The First Setbacks of the Muslim Brotherhood

Thierry Meyssan

11- The “Arab Spring” in Syria

From February 4, 2011, the opening date of the Cairo meeting, the coordination of the “Arab Spring” in Syria was ensured by the Facebook Syrian Revolution 2011 account. The statement in itself was sufficient to understand that the operation would quickly overthrow the Syrian Arab Republic, as had been the case with the other “colour revolutions”, as the objective was not to change attitudes, but only the leadership and a few laws in the country. On the very day of its creation, Syrian Revolution 2011 launched a call to demonstrate in Damascus, which was relayed by Al-Jazeera, while Facebook displayed tens of thousands of “Followers” on its website. The magic of computer science. This account would play a central role over the next five years. Every Friday, the Muslims’ day of prayer, would be dedicated to a goal of the Brothers.

On February 22nd, John McCain was in Lebanon. He met with various leaders of the pro-Saudi Coalition of March 14, including MP Okab Sakr, to whom he entrusted the delivery of weapons to Islamists who were waiting for them in Syria[1]. Then he left Beirut and went to work at the Syrian border. He chose the village of Ersal as the future base of operations.

Despite the calls of the mysterious Syrian Revolution 2011 account, it was not until mid-March that events began in Syria. The Brothers gathered former jihadists from Afghanistan and Iraq in Daraa, a city in the South reputed to be a major Baathist city. They hijacked a demonstration by civil servants who were demanding an increase in their salaries and began to ransack the Palace of Justice. On the same day, under the supervision of Mossad officers, they attacked a secret service centre outside the city, which was used exclusively to monitor Israeli activity in the occupied Golan.

Reporting on the event, Al-Jazeera said that residents of Daraa were protesting after police tortured children who had spray-painted slogans against President Assad. Confusion reigned as the thugs continued to destroy the city centre. In the following weeks, three groups of Islamists moved around the country, attacking secondary, poorly defended targets. The impression of unrest was becoming widespread throughout the country, although it affected only three distinct areas at the time. In a few weeks, more than 100 people were killed, mainly police and military personnel.

President Assad responded in the opposite way to what was expected of him: far from imposing a local Patriot Act, he repealed the state of emergency that was still in force – Syria was at war with Israel, which occupied the Golan Heights – and dissolved the State Security Court. He passed a law guaranteeing and organizing the right to demonstrate, denounced an operation conducted from abroad and called on the people to support the Institutions. He convened the Chiefs of Staff and prohibited the use of weapons by soldiers if there was a risk of collateral killing of civilians.

Taking the president at his word, the Brothers attacked a military convoy in Banias (the town of former vice-president Abdel Halim Khaddam) over several hours, before the eyes of the population. For fear of injuring civilians, soldiers obeying their President did not use their weapons. About ten of them were killed. The sergeant who commanded the detachment lost both his legs while smothering a grenade with his body so that it would not kill his men. The operation was organised from Paris by the Khaddam Salvation Front and the Muslim Brotherhood. On June 6, 120 police officers were killed in the same situation as in Jisr Al-Choughour.

Anti-Syrian Arab Republic rallies were held in several cities. Contrary to the image portrayed by the Western media, demonstrators never demanded democracy. The most chanted slogans were: “The people want the regime to fall”, “Christians in Beirut, Alawites in the tomb”, “We want a president who fears God”, “Down with Iran and Hezbollah”. Several other slogans mentioned “freedom”, but not in the Western sense. The demonstrators demanded the freedom to practice Sharia law.

At that time, people only considered Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, who supported the regime changes in Tunisia and Egypt, as reliable sources of information. They were therefore convinced that in Syria as well, the president would abdicate and the Muslim Brotherhood would come to power. The vast majority of Syrians were witnessing what they believed to be a “revolution” and were preparing for an Islamist shift. It was very difficult to put a figure on the number of Syrians who opposed the Republic or supported the Muslim Brotherhood. At most, we observed that hundreds of small demonstrations took place in the country and that the largest one brought together nearly 100,000 people in Hama. Its organizers were received by President Assad in Damascus. When he asked them what their demands were, they replied “the ban on access by Alawites to Hama”. Amazed, the president – himself an Alawite – ended the interview.

On July 4 in Paris, the Brothers and the Israeli government organized a secret public meeting to enlist the French ruling class. Responding to the call of the “philosopher” Bernard-Henri Lévy and the former and future Foreign Ministers, Bernard Kouchner and Laurent Fabius, elected representatives from the right, the centre, the left and ecologists were supporting what was being presented to them as a fight for democracy. No one noticed in the room the presence of the real organisers: Alex Goldfarb (advisor to the Israeli Minister of Defence) and Melhem Droubi (global head of the Brotherhood’s external relations, who had come especially from Saudi Arabia).

Burhan Ghalioun left Syria at the age of 24 and pursued an academic career in Paris. At the same time, with the help of the NED, he created the Arab Organization for Human Rights in 1983 in Tunisia. When the Algerian Abassa Madani (of the Islamic Salvation Front) went into exile in Qatar, this layman helped him to write his speeches. In June 2011, he participated in the Muslim Brotherhood National Salvation Conference and, on the proposal of the United States, was elected the following month as President of the Syrian National Council (CNS). From then on, he received a salary from the State Department to “represent the Syrian people”.

In August, a Syrian National Council was formed in Istanbul on the model of the Libyan National Transitional Council. It brought together personalities who had been living outside Syria for years, some of whom had just left the country, and the Muslim Brotherhood. The strange idea that this group was looking to establish a “democracy” seemed to be validated by the presence of personalities from the far left, such as Professor Burhan Ghalioun, who was propelled as its president. However, he had been working with the NED and the Muslim Brotherhood for years. Although he is a secularist, he had written speeches for Abassi Madani (the president of the Algerian Islamic Salvation Front) since he went into exile in Qatar. This was also the case for George Sabra and Michel Kilo, who had been working with the Brothers for more than thirty years and who followed the American Trotskyists into the NED in 1982. Under the direction of Libyan Mahmoud Jibril, Sabra worked on the foreign versions of the children’s programme Sesame Street, produced by the French Lagardère Média and Qatar’s Al-Jazeera, with Cheryl Benard, the wife of the US Ambassador to the UN and then to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad. Also Haytham Manna, the investment manager of the Sudanese Brothers.

Qatar had purchased the annual rotating presidency of the Arab League from the PLO for $400 million. In violation of the statutes, he then had the Syrian Arab Republic, a founding member of the organization, suspended. Then, he proposed an on-site observation mission presided over by Sudan (still governed by the Brothers). The latter appointed the former head of the secret services and former ambassador to Qatar, General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa Al-Dabi, to lead the work. Each Member State sent observers to represent all sectors. The Syrian Arab Republic agreed to receive the League and allowed the mission to deploy throughout its territory. This was the first and only time that a pluralist body had visited the field, met all the actors and visited the entire country. In fact, it became the only reliable external source throughout the conflict.

The appointment of General Al-Dabi was unanimously welcomed by all parties. He negotiated the separation of Sudan and Southern Sudan and was nominated by many Arab states for the Nobel Peace Prize. However, it was clear from the preliminary reports that the Sudanese did not intend to produce a tailor-made report, but to conduct an authentic pluralist observation. Suddenly, the international media changed their tone and accused him of having been a genocidaire in Darfur. All those who had approved his appointment demanded his resignation. The general rose up. Finally, a progress report was published attesting that there was no revolution in Syria. The mission confirmed that the violence had been considerably exaggerated, that the army had withdrawn from the cities, that there was no repression, that the victims were mainly soldiers and police officers, that more than 5,000 detainees whose names it had transmitted to the authorities had been released, and that the foreign media that had requested it had been able to cover the events. Qatar saw red and paid Sudan $2 billion to call General Al-Dabi home. He opposed the League appointing a successor to him. Without a leader, the mission was dissolved in early 2012.

Furious to see the Syrian Arab Republic escape, the Brothers decided to create an Islamic Emirate. After several attempts, it would be in a new district of Homs, Baba Amr, where tunnels had been previously dug and equipped to ensure supplies in the event of a siege. 3,000 fighters gathered there, including 2,000 Syrian takfirists. They were members of a subgroup of the Brotherhood, “Excommunication and Immigration”, created under Sadat.

They constituted a “Revolutionary Court”, judging and sentencing to death more than 150 inhabitants of the district who were slaughtered in public. The inhabitants fled, with the exception of about forty families. The takfirists set up roadblocks at all access points to the district that the French Special Forces heavily reinforced. The terrorist campaign of the first year gave way to a position war, in accordance with the plan set out in 2004 in The Management of Barbarity. From now on, the Islamists received from NATO more sophisticated weapons than those available to the Syrian Arab Army, which had been under embargo since 2005.

