Syrian opposition groups abroad have welcomed a government decision to allow a forum run by moderate Islamists to carry out cultural activities and a dialogue as a “step towards rapprochement in the country.” However, a leading Islamic opposition leader has said it is not enough.
“This measure should be coupled with others, including the cancellation Syria’s state of emergency and the martial law in effect since 1963,” said the London-based supreme leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in an interview with Albawaba.com conducted via e-mail.
“Political openness is meaningless at a time when there are thousands of cases of human rights abuses, in addition to thousands of missing persons, political detainees and ten of thousands of deportees,” said Ali Sadareddin Al Bayanouni.
Bayanouni cited a report by the Syrian Human Rights Society, which indicates that there was a slight improvement in the political life in the Arab country last year, “but there has been a relapse this year.”
Bayanouni added that the many political prisoners under detention were suffering from severe health problems.
However, the Muslim Brotherhood leader said that if Damascus guaranteed respect for human rights, there would be ample room for reconciliation between the opposition and the regime in light of the new developments.
“We, the Muslim Brotherhood, have adopted moderate Islamic thought; however, any Syrian convicted of belonging to the group is sentenced to death,” he said.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria emerged in 1935 when Syrian students returned from Egypt, the cradle of the movement, and established branches in various cities. Their headquarters was in Aleppo, before moving to Damascus in 1944.
However, the leaders of a coup by the current ruling Baath Party in 1963 banned the Islamist group and other political parties from representation in the government.
In 1980, the authorities cracked down on the group. Reports of mass killing and torture leaked from behind the iron curtain set up by the Damascus regime led by the late Hafez Assad.
The succession of his son Bashar to power last year paved way for more positive communication between the opposition groups and Damascus following the death of the president in June 2000.
In July of the same year, around 30 imprisoned members of the outlawed Brotherhood were released under an amnesty issued by the president.
The Paris office of Syria's main human rights organization, the Committee for the Defense of Democratic and Human Rights in Syria (CDF), said on Thursday that "dozens of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience were released Wednesday" from prison in Syria. More followed later.
But in February of this year, the group attacked a decision by the Damascus authorities to ban political forums, at which reformists wer demanding changes in the country’s sealed political life.
In a statement to Albawaba.com from London at that time, Bayanouni described the decision as a way of dragging the country back to the era of martial law.
“The Muslim Brotherhood was optimistic [because] the regime allowed [activists] to speak their minds, but apparently, it is still living with the mentality of the 1970s,” the leading Islamist said.
Bayanouni was referring to statements dubbed the 1,000-signature document and the 99 Document, after the number of the signatories, who included intellectuals and political activists demanding freedom of speech and liberalization of the country.
“What the forum-goers demand now was what we struggled for in the early 1980s during [the armed conflict between the group and the Syrian authorities]. Then, we called for abolishing all the laws restricting public freedom. The difference is that those who have heeded the call now are the regime’s men,” Bayanouni said – Albawaba.com
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