Fixing the Muslim Brotherhood’s tarnished image

Raed Omari

Published: Updated:

Diseased by the inheritance of unforgettable and difficult-to-correct mistakes passed on by Egyptian and Tunisian Islamists, Jordan’s and, more remarkably, Syria’s branches of the Muslim Brotherhood have embarked on helpless endeavors to repair the movement’s image.

While the Jordanian Islamists are now working to repair the distortion of the image of the Muslim Brotherhood by the movement’s Egyptian and Tunisian branches, their Syrian “brothers” are now perceived to be on a quest for power through communications with the Syrian regime to secure or resurrect a presence for the movement in the region following Egypt’s Mohammad Mursi’s ouster.

But what is certain is that the two branches’ endeavor is not an easy job at all and is not expected to succeed even partially due to the deep distortion of the Muslim Brotherhood’s image by the Egyptian and Tunisian Islamists.

Zamzam, dead before it was even born

Although the announced goal of the recently-launched National Initiative for Building, or “Zamzam,” by Jordan’s key Islamist leaders and other politicians is to develop a modern civil state in the kingdom and push for reforms, its unannounced objective is actually to change the bad impressions about the Islamist movement brought on by the “unsuccessful” rule of the Egyptian and Tunisian Islamists.

Like their Jordanian counterparts, this attempt by the Syrian Islamists lies also at the heart of their endeavor to repair the image of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab world

Raed Omari

The other non-Islamist members of the initiative, comprising ex-politicians, activists and leftists, are in fact fully aware of the unannounced aim of Zamzam, however their choice to join had to do, in part, with their willingness to help promote a model of civil state in Jordan in line with the initiative’s ultimate goal but, in that shared endeavor, they actually seek to present a “counter model” of rule that relies on moderation, religious pluralism and inclusivism as opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood’s totalitarianism and exclusivism.

While it is no secret that the Jordanian leftists’ participation in Zamzam had to do first and foremost with their attempt, or battle, to reduce the influence and omniscient presence of their traditional rivals, the Islamists, many observers believe that the ex-statesmen have joined the initiative with the aim of breaking up or weakening the Islamist movement through increasing tension and promoting a split among its members.

In other words, there is a clash of interests among all members of the initiative which will definitely affect its course of action and ability to achieve its announced and unannounced goals.

Jordan’s decades-old Brotherhood has described Zamzam as being a split from the “Ikhwan” movement, criticizing its members and underestimating their efforts to achieve the envisioned goals.

But this is a manipulative and Machiavellian attitude by the Brotherhood in taking no disciplinary proceedings against Rheil Gharaibeh, the Islamist co-founder of the initiative, who belongs to the moderate “Dovish” camp while at the same time preventing the other Islamist member, Nibil Kufahi, from running for the municipal elections.

Jordan’s Brotherhood has taken many disciplinary proceedings against many of its members for accepting ministerial or senatorial positions or deciding to run for parliamentary elections without its consent.

Why Jordan’s largest opposition party has opened no disciplinary proceedings against the Islamist members of Zamzam, who constitute 15 percent of the 600 figures involved in the initiative, lies primarily in the movement’s unannounced objective to change the currently-held stereotypes about the Islamists as “extreme, authoritarian and pragmatic.”

All in all, the initiative has been launched during a time when Jordan’s main concerns have shifted to security and economy more than reforms and, despite the heavy media attention given, Zamzam is low in popularity and has turned into a “one-man show” of Gharaibeh writing op-eds and appearing on TV screens here and there to promote reforms, moderation and the civil model of rule.

Resurrecting Syria’s Brotherhood

There is a talk now among members of the Syrian opposition - still in hushed tones - about contacts and negotiations underway between Syria’s long-exiled Muslim Brotherhood, thought to be an inseparable component of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), and President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

In fact, a source very familiar with the Syrian opposition has affirmed such news to me, reporting about fierce divisions among the already divided foreign-backed SNC as a result of the Syrian Brotherhood’s “irresponsible, unethical and opportunistic” acts.

Needless to check the authenticity and accuracy of such a “tip,” the behavior of the Syrian “brothers” prove the leaked information about their secret communications with the Syrian regime and their detachment from the opposition.

One major indication of the emerging split within the SNC, and the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood’s tendency to act alone, are the recently-published news reports about the latter’s intention to form a moderate and inclusive political party.

Syrian Muslim Brotherhood overall leader Ali Sadreddine Bayanouni has been reported as unveiling to the London-based al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper information about the movement’s formation of a political party to be officially announced on Nov. 12. He has also been reported as saying that the under-formation party will be named the National Constitution and Freedom Party, will be known by the Arabic name Waad (promise) and will be led by the UK graduate Mohammad Walid with a Christian priest as deputy leader.

The Syrian Brotherhood’s formation of a political party is in itself an indication of their communications with Assad’s regime. It is either they expect gains or promised to be gained for, if not so, they what is the point behind relinquishing the opposition ahead of the long-delayed Geneva II peace conference on Syria?

I also see in the Syrian Brotherhood’s announcement to include Christians, liberals and nationalists within its coming political party as an attempt to present a moderate model as opposed to the image of the Syrian opposition’s fighters as “fundamentalist and fanatic.” An image that has been abhorred by the U.S. and has been promoted by the Syrian regime, Russia and Iran to scare the West about Assad’s alternative.

Like their Jordanian counterparts, this attempt by the Syrian Islamists lies also at the heart of their endeavor to repair the image of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab world that has been deeply distorted by the Egyptian and Tunisian branches.

In fact, this “opportunistic” attitude from the Syrian Brotherhood is no exception at all as it was showed before by the Egyptian and Tunisian Islamists who seized historic movements in their countries and gained the benefits of revolutions not of their own making.

For the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, America’s “rehabilitation” of Assad as a peace partner constituted a historic moment to return to the political scene after decades of exile and a ban imposed on the movement following the 1963 coup in Syria by the secularist, pan-Arab nationalist Baath Party.


Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via raed_omari1977@yahoo.com, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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