One morning, the Syrian Arab Army entered Baba Amr whose defences had been deactivated. The French, journalists and some leaders fled and reappeared a few days later in Lebanon. The takfirists surrendered. The war that had begun seemed to be coming to an end, as in Lebanon in 2007, when the Lebanese army defeated Fatah Al-Islam. But the Islamists were not finished.

A new operation was being prepared from Jordan, under NATO command. It planned the attack on Damascus in the context of a massive psychological operation. But it was cancelled at the last minute. The Islamists who were abandoned by France in Baba Amr, had just been decommissioned by the United States. The latter discussed a possible sharing of the Middle East with Russia. A promise of peace was signed in Geneva on 30 June 2012.

12- The end of the “Arab Spring” in Egypt

In Egypt, the new assembly was dominated by the Brothers. It considered that the new Constitution – which was drafted to allow it to be elected – merely repeated an old text with slight amendments, although 77 per cent of it had been approved by referendum. It therefore appointed a Constituent Assembly of 100 members, 60 of whom were Brothers.

As soon as President Mubarak was forced by Washington to resign, Sheikh Youssef Al-Qaradawi returned from Qatar to his country by private plane. Administrator of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, chaired by Prince Charles, and spiritual adviser to Al-Jazeera, he hosted a weekly programme on Sharia law. In Tahrir Square, he came to reject democracy and advocated the execution of homosexuals.

The Brothers pointed out that the young democrats could question the power of the army. Their campaign for the presidential election was an opportunity to call for the country’s regeneration through the Quran. Youssef Al-Qaradâwî preached that it was more important to fight against homosexuals and to find the Faith than to fight against Israel for the recognition of the rights of the Palestinian people.[2] While Sunni abstention was massive, the Brotherhood prevented the elections from being held in Christian towns and villages, so that 600,000 voters could not vote.

The Presidential Electoral Commission “confirmed Mohamed Morsi, President of Egypt, in order to prevent a bloody fate for the country if[it] proclaimed the election of General Ahmed Shafiq “.

However, the results of the polls revealed that General Ahmed Chafik, former Prime Minister of Mubarak, won with a slight lead of 30,000 votes. The Brotherhood then threatened the members of the Electoral Commission and their families, until the latter decided, after 13 days, to proclaim Mohamed Morsi’s victory[3]. Closing its eyes, the “international community” welcomed the “democratic” nature of the process.

Mohamed Morsi was a NASA engineer. He was a US citizen and had a secret defence clearance from the Pentagon. As soon as he came to power, he undertook to rehabilitate and promote his clan, and to strengthen ties with Israel. He received the assassins of President Sadat at the presidential palace on the anniversary of his execution. He appointed Adel Mohammed al-Khayat, one of the leaders of the Gamaa Al-Islamiya, (the group responsible for the 1997 Luxor massacre), as governor of this district. He persecuted the democrats who had demonstrated against certain aspects of Hosni Mubarak’s policies (but not for his resignation).

He supported a vast pogram campaign of the Muslim Brotherhood against Christians, and covered their abuses: lynchings, vandalism of archdioceses, church fires. At the same time, he privatized the major companies and announced the potential sale of the Suez Canal in Qatar, which sponsored the Brotherhood. From the presidential palace, he contacted Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the global leader of al-Qaeda, at least four times by telephone. In the end, everyone was unanimous against him. All political parties, including the Salafists (except of course the Brotherhood) demonstrated against him. There were 33 million people taking to the streets and calling on the army to return the country to the people. Unaffected by the street protests, President Morsi ordered the military to prepare to attack the Syrian Arab Republic to assist the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. That decision would constitute one too many.

On July 3, 2013, at the close of business in Washington for the long weekend of the national holiday, the army carried out a coup d’état. Mohamed Morsi was imprisoned, while the streets became a battleground between the Brothers and their families on one side and the police on the other.

13- The War against Syria

“In politics, promises are only binding on those who believe in them,” they say.  One month after the Geneva conference and the signing of the peace agreement, and a few days after the “Friends of Syria” conference in Paris, war was again authorized. It would not be an action by NATO assisted by its jihadist auxiliaries, but solely a jihadist offensive, assisted by NATO. Its code name: “Damascus Volcano and Earthquake in Syria”

40,000 men summarily trained in Jordan crossed the border and rushed to the Syrian capital, while a terrorist attack killed participants in a meeting of the National Security Council. Even today, it is difficult to say whether a suicide bomber placed a bomb in the chandelier of the room or whether a drone fired a missile into the building. The army and secret services are beheaded.

