Interview by Ali Hussein Bakeer
The Syrian issue entered a critical juncture after the Syrian government refused the solution offered by the Arab League in order to put an end to the killing machine and stop the situation from moving further toward a full scale war.
This development came along with the regional and international efforts to convince Russia to change its position on Syria after the failure of all previous initiatives to contain the situation under the Arab League umbrella.
In Turkey, the foreign minister of which stated “Should the Syrian regime continue to kill its people and refuse all the Arab solutions, the door to intervention by the United Nations will certainly open, which Turkey will then not hesitate to support,” USAK expert Ali Hussein Bakeer conducted an interview with the Secretary General of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Riad al-Shaqfa, who is currently staying in Istanbul.
Answering questions about the latest news from Syria, al-Shaqfa stated that the Syrian people will not pull back and the revolution will continue until the Assad regime is toppled. He also said that the Syria resolution should be discussed in the Security Council, stressing the refusal of any kind of dialogue with the Syrian regime or sharing the power with it, and emphasizing the necessity of answering the public’s demands to topple al-Assad.
Al-Shaqfa indicated that the Muslim Brotherhood rejects Iran’s offers and does not trust Hezbollah. When it comes to the issue of minorities, al-Shaqfa stressed that Syrians did not used to have the concepts of majority and minority. He further stated that it was only under the bad administration of al-Assad that they started to hear about them, emphasizing the importance of the citizenship principle in which everyone has equal rights and responsibilities.
Lastly, al-Shaqfa expressed their openness for dialogue with all sides and segments whether domestic or foreign, regional or international, and their readiness to also cooperate with everyone as long as it serves the interest of Syria on the basis of mutual interest and respect.
Q: Arab observers could not accomplish their mission in Syria. Afterward, what should the stand taken against Syria be?
A:We support the protection of civilians so we think the Syrian file should be analyzed in the Security Council. The regime’s repressive actions and efforts to gain time while brutally suppressing protesters convinced us to arrive at that conclusion.
We believe that the Syrian people will not pull back and will continue their protests until they get what they want. We call on international actors to exclude the Syrian regime, withdraw their ambassadors, continue the economic sanctions and narrow the field of action of regime supporters.
Q: You demanded a no-fly zone in order to protect civilians. What makes you think that Turkey will accept this demand? How could it be implemented despite opposition from China and Russia?
A:We have not officially discussed this issue with Turkish officials yet. However, we don’t think that Turkey will oppose a Security Council resolution that will protect civilians.
Q: There is dissatisfaction with the performance of the opposition. There are also people who say that the opposition in Syria does not follow a balanced attitude. How do you evaluate all this?
A:We think that the losses of the people are more important than the performance of the opposition. There is nothing so powerful as to equal the self-sacrifice of those people.
As for the Syrian National Council and Muslim Brotherhood, our conviction is that the situation in Syria has come to the boil. Sharing power with Bashar al-Assad or entering into dialogue with the regime cannot be solutions from now on. The only solution is to topple the regime.
Q: There are rumors that the Syrian regime will make peace with Israel if the pressure established on it by the international community is reduced. How do you evaluate these rumors?
A:We do not have detailed information on this issue, but we refer to the famous statement by al-Assad’s cousin, Rami Makhlouf, that the security and stability of Israel depends on that of Syria.
Q: In his speech on January 20, 2012, Qassem Suleimani, the leader of the Al-Quds Force (IRGC Unit) responsible for external covert operations, has stated that the Syrian people support the Syrian regime completely. He used his claim that the opposition could not manage to organize protests in millions as proof. What is your comment?
A:What prevents the Syrian people from organizing protests in the millions is the brutal repression, repression that even prevents people from expressing their personal beliefs, leaving aside organizing large-scale protests. For instance, all of the people in Hama went out into the streets when the governor of Hama prohibited security forces from attacking protesters. Subsequently, the regime changed the governor and sent the security forces and shabiha [pro-government paramilitary] to attack protestors.
Q: How do you evaluate Iran’s role played in Syria recently?
A:We have specific information regarding Iran’s supply of weapons and ammunition to the Syrian regime, and we know there are Iranian experts sharing their experience in suppression with Assad regime units.
Q: We have learned that Iran proposed you a government under Bashar al-Assad if you stop the protests. In this context, is there any detail you have not mentioned?
A:First of all, I would like to state that we do not have any relationship or dialogue with Iran. The Muslim Brotherhood refused to enter dialogue with Iran and did not get any direct offer because we reject Iran’s attitude in supporting the Syrian regime. We did not even discuss the offers Iran sent or tried to send us through mediators.
Q: What is your message to Hezbollah, which claims that the Syrian revolution serves the U.S. and Israel, and that the Syrian regime should be supported as it plays a crucial role in the so-called “resistance”?
A:Hezbollah does not deserve a message from us because of the stance it took in support of the Syrian regime. If Hezbollah had really been against persecution as it claims, it would be on the side of the Syrian people who are oppressed.
Q: There is a rumor that Hezbollah does not hesitate in exhibiting a pro-regime stance because it knows that you will need it later as leverage against Israel, since your lands are still under its occupation, even if the Assad regime is toppled. How do you evaluate this?
A:As long as Hezbollah supports the Syrian regime, we do not trust them. If Hezbollah changes its attitude toward the regime, then we may talk about the issue.
Q: Some people say that the Muslim Brotherhood is a threat for minorities and that if the Assad regime is toppled, radical Islamism will overrun Syria. What is your comment on this?
A:We are Muslim. Our religion is based on peace and respect to others. The history of the Muslim Brotherhood is proof of this. During the Imam Hassan al-Banna era in Egypt, Copts were working in Muslim Brotherhood offices. In earlier periods of the Syrian regime, Christian candidates were running in elections from Muslim Brotherhood lists. We did not have the concepts of majority and minority before; it was only under the bad administration of al-Assad that we started to hear about them. We assure you today that we side with the citizenship principle, in which everyone has equal rights and responsibilities.
Q: What are the current or future criteria in directing your relations as the Muslim Brotherhood—in case you govern Syria—with the U.S. or other effective regional and international countries?
A:We exhibit a positive stance toward all states and segments as long as they are willing not to interfere in our internal affairs. We are open to dialogue with all sides and ready for collaboration with everyone in order to prevent the spilling of our people’s blood and serve the interests of our country. When a democratic state is established in the future, international agreements, charters and conventions will shape our relations with other states according to mutual interest and respect.
Translated by Nihal Çizmecioğlu from Turkish to English.
Ali Hussein Bakeer, USAK Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies