The Deputy Comptroller General of Syria's Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Farouk Tayfour, is considered by many to be the group’s most influential organizational and political figure, and its most prominent representative in the Syrian National Council. Tayfour, along with the group’s Comptroller General Mohammed Riad Al-Shaqafah and Head of the Shura Council Mohammed Hatem Al-Tabshi, constitute the Hama tripartite. [Today, the three figures] head the [Muslim Brotherhood] after a recent change in leadership. Tayfour has a long political history within the group. Like several of its leaders, he left Syria in the early eighties. Al-Hayat met with Tayfour in his office at the Syrian National Council [SNC] headquarters in Istanbul.
Al-Hayat Do you feel that the Syrian revolution is beginning to respond to efforts to arm [the rebels]? How far will confrontations with the regime go?
Tayfour I believe that the regime is primarily responsible for what is happening. The Syrian revolution is still peaceful. The demonstrators insist on two points: Preserving the peaceful [characteristics of the revolution], and the national ones as well. [One of the] national [principles] is not to be drawn into any sectarian [conflict].
The regime is trying to divert the course [of the revolution] towards armament and sectarian [conflict], but it will not succeed. Responses [to the regime’s attempts] have so far been modest, because weapons and sectarian [sentiments] in the street are still limited. As for where the situation in Syria is headed, I think that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s threatening and accusatory address convinced everyone that his approach remains unchanged. [Thus], the people are left with only two choices: To continue demonstrating regardless of the severity of repression [by state forces], or to take [further steps] both on the regional and international levels to [allow foreign] intervention that will protect civilians.
Al-Hayat Do you still believe in, and call for, an Arab role [in mitigating the Syrian crisis] or would you prefer [a solution by] the UN Security Council?
Tayfour The Arab League made an effort [to act], proposing a plan that the regime foiled. The [Arab League’s] observers and journalists were not given enough of a chance to work, access [areas of conflict] or monitor [the situation]. Therefore, the Arab League must issue a report which should then be referred to the Security Council. The international community has a responsibility to protect civilians, [provide them with] safe channels - similar to French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe’s proposal [to create a humanitarian safe-zone] - and find outlets for relief. Syrians today are living in difficult and harsh conditions, especially with respect to shortages of food, medicine and heating equipment for these times of cold weather. The Syrian [crisis] must be placed in a new framework - one removed from the tragic dichotomy of the regime and demonstrators. International intervention is a must.
Al-Hayat Do you not fear that some may accuse you inviting foreign military intervention to your country?
Tayfour Such accusations will be directed towards the regime, not us. We will not be accused [of inviting] international intervention [to Syria]. The regime is chiefly responsible for the international intervention [underway in Syria] - not the opposition or Syrian citizens.
Al-Hayat There have been international and popular calls for uniting the Syrian opposition. It seems that you have not been responsive with such demands, [would you care to comment]?
Tayfour The SNC represents most of the [Syrian] opposition, and includes all of its sectarian, ethnic and political segments. The demand to unify all [factions of the opposition] is unreasonable and unrealistic. The National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change [NCC] does not seek to join the SNC or compromise with it. The NCC includes national figures, but it also comprises individuals that defend the regime. [To join with them] would mean that we accept [having] the regime into the SNC and as a part of the opposition! The [Syrian] street gave up on the NCC a long time ago. Yes, we have been asked by Westerners and Arabs to unite, but [to join with the NCC] would almost be tantamount to a forced marriage.
Al-Hayat The Muslim Brotherhood’s representation in the SNC seems to indicate that there are some geographical divisions within your group. The [Muslim Brotherhood] is officially represented in [ the SNC], but then there is also the “National Bloc” or the so-called “Aleppo” group. To what extent [are there geographical divisions within the larger group of the Muslim Brotherhood]?
Tayfour The SNC project originated with an [initiative] by a group of Syrian technocrats living in the West. They formed a team to work out the establishment of the council. [At the time], the council did not have a political framework. It was later restructured to include the Damascus Declaration groups, Kurds, leftists and other social components. The expansion process lasted almost ten days.
