Syrian Opposition Council Meets with Extremist Cleric

Anti-American dictator vs. Anti-American Islamists.

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is acting on its stated “desire to coordinate the position of the opposition.” A delegation from the Syrian National Council, an umbrella of opposition forces, recently met with the radical Muslim Brotherhood cleric, Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, in Qatar. The leaders of the Free Syria Army live in Turkey. Meanwhile, the secularists fighting for a democratic Syria are left wondering if the Brotherhood, Qatar and Turkey will decide the fate of their country.

The Syrian National Council, an umbrella of anti-Assad activists and groups, is often referred to as the political body of the Syrian opposition. The fact that a delegation from the SNC met with Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi is of great concern. He is the most powerful cleric in the Muslim Brotherhood and is known for his vocal support of Sharia-based governance, suicide bombings, terrorist groups and genocide. He openly says he wishes to die as a “martyr” fighting the Israelis and he is virulently anti-American.

Ammar Abdulhamid, a U.S.-based Syrian secular opposition activist, says that the purpose of Qaradawi’s meeting with the SNC was to give it legitimacy amongst Islamists even though it has secular leaders.

“Qaradawi was settling a dispute on whether Islamists should, once again, accept being led by a secularist figure, even if he is only a figurehead,” Abdulhamid told FrontPage.

The SNC is also bidding for Qatari support. The U.S. may even welcome Qatari backing of the opposition as it did in Libya. However, Qatar favored the Islamist elements in the Libyan opposition, including Al-Qaeda-tied militias. There is no reason to believe Qatar wouldn’t promote its Islamist allies in the Syrian opposition as well. In addition, the SNC is based in Turkey, led by the Islamist government of Prime Minister Erdogan.

There were concerns about the overrepresentation of the Islamists in the body right from the beginning. When the council was formally announced in Turkey, one of the figures handling the press conference was Dr. Louay Safi, who has a long history of affiliations with the U.S.-based Muslim Brotherhood.

According to the Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report, Safi was in contact with Muslim Brotherhood operative Sami al-Arian who was convicted as the leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the U.S. Safi was the Research Director at the International Institute of Islamic Thought, a Brotherhood front, when it financed Sami al-Arian’s think-tank. Safi was listed as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the case against al-Arian. He was suspended as a lecturer for the military in February 2010 because of a criminal investigation.

Safi was a member of the advisory council for the United Association for Studies and Research’s journal, a group which court documents identify as being part of the secret “Palestine Committee” set up by the Brotherhood to support Hamas. Since January 2004, he has been a top official with the Islamic Society of North America, another Brotherhood front that was listed by the government as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the trial of the Holy Land Foundation for financing Hamas. He’s currently the chairman of the Syrian-American Congress, which presumably led to his position in the Syrian National Council.

It is unclear who makes up the leadership of the SNC, as many officials have chosen to remain anonymous. We do know the names of 19 of the General Secretariat members, four of which belong to the Muslim Brotherhood and six are independent Islamists. That means the Islamists have a slight majority in a council that supposedly represents a country where Islamists are probably not the majority. The number is even higher if some of the anonymous members are Islamists.

Abdulhamid told FrontPage that there is little transparency in the body. “There is no official announcement regarding names, structures or vision,” he said. Negotiations about the exact form of the leadership are ongoing and kept very private.

On September 24, the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations helped put together an event featuring an SNC representative. CAIR is another Brotherhood front tied to Hamas. Shockingly, Frederic C. Hof from the State Department’s Office of the Special Envoy for the Middle East participated.

The most popular opposition group in Syria, by far, is the Free Syria Army. It consists of defectors from the Syrian military who are carrying out attacks to defend the people. On the plus side, it is staying away from endorsing any opposition political body, including the SNC. Its members are mostly secular who are Muslim but do not characterize their fight as a jihad. However, it is based in Turkey and out of necessity, is beholden to the Erdogan government.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry required the New York Times to go to it first for media access to the group. The interview took place in a government office in the presence of Turkish soldiers. The Turkish government even bought the suit for the leader of the Free Syria Army to wear. Like Qatar, Turkey is in a position to strengthen the hand of its ideological allies within the Syrian opposition. The leader of a Kurdish party says, “Turkey supports the Islamists in Syria and puts them out front.”

The growth of Islamist power within the Syrian opposition is particularly disappointing because the country is much less suited for an Islamist takeover than Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. The demographics of the country are not as favorable to the Islamists and there are strong secular trends.

Farid Ghadry of the Reform Party of Syria told FrontPage that Syrian secularists are frustrated with the perception in the West that it must choose between the Assad regime and the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Millions of Syrians don’t understand why the West believes their country has to be ruled by a secular terrorist or an Islamist extremist,” Ghadry said in an interview with FrontPage.

The Obama Administration is keen on letting allies (or in this case, so-called “allies”) take the lead in handling such problems. However, if Turkey and Qatar spearhead an effort to support the Syrian opposition, then the Islamists will be given an upper hand over the secularists and the future of the country will belong to the Muslim Brotherhood.

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Tags: Islam, Jihad