Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Shields and the Muslim Brotherhood

In the context of the ongoing civil war, Syria's Muslim Brotherhood has sort of grown a militia called the Shields:
A handful of armed factions close to the Muslim Brotherhood started organically forming in response to the Syrian regime’s crackdown on the protests that erupted in March 2011. Most were then centered in Idlib where, despite their lengthy exile, members of the organization had kept close ties to friends and family as well as to militant networks. As government crackdown continued, these rebels—of which only a minority were formally affiliated with the Brotherhood—organized and started spreading to other areas of the country. The process finally came to a head in September 2012, when the Brotherhood gathered all these groups under the more formal umbrella of the “Shields” (Hay’at Duru‘ al-Thawra or Shields of the Revolution Council) before the platform became fully operational in January 2013. Many opposition activists now refer to the Shields as the Muslim Brotherhood’s new “militia” in the Syrian conflict.
But the issue of the Syrian Brotherhood’s military influence conjures up a messy chapter of its own history, which is one of the reasons why its leaders are so cautious when making public statements about the group’s actual influence in the military conflict. After all, it was the organization’s own involvement in armed struggle against the regime thirty years ago that led to major internal splits, the weakening of the group, and its eventual exile. Publicly, therefore, Brotherhood leaders only go so far as to acknowledge the Shields’ “ideological proximity” to and “trust” in the Brotherhood. In private, however, many recognize that ties between the two