As for us, the Muslim Brotherhood, we have accredited institutions, a Shura Council elected through a democratic process and an elected general comptroller. Ten general comptrollers have led the Muslim Brotherhood since its foundation in 1945.
Al-Hayat Is it true that you received an offer from the Syrian regime through Iranian mediators?
Tayfour Here’s what happened. I [happen to] have relations with Turkish businessmen. One of them came to me and said that three Iranian businessmen sent by the Office of Iranian Supreme Leader Sayyed Ali Khamenei were asking to meet with me to discuss the situation in Syrian, demanding that the matter remain confidential. This incident took place about three months ago. I told [the Turkish businessman] that we believe that Iran stands with the [Syrian] regime, and that it provides it with security, military and logistical support. We believe that most snipers [killing protesters in Syria] are from Iran and Lebanon. We added that if Iran amends its position [on Syria] we would have no problem meeting with the [Iranian businessmen], as it is a country with a [powerful] presence. [The Iranian businessmen] stayed in Istanbul for almost a week. During this time, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made statements on the need to act fairly towards the Syrian people. [The businessmen] saw this as a change in the Iranian position and made us an offer. They offered us control over four ministries on the condition that we abandon the slogan demanding the toppling of Bashar al-Assad. This [offer was made] during the first phase [of the crisis]. However, the situation later changed. [The Iranian businessmen] later said that they were willing to negotiate on [the idea of granting us] the whole government on the condition that Bashar al-Assad remain president. We informed them that we could not accept this. Three weeks ago, they summoned the Turkish businessman to Tehran, informing that they had no problem with any [of our] conditions except that of Assad not remaining in power. In turn,
we rejected [this proposal] again outright.
Al-Hayat How is your relationship with Hamas? Is it true that they have mediated between you and the Syrian government?
Tayfour Our relations with Hamas have almost completely come to a halt. We understand their position - especially since they consider what is happening in Syria as an internal affair that does not concern them. As for Hamas mediating between us and the [Syrian] regime, no. We do not consider Hamas as a mediator. Hamas’ [posture] vis-a-vis the [Syrian] regime is weak. Some of the positions it has taken are regretful, while others we can understand. I expressed to Abu-al-Walid ([Hamas Political Bureau Chief] Khalid Mesh’al) my disappointment over statements he made in which he mentioned “Assad's Syria.” I sent him [a message saying that] Syria is that of Khaled Ibn-al-Walid [a companion of the Islamic prophet Muhammad] and is not Assad’s Syria.
Al-Hayat But why do you understand the position of Hamas but not Hezbollah’s?
Tayfour This equation is incorrect. Hezbollah has accused the revolution of being a conspiracy and called on the people to stand with the regime. We believe that Hezbollah is a strong supporter of the regime and is involved in the ongoing repression and torture [of demonstrators]. Hamas was never involved and it maintains an almost neutral position.
Al-Hayat There are fears regarding [the eventuality that the Muslim Brotherhood] may one day assume power [in Syria]. [What do you think about] the questions on the future of minorities in the event that the regime falls?
Tayfour We have existed in Syria well before the Ba’ath [ruling party]. Since 1945, our history has been one of participation. The Muslim Brotherhood acted as a real partner during the free era [before the Ba’ath Party rule in Syria]. In the free era, we were partners in democracy. In the era of dictatorship, we were imprisoned for [voicing] objection to [the regime]. During the mandate of Comptroller General Dr. Mustafa al-Siba’i, the Muslim Brotherhood’s electoral list was named the Islamic Socialist Front, which included Christians from Damascus, Aleppo, and Hama. Moreover, Comptroller General Mustafa Al-Attar was offered [the chance] to preempt the 1963 Ba’athist coup, whereby a group of officers would have seized power and handed it over to him before the completion of the coup. He rejected the offer.
Al-Hayat But, in the late seventies, did the Muslim Brotherhood not make the decision to take up arms - with disastrous consequences for both the Syrian people and the Brotherhood?
Tayfour The Brotherhood's decision to take up arms in the eighties came after the issuance of Law Number 49 in the year 1980, which legalized the execution of any member of the Muslim Brotherhood. After the law was enacted, a decision was issued by our Shura Council requiring everyone [Brotherhood members] to either leave Syria or take up arms for self-defense.
