In less than six months, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is about to fail the governance test for which its members fought, were persecuted and were imprisoned for 70 years. Their slogan, “Islam is the solution,” provided them with broad popular support in a religious and poor society and imparted on the group an image of cleanliness and non-corruption. However, it did not immunize them from the temptations of power. Under their reign, Egypt has reached a stark choice: tyranny or chaos.
Syria differs from Egypt, at least socially and religiously. Historically, Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood members were considered more liberal than their comrades in the land of the Nile. But what really distinguishes the two Brotherhood branches is their experience with their own governments. For while those in Egypt endured prisons, police sticks and tear gas, those in Syria faced the regime’s tanks and live ammunition with their bodies. There is no doubt that they are awaiting their chance for revenge.
Like the Brotherhood in Egypt during the January 25 revolution, the Brotherhood in Syria is the most cohesive political force in the Syrian opposition. But unlike their comrades in Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan or Morocco, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood members were entirely eliminated from the political process for years and were prevented from interfering in the day-to-day political life. For three decades, belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood — or just showing sympathy or support toward the group — was a grave crime. So its members went into hiding and made contacts with Brotherhood leaders who were forcibly or voluntarily exiled.
When the Syrian political opposition started forming, it was clear that the Brotherhood tended to always capture the lion’s share; first in the Syrian National Council, then in the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, and then in the Syrian military command. That caused resentment among liberal and secular forces, which oppose transitioning “from one dictatorship to another.”
The experience of political Islam in Egypt and Tunisia does not bode well. No one yet knows for sure what Syria will be like under an Islamist political system. On one hand, Syrian society is less religious than Egypt’s. And Syria has a bigger proportion of minorities, which assures a larger, more diversified and weightier opposition base. From that perspective, the Syrian situation seems easier than the Egyptian. On the other hand, the 20-month-old Syrian uprising has sharpened Sunni solidarity and sectarian feelings throughout Syria. Complicating things further was the accumulation of arms in the hands of Sunni insurgents, whose numbers are growing. So from that perspective, the Syrian situation seems more difficult than that in Egypt.
Though it is premature to predict how Syrian society would respond to a sectarian power grab or to a new tyranny, the post-Assad period looks bleak, full of sharp divisions and with many dangers emanating not only from the Muslim Brotherhood, but also from the “brothers” abroad, be they near or far.