Islamists on Islamism today: An interview with Omar Mushaweh of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood

Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters are seen as they rest in a building in the border town of Jarablus, Syria, August 31, 2016. REUTERS/Umit Bektas - RTX2NQ7U

We continue here Brookings’s interview series with Islamist leaders and activists, 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.

The final video in our interview series is with Omar Mushaweh, a leading a figure in Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and a member of the Secretariat of the Syrian National Council. He is a former member of the Executive Bureau of the Syrian Revolution Coordinators Union.

Mushaweh began the interview underscoring the need for outside observers to speak directly with Islamist actors to gain firsthand knowledge of how they themselves view their activities. He also emphasized that Islamists are often too enmeshed in their local problems to be fully aware of the struggles that other groups are going through. In his view, Islamist groups such as the Syrian Brotherhood—due to operating in exile and isolation from broader Syrian society—have emphasized survival and internal cohesion to such an extent that, to outsiders, the group may not seem open to dialogue in a meaningful way. In response to a question on the Brotherhood’s role in armed resistance, specifically its failed experience with “the Shields,” Mushaweh asserted that the Brotherhood was pressured to not take a front-line role in the armed struggle against Assad. As a result, he argued, the Syrian opposition was deprived of a large, centrist, Islamist alternative, leaving a gap which extremists were all too happy to fill. Mushaweh also discussed concerns that many secularists and non-Islamists have about the Brotherhood’s ultimate aims. Lastly, Mushaweh discusses the nature of generational divides within the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood today.

Check out the full interview here. Note: Be sure to turn on subtitles. Click the links in the paragraph above to jump to specific segments.