Al-Hayat Did your decision not result in the Hama massacre of 1980? Do you not feel that it is necessary that you recognize the mistakes you made in Hama? Today, many figures in the opposition, and in Hama itself, are demanding an apology or a review of that era.
Tayfour In fact, a comprehensive discussion [on this issue] took place within the Brotherhood. It should be clarified that the decision to cut off the Al-Tali'a al-Muqatila group [Fighting Vanguard] founded by Sheikh Marwan Hadid in 1970, was issued during the same year. Sheik Hadid was executed in 1976. Upon his martyrdom, his group became active and began to carry out assassinations of regime officials in retaliation for his execution. The Brotherhood was not involved in any of this. Sheik Hadeed had been dismissed from the Brotherhood. He joined the camp of the sheikhs in Jordan in 1970, which was held by [the Palestinian] Fatah movement to train sheikhs from the Muslim Brotherhood. That year, he was expelled from the Brotherhood. I remember being deputy head of the Shura Council at the time. I was commissioned to meet with him and inform him of the decision that was taken to fire everyone who dealt with him. I told him that he should give up the approach of violent jihad, or else we would fire everyone who deals with him. We were not able to agree on a decision. So, he gave me a list of names [of the persons] who were working with him. He said: “Consult with them. Those who want to join you [shall get what they want], and those who support my approach shall stay.”
After Al-Hadeed was tortured and executed, Abdul Sattar al-Zaim became leader of the group, calling it the “Vanguard Fighters.” Then came the artillery school incident in Aleppo in 1979, where a number of officers were killed by an officer who was not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but a Ba’athist. He contacted the Vanguard Fighters to help him carry out the task. It is noteworthy that the Muslim Brotherhood at the time issued a statement condemning the artillery school incident. [After this], the regime committed the massacre of Hama.
Al-Hayat But in the period preceding the Hama massacre, the Brotherhood - including its Damascus and Aleppo branches - had struck a settlement with the Vanguard Fighters, which means that they agreed on the decision to engage in armed [confrontation]. They were armed when the massacre took place. This is what we mean when we say that it is necessary for the Muslim Brotherhood to present their account [of the incident]. You did make an erroneous decision to [engage in] confrontation, which many believe prompted the regime to carry out the massacre.
Tayfour We do feel the need to clarify [what happened], but based on the premise that it was the regime who committed the massacre. What happened in Hama was that our leadership [and our followers] were forced to decide between either leaving [the country] or defending themselves. The Vanguard Fighters had been preparing themselves [for the task], but we thought this was impermissible. Adnan Aqlah, commander of the Vanguard Fighters at the time, was the one who dragged the city into confrontation which [elicited] a response of the regime’s violence and wrath. But I assure you that the Brotherhood's decision was to spare the city from massacre. We viewed it as an unsuccessful confrontation, and a [large] part of us fled to Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan. The regime had been planning the massacre, and some in the Vanguard Fighters group failed to see the situation as it was. What you said in your question is a fair request. We must establish our point of view especially since a lot has been said [about the massacre].
The defense secretary at the time said that three hundred Muslim Brotherhood militants were occupying Hama! Assuming that this was true, [would it have justified] destroying a whole city and killing close to 30,000 of its residents because of three hundred gunmen. We always knew that the it was a criminal regime, but we never imagined that it would perpetrate a massacre of that magnitude.
Al-Hayat Do you feel that this “review” should also include your relationship with the Ba’athist regime in Iraq? Today, you are mounting a revolution against the Ba’athist [regime] in Syria, but you maintained relations with the Iraqi Ba’ath [Party] during a time when the latter used to persecute the Iraqi people. How do you justify this?
Tayfour When we left Syria, [our main concern was] survival. During the first phase, we escaped in all directions - to Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Turkey - after which [the Iraqi regime] extended a helping hand and offered to provide us with shelter and protection. At the time, Iraq was against the regime in Syria. It opened training camps for us unlike the other regimes [in the region]. In Iraq, we established what we called the National Front For Saving Syria in 1981, which also included other Syrian parties. In Iraq, we were simply guests. [It is not appropriate for] guests to publicize their opinions about their hosts.