Islamists on Islamism today: An interview with Ali al-Bayanouni, former General Guide of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood

We continue here Brookings’s interview series with Islamist leaders and activists, as part of our Rethinking Political Islam initiative. We asked each participant to discuss the state of his or her movement and reflect on lessons learned from various crises, including the rise of ISIS and the 2013 military coup in Egypt. So far we’ve released interviews with a number of Islamists from across the Muslim world. The rest of our interviews and essays in the “Islamists on Islamism Today” series can found here.

Up next is Ali al-Bayanouni, former General Guide of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and a member of the Brotherhood since 1952. From Aleppo, Bayanouni obtained a law degree from Damascus University in 1963, served as an officer in the Syrian Army Reserves, and started practicing law in the late 1970s. Arrested and imprisoned for two years in 1975 for his affiliation to the Brotherhood, he was pursued by security forces in 1979, and had to cross the border to Jordan. He currently resides in London.

Bayanouni begins the interview by discussing how the Brotherhood has stuck to a centrist approach, despite pressure from more conservative elements within the organization. He then speaks on the difficulty of regional coordination among different Islamist movements, as each group is so engrossed in their specific local contexts. He also discusses the coup against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt from a Syrian Brotherhood perspective. Later, he addresses how the Syrian Brotherhood responded to the Syrian revolution, including the question of violence and whether and how to support armed rebellion. He concludes by discussing how his time in exile has refined his thinking and given him the opportunity to have intellectual exchanges with people he otherwise wouldn’t have met.

Check out the full interview here. Click the links in the paragraph above to jump to specific segments.