3Major political developments within Syria also helped tostir up resentment toward the regime and incite violenceagainst it. Among these was the dramatic increase insocialist policies and in secularism generally, as well asthe isolationism of the Ba’th under the leadership of Salah Jadid (who ruled Syria after the February 1966 neo-Ba’thcoup, until he was deposed by Hafiz al-Asad in November1970). Syria’s military defeat in the June 1967 war againstIsrael further shook the legitimacy of the regime.The Islamic circles headed by the Ikhwan were aninseparable part of the dominant social forces that madeup the traditional Sunni-urban political power structure.This traditional political structure was based on thenotable families of Damascus, Aleppo, and the other largeurban centers in Syria. When this traditional orderdisintegrated following the rise of the Ba’th, the Islamiccircles found themselves, sometimes contrary to their ownwill, constituting the last bastion of the old order, and atthe forefront of the popular Sunni-urban struggle againstthe regime.In turn, the neo-Ba’ths’ (1966–70) atheistic outlook and socialist economic policies accentuated the social and economic nature of this struggle and turned it into astruggle for survival. With regard to uprooting religionfrom politics, the Syrian regime demonstrated a tenacityalmost unparalleled in the Arabic world.
Violent clashes between the Ikhwan and the regimeensued a short time after the Ba’th came to power. In April1964, violence erupted in Hamah, led by Marwan Hadid,which ended in the demolition of its central mosqueand the death of dozens of activists. By January 1965, theevents in Hamah had ignited violence in Damascus aswell. Subsequently, in April 1967 riots erupted among theSunni population all over Syria, but the regime managed tosuppress the violence.
After taking power in November 1970, Hafiz al-Asad attempted to scale down the anti-Islamic policiescharacteristic of his predecessors. The attempt wasmotivated by Asad’s desire to secure religious legitimacyfor the ‘Alawi (‘Alawiyyah) community and for his regime.The Ikhwan reciprocated by scaling back its resistanceto the regime. Yet the confrontation continued, reachingone of its climaxes with the eruption of riots in 1973 inreaction to Asad’s plans to eliminate the clause in theSyrian constitution stating that Islam is the religion of thepresident and the source of all jurisprudence.
As far as theIkhwan was concerned, this was proof that Asad was not aproper Muslim.The sum total of all of these causes and developments led the Ikhwan into an open struggle against the regime, withthe goal of toppling it and establishing an Islamic state inits place. The literature cites 1976 as the beginning of thefirst stage of the violent struggle:
That year, several groupsthat operated under the Ikhwan’s umbrella initiated violent attacks against the regime’s institutions. TheIkhwan’s narrative, however, is that the armed strugglebegan in 1979, at the
initiative.In 1979 the Ikhwan escalated its violent activity, and alsopublished for the first time its formal organ,
(The one who warns). On June 16 the Ikhwan launched an attack on the Military Academy for Artillery Officers inAleppo, causing the death of thirty-two ‘Alawi cadets and injury to dozens more. The event prompted the regime totry to completely uproot the movement.
The year 1980 was a tumultuous year for Syria. At thebeginning of that year, it seemed that the regime wason the defensive and that its days were numbered.
TheIkhwan succeeded in winning popular support amongthe Sunni population, and even managed to take partialcontrol over all the major cities. Its leaders called for theassassination of government officials and senior militaryofficers—and on June 26 it launched a failed attempt toassassinate Asad. The regime responded by launching amajor punitive campaign against the Ikhwan. Governmentcommando troops were dispatched to Palmyra prison and massacred nearly a thousand inmates who were membersand supporters of the Brotherhood.
The Asad regime acted against the Ikhwan in the politicalarena as well, enacting Law No. 49 at the beginning of July1980, which stipulates the death penalty for membershipin the Ikhwan—but also provides that members whosurrender will be spared. According to reports issued bythe regime, 1,052 Ikhwan activists turned themselves in.
By 1981, however, other Ikhwan activists had taken uparms against the regime. By the end of that year, the city of Hamah had become the center of the armed struggle, withviolent clashes occurring almost every day. This reached a climax in February 1982, when the regime’s ensuingcrackdown on the movement’s strongholds in the cityresulted in thousands of casualties among Ikhwan activistsand the movement’s virtual defeat—along with the exileof the movement’s leadership from Syria.
Some settled invarious Arab countries, including Jordan, Iraq, and SaudiArabia, while others moved to Europe. Since the 1990s themovement has been based in London.
Coalition-Building in Support of theStruggle
Since the beginning of the 1980s, the Ikhwan has joined forces with other opposition groups, including extreme