From Istanbul, the Muslim Brothers of Syria declared on Sunday their political charter that details their vision of Syria after toppling the current regime. While it is still only ink on paper, the charter clearly endorses a pledge and commitment to a civil, democratic and modern state that respects institutions, not religion, as the basis of political and social life.
The most significant part of the charter is that the Muslim Brothers stressed the concept of citizenship and completely dispensed with the notion of the “Islamic Umma” which usually colors their rhetoric in the region. Their statement, with its 10 straightforward vows, mentions international declarations and agreements more than it mentions Islam and stresses on human rights all throughout.
The charter is an oath by the Muslim Brothers of Syria to “endorse a civil constitution that protects the rights of individuals and groups.” It envisions a republic with a parliamentary system that guarantees the rotation of power and democracy. It calls for a state that guarantees equality between men and women, respects human rights such as “human dignity, equality, freedom of speech and religion, political participation and social justice.” The Muslim Brothers pledge “to abolish segregation and torture, and [to] protect individual freedoms in both the private and the public spheres.”
They also vow to “fight terrorism and prevent revenge, even from those whose hands were stained by their fellow Syrians’ blood. They have the right to just trials under an independent and transparent judiciary system.”
I, the liberal, secular, Shia-born woman suddenly felt the desire to live in this utopia. However, this is a pledge and not the definite upcoming reality. If this is a genuine attempt by the Muslim Brothers, it means that they have not only challenged themselves, but also dared all the Muslim Brothers in the region, mainly Egypt, to act responsibly and move forward.
The charter is good news for two main reasons. One, it should reassure the minorities in Syria who still stand closer to the regime because the word “Islamist” frightens them. The Assad regime succeeded in painting a horrific image of the Muslim Brothers in Syria following the Hama events of the 1980s, and presented itself as the secular regime whose main goal is to protect the rights of minorities.
In fact, this charter sounds much better than the draft constitution presented by the Assad regime a few weeks ago in regards to comforting minorities and setting their terrified minds at rest. It also seeks to comfort the Alawites who are associated with the regime and are worried of sectarian revenge once they are on their own.
Two, this charter shows the international community that the Muslim Brothers of Syria are ready to let go of the Islamic nation ideology and endorse a modern civil state, not because they detest Islam now, but because they are pragmatic and are willing to move forward.
The Egyptian experience scared most liberals and secularists and made the Arab Spring look more like an autumn. Muslim Brothers and Islamists in general anywhere in the region were associated with the Egyptian brothers, but this charter came out as a brave step by the Syrian Brothers to dissociate themselves from that experience and endorse an Islamic model that is closer to the Turkish Justice and Development Party.
Should we believe them? Can we trust they will fulfill these promises when the regime falls and if they achieve political power in Syria? It is still too early to say. This charter is still a contract that needs to be implemented, and it should be translated into reality as much as possible before the fall of the regime.
The Muslim Brothers are heavily criticized for their control over the Syrian National Council and their strong relations with regional powers. When they pledge that the Syrian people should decide independently and democratically their path and future, they need to translate these words into action as they practice politics as the opposition, before taking power. Otherwise, they will lose credibility.
Time will tell. But in any case, this charter will become the main instrument to evaluate the Muslim Brothers in the future. If they fulfill their promises, then we should not be concerned for Syria’s future, and if they don’t, they will be judged and held accountable. They could lose credibility over failed promises, and without credibility, their political future might not be very promising.
Hanin Ghaddar is the managing editor of NOW Lebanon.