I tried to tell you. “Arab spring could become an Islamist winter,” by Prem Shankar Jha in Tehelka, June 26:
[…] But what is most important is that there is an abundance of evidence that while the Assad regime is authoritarian and rife with cronyism, it is not unpopular. The Bush administration was the first to learn this. In January 2005, President George Bush withdrew the US ambassador from Damascus, imposed a number of unilateral sanctions and started a $5 million programme to activate opposition groups within Syria. But a year later, the US embassy was forced to report, in a cable posted by WikiLeaks this year, that it had found no “legitimate groups” within Syria that were prepared to take the money.
Undeterred, it shifted money to exile groups outside Syria. In 2007, the State Department gave $6.3 million through a series of dummy foundations to a London-based expatriate Syrian organisation called the Movement for Justice and Development (MJD). This, in turn, set up a TV station called Barada TV (after Damascus” fabled river), which began beaming anti-Assad programmes to Syria in April 2009, and is now a principal source of “˜information” on the current uprising.
What the Bush administration chose to overlook was that few of these exiles were externed democrats. According to a US embassy cable hacked by WikiLeaks, they were “moderate members of the Muslim Brotherhood”. To Indians, the wording should have a familiar ring, for it is identical to that used by the State Department to justify military aid to Pakistan.
The US continued to fund the MJD and Barada TV even after Barack Obama was elected and reversed Bush’s policy towards Syria. In all, it has spent an estimated $30 million on the project. This is the money and moral support that the Muslim Brotherhood uses in its attempt to stage a comeback in Syria.
IS THE uprising in Syria a Salafi plot? Or are the bearded Muslim men and hijab-covered women visible in the cell phone videos being aired by YouTube and other websites part of a much more broad-based protest against autocratic rule? A day-by-day analysis of the Syrian uprising suggests that while a demand for democratic reform is still embedded within the protests, it has been overwhelmed by a carefully programmed Islamist upsurge that is led by the Muslim Brotherhood, but almost certainly includes Salafi elements. Indeed their hand is visible in the uprising from its earliest sprouting.
First, Anas al-Abdeh, the head of the MJD, and many of its directors, are what a State Department cable called “liberal, moderate Islamists who are former members of the Muslim Brotherhood”. Second, Malik, the news director of Barada TV, is Anas” brother and presumably also a sympathiser, if not supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood. Third, the administrator of the Facebook site, The Syrian Revolution 2011, which is the undisputed leader of the Internet campaign against Assad, is the head of the Swedish chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood.
With the onset of the Arab Spring at the end of January, it would have been surprising if these and other Islamists had not concluded that their moment had at last arrived. As in Egypt, the Islamists hid their agenda behind the veil of democracy. They felt that with five droughts in succession, rampant youth unemployment and a 100 percent rise in the price of wheat in the previous year, conditions in Syria were no different from those in Egypt. Therefore, they gave their first online call for a protest demonstration in Damascus before the Parliament building in mid-February.