Obama Mulls ‘Non-Lethal’ Aid to Syria, As Muslim Brotherhood Insists It Doesn’t Want to ‘Control the Country Alone’

Patrick Goodenough | March 26, 2012 | 4:34am EDT
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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with expatriate Syrian opposition members in Geneva in December 2011. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – As President Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan Sunday discussed providing “non-lethal” supplies to the Syrian opposition, Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood launched a new public relations drive designed to assuage concerns about its agenda for a post-Assad Syria.

At a press conference in Istanbul, Syrian Muslim Brotherhood leaders said their organization was committed to a democratic Syria built on “dialogue and participation,” in which all people would be equal, whatever their faith or ethnicity. They also pledged to fight terrorism and to respect international treaties.

Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Riad al-Shaqfa denied that the Islamist group wants to rule a Syria on its own, describing that as a line spun by the regime in Damascus.

“We want a democratic Syria and we do not want to control the country alone,” he said.

Banned since 1982 and its leadership exiled, Syria’s Brotherhood received a new lease on life after Syrians mounted protests against President Bashar Assad’s regime a year ago.  It wields significant influence in the Syrian National Council (SNC), a coalition of opposition groups that has struggled to present a coherent face or platform.

Fighters of the Free Syrian Army pose in Homs province, central Syria on Tuesday March 20, 2012. (AP Photo)

Directed at secular and minority Syrians and Western governments alike, Shaqfa’s assurances recall those of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood in the months following the toppling of Hosni Mubarak early last year, when its leaders stressed that it was not seeking to control Egypt after decades of being outlawed.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood now dominates both legislatures in Cairo as well as a newly-created body to draft a new constitution. It is also considering running a candidate in presidential elections scheduled for May, despite repeated pledges in the past not to do so.

Meanwhile, a Muslim Brotherhood-inspired Islamist party controls the largest number of seats in an elected assembly drafting a new constitution for Tunisia.

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood’s assertions on Sunday came just days after five prominent members resigned from the Istanbul-based Syrian National Council. The coalition has been split by feuds, in part resulting from unhappiness about the rising influence of the Brotherhood.

Opposition figures plan to meet in Turkey this week in a bid to overcome differences ahead of a meeting on April 1 of the “Friends of Syria,” a grouping of more than 50 countries including the United States.

The first meeting of the Friends of Syria, held in Tunisia last month, recognized the SNC as “a legitimate representative of Syrians seeking peaceful democratic change.” The SNC is loosely affiliated with a rebel grouping comprising military defectors and others, known as the Free Syrian Army.

U.S. deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters traveling with Obama in South Korea that he and Turkey’s Erdogan had agreed during talks Sunday on the need to send communications equipment and other “non-lethal” aid to the Syrian rebels.

In a recent interview with the Arabic affairs magazine Majalla, Shaqfa denied that the Brotherhood was dominating the SNC, saying its representation did not exceed 20 percent.

As for the organization’s popularity inside Syria, he said that despite being banned since the 1980s “we are present through our moderate and intermediate Islamic thought and the broad audience who supports our thoughts and orientations.”

“We are part of the moderate Islamic trend in Syria,” Shaqfa added, “and the strength of every national trend will be identified in the ballot boxes.”

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