhood group was founded in 1945. The Syrian branch is related to, but does not work directly with, the Egyptian faction, and was a minor political player prior to the 1963 coup by the secularist Baath party and leader Hafez al-Assad, which prompted it to become a broad resistance movement standing up for Sunni interests in an Alawite-led government.
The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood membership is a capital offense in Syria, and deemed a terrorist organization by a handful of Arab states, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. Membership of the Brotherhood in Syria became punishable by death two years before a Brotherhood-led revolt in Hama in 1982, when the then-president ordered the Army to besiege and fire upon the town -- leaving tens of thousands dead.
The death toll and subsequent government crackdown on the group quickly saw its numbers on the ground shrivel and disperse.
Yet the chaos of the current war has since paved the way for the many exiles to percolate back into the country mostly to opposition-controlled regions.
Nonetheless, the Syrian Brotherhood affiliate – while still advocating for the “good of mankind” components of Sharia Islamic law – produced “reformist” policies in 2013, stressing that it “rejects all forms of violence and extremism” and insisting that much of the West has the wrong idea of their guiding principles.
“The West describes the Brotherhood group as fundamentalist and religious, and some parties want to put them in the category of terrorism,” Mushaweh said, referring to ongoing speculation since Trump took office that they should too be listed as terrorists. “The fact is that the Muslim Brotherhood is a moderate Islamist movement that accepts political pluralism and receives great harm from terrorist movements. It is an anti-terrorist movement of all kinds, including against the state terrorism by Bashar al-Assad.”
He declined to provide membership numbers, instead insisting that it is a “reformist intellectual project” and that its main presence is, for the first time in a long time, now within Syria itself.
“It is about reforming society and life, that is what people are looking for,” Mushaweh stressed.
The group was particularly aghast in 2016 following the Obama administration’s inking of the Iran deal and subsequent lifting of sanctions, which they said would only further de-stabilize the region and flood the regime and other groups such as Hezbollah with cash and weapons.
“It is about reforming society and life, that is what people are looking for.”
However, national security expert for the Clarion Project and former researcher for the Reform Party of Syria, Ryan Mauro, also cautioned the U.S and its allies against working with them to counter Iranian interests or push for the removal of Assad in years to come.
“Supporting them against Iran is akin to supporting Hamas against Al Qaeda,” he said. “As someone who has been supportive of overthrowing Assad for years before the civil war, it pains me to say that overthrowing him today would only lead to much more bloodshed. The best scenario is the division of the country between the Assad regime, the Syrian Democratic Forces and Arab forces that are as close to secular-democratic as possible. And from there, we can hope that a safe alternative to Assad’s rule can eventually rise and support liberal elements to make it happen.”
Jim Phillips, a senior research fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the Heritage Foundation, also expressed concerns over the Brotherhood's recent rise to prominence in the region.
“Like the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, it poses as a pro-democratic movement, but if it ever took control of Syria, it would build a dictatorship, much as the Egyptian group did,” he added. “But they are right that Syria will remain unstable as long as Assad is in power. But Syria would still remain unstable, if they came to power, because they are driven by their ideology to discriminate against non-Sunni Muslims.”
The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.