The international Islamist political movement called the Muslim Brotherhood is set to open offices in the rebel-held areas of Syria for the first time since the nation’s Baathist rulers crushed it there decades ago.
The movement’s exiled leader in Syria, Riad al-Shaqfa, told the Financial Times Thursday that the leadership recently decided to revive its organizational structures in Syria and asked supporters there to start opening offices in rebel-held areas.
The move follows the launch of a twice-monthly newspaper that 10,000 copies of are distributed in liberated areas of the country, the group says.
“In the beginning, we said this [Syrian revolt] is a time for revolution, not ideology,” Mr. al-Shaqfa told the FT. “Now there are many groups inside, so we feel we should reorganize.”
He said the aim would be to promote what the FT described as “a more moderate brand of Islamist thinking at a time of growing radicalization” in the Syrian rebel movement, whose military wing is dominated by al Qaeda linked extremists in the al Nusra front.
The brotherhood is the Syrian offshoot of an international movement that encompasses national branches ranging from the governing party in Egypt to the U.S.-listed terror group Hamas in the Palestinian territories.
The decision comes amid growing suspicion from the brotherhood’s liberal and secular critics that it is trying, behind the scenes, to dominate the revolt against the Baathist regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
At the same time, some members of the rebel alliance are concerned the brotherhood’s efficiency, strong organization and superior fundraising networks “could enable them to dominate a fractured Syrian opposition,” according to the FT.
The brotherhood hold seats in the opposition’s exile political umbrella movement, the Syrian National Council, but is not thought to have much organization on the ground in Syria.
Membership of the group has been a capital offense under the Assad regime, since the current president’s father, Hafez al Assad, bloodily suppressed an uprising in the town of Hama in 1982.
The army and militias killed up to 40,000 people, and reduced the town to rubble, according to the Syrian Human Rights Committee.