Asharq Al-Awsat – The Muslim Brotherhood [MB] in Syria has announced its withdrawal from the opposition National Salvation Front [NSF], of which the MB and former Syrian Vice President Abdul -Halim Khaddam were the key components. The MB said the withdrawal was in response to what it described as “a campaign of fabrications and accusations,” which was launched against it by certain parties in the NSF after declaring the suspension of its opposition activities against the Syrian regime. In a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, Khaddam said that the MB was “a burden” on the NSF and that it is currently holding dialogue with the Syrian regime through a security committee set up especially for this purpose.
Ina statement released in London, a copy of which was received by Asharq Al-Awsat, the MB, which is banned in Syria, said that “after deliberations and consultations, it decided to withdraw from the NSF, now that this group has in effect broken up and become incapable of rising up to the level of the national project and of fulfilling its requirements.” The MB pointed out that its decision, which it declared at the beginning of the year “to suspend its activities against the Syrian regime,” was due to the offensive that Israel launched on the Gaza strip. That offensive, it said, led to a difference of opinion within the NSF and to accusations by some of its components of the MB that “its position contradicted the NSF’s charter.”
For his part, cleric Sadr al-Din al-Banayuni, the Syrian MB’s general guide and the Islamic political oppositionist living in exile, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “there is a difference of opinion with the NSF, but not a conflict or rupture.” He said that the difference of opinion “does not damage relations among the opposition parties.” He stressed that the MB in Syria withdrew from the NSF months after it had suspended its activities within that group.” He added: “The MB declared on 7 January that it decided “to suspend its activities against the Syrian regime to devote all efforts to the main battle” in the Gaza strip, which is under the control of Hamas, an offshoot of the MB.
Speaking of a meeting of the NSF’s General Secretariat in Brussels in February, Al-Banayuni said that “at that meeting, the discussions revolved around the issues of the MB’s suspension of its activities against the Syrian regime and its stand on the Gaza war and the resistance, a battle to which we should focus all our efforts and thinking. It was clear at that meeting that there was a difference of opinion with the NSF on these issues.”
In response to a question by Asharq Al-Awsat, Al-Banayuni denied that the MB’s withdrawal from the NSF sent a clear message of reconciliation to the Syrian regime. He said: “The issue is in the Syrian regime’s court. The regime may use this overture to open channels of dialogue.” He added that “the MB will continue its opposition to the Syrian regime and will continue to demand unleashing freedoms, releasing political prisoners, revealing the fate of missing activists, and abolishing the extraordinary laws, including Law 49,which provides for the execution of anyone affiliated with the MB.”
In its statement, the MB said that it submitted to the NSF General Secretariat on6 February an “explanatory memorandum” summing up its stand. It said the meeting “revealed a difference in opinion on the Palestinian issue, on the position on the resistance, on the latest Zionist aggression against Gaza, and over our position to suspend activities against the Syrian regime.”
For his part, former Syrian Vice President Khaddam said that the withdrawal of the MB from the NSF, which he leads, has no effect on the NSF’s activity. He said that the Syrian MB was a burden on the NSF and that it is holding contacts with the Syrian regime in a neighboring Arab country. In a telephone call the Asharq Al-Awsat placed with Khaddam in Brussels, where he was visiting yesterday, He said: “According to information available to us, there is a mediation attempt between the MB and the Syrian regime through high-level security figures.” He added that these negotiations will not lead to are turn of the MB to Syria as a political party as it had always aspired, noting that the MB is now counting on the ongoing rapprochement between the Syrian regime and the United States to return to Syria. He pointed out that the MB had previously sought twice to return to Syria as a political party, but the late Syrian President Hafiz al-Assad turned down its request.
Khaddam pointed out that meetings are being held in an Arab country to arrange for reconciliation between the MB and the Syrian regime. He described the MB’s decision to suspend its activities against the Syrian regime on the pretext of the Israeli war on Gaza and on the Palestinian resistance as “nonsense.” He said: “The Syrian MB is aware that the negotiations between the Syrian regime and Israel had reached the final stages prior to the Gaza war. So the talk of the MB’s suspension of its activities against the Syrian regime for the sake of Palestine is preposterous. I can see no connection between suspending these activities and the Palestinian resistance. Did, after all, the Syrian regime mobilize the Syrian army to liberate the Golan Heights and Palestine?” Khaddam added: “The Palestinian issue is not a point of dispute among the Syrian people; the dispute lies in exploiting this issue. We believe that the Palestinian issue should be above political exploitation.”
Khaddam said that the MB’s participation in the NSF became a “burden” on the NSF because of the opposition to the MB by other parties in the NSF. He stressed that the NSF is getting stronger and more influential after the MB’s withdrawal. He said that the NSF will seek alliance with the moderate Islamic trend by assigning three vacant seats in the new General Secretariat of the NSF for this trend.
A prominent member of the ruling Arab Socialist Baath Party in Syria said that the MB’s declaration of its withdrawal from the NSF was “a positive step” and “a coup de grace for Khaddam and his group.” This Baath Party figure, who insisted on anonymity, disclosed to Asharq Al-Awsat that the Baath Party absolutely did not discuss the issue of relations with the MB. He denied knowledge on the extent of truth to current media reports on negotiations between the MB and the competent parties in the Syrian regime through an Arab and Islamic mediation attempt. He said: “Although this topic was not put forward for discussion at the Baath Party meetings, any member who is loyal to his homeland feels that this step [MB withdrawal from the NSF] was positive step and deserves apperception because it serves national accord and the current Arab reconciliation efforts.”