Jihadists were mercenaries recruited from among the poor of the Muslim world. Many did not speak Arabic and had only one week of military training. Some of them thought they were fighting against the Israelis. They suffered considerable losses and retreat.

The long war that followed pitted a Syrian Arab Army trying to defend its population against jihadists who sought to make life impossible in vast territories. These fighters were infinitely renewable. Every month, new ones arrived to replace the dead or deserters. First, all the thugs in the Muslim world came to try their luck for a few hundred dollars a month. Recruitment offices were publicly opened in countries such as Tunisia or Afghanistan, while they were more discreet in other countries such as Morocco or Pakistan. However, the mortality of combatants was extremely high. In July 2013, according to Interpol, highly sophisticated escape operations were being carried out in nine states to extract Islamist leaders and transfer them to Syria.

For example:

– on 23 July, 500 to 1,000 prisoners escaped from the prisons of Taj and Abu Ghraib (Iraq).
– On 27 July, 1,117 detainees escaped from Kouafia prison (Benghazi district, Libya) following an internal riot coupled with an external attack.
– On the night of July 29-30, 243 Taliban escaped from Dera Ismaïl Khan prison in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

The Syrian Arab Army burned the majority of the combatants’ bodies, but retained those it managed to identify. They were returned to their families. Several States were discreetly setting up repatriation channels, for example Algeria with the Abdelkader Foundation. However, the Syrian Arab Army kept more than 30,000 identified but unclaimed bodies.

Western states that initially sent Special Forces to the area by recruiting them from among their dual nationality soldiers, usually Muslims from the Maghreb, were organizing their own channels for recruiting jihadists. Thus, in France, a network was set up in prisons, with Salafist mosques. These few thousand individuals were in addition to the tens of thousands from the broader Middle East. Although it was not known how many people would participate in this war, it was estimated that the total number of jihadists fighting in both Syria and Iraq, local and foreign, since 2011 exceeded 350,000. This was more than any regular army of the European Union and twice as much as the Syrian Arab Army at the end of the war.

The ideological unity of the jihadists was ensured by the “spiritual leader of the free Syrian army”, Sheikh Adnan Al-Arour. This colourful character reached a large audience every week during his television show. He ignited passions by calling for the overthrow of a tyrant and supported an authoritarian patriarchal vision of society. Gradually, it drifted towards sectarian calls for the massacre of Christians and Alawites. A non-commissioned officer in the Syrian Arab Army, he was arrested for raping young recruits. He then fled to Saudi Arabia, where he became a sheikh in the service of Allah.

Jihadists generally received basic weapons and had an unlimited amount of ammunition. They were organized by katibas, small units of a few hundred men whose leaders received highly sophisticated weapons, including communication kits enabling them to receive live satellite images of the Syrian Arab Army’s movements. It was therefore an asymmetrical battle with the latter, which was certainly much better trained, but all their weapons predated 2005 and they had no satellite information at their disposal.

Unlike the Syrian Arab Army, whose units were all coordinated and placed under the authority of President Bashar al-Assad, the katibas jihadists continued to quarrel with each other, as on all battlefields where “warlords” competed. However, all received their reinforcements, weapons, ammunition and intelligence from a single command and control centre, which they were therefore forced to obey. However, the United States had the greatest difficulty in making this system work because many actors intended to carry out covert operations by other allies, for example the French without the British’ knowledge, or the Qataris at the expense of the Saudi Arabs.

As soon as a territory was evacuated by the Syrian Arab Army, the jihadists who occupied it would bury themselves there. They built tunnels and bunkers. The Saudis sent billionaire Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan because he was a public works specialist. He had supervised the construction of tunnels in the mountains – or more precisely the widening of underground rivers. This time, NATO civil engineers came to supervise the construction of gigantic defensive lines.

To be continued…

Notes:

[1] « Un député libanais dirige le trafic d’armes vers la Syrie », Réseau Voltaire, 5 décembre 2012.

[2] Global Mufti : The Phenomenon of Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, Bettina Graf & Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen, Hurst (1999) ; Hamas and Ideology. Sheikh Yūsuf al-Qaraḍāwī on the Jews, Zionism and Israel, Shaul Bartal and Nesya Rubinstein-Shemer, Routledge (2018).

[3] « La Commission électorale présidentielle égyptienne cède au chantage des Frères musulmans », Réseau Voltaire, 20 juin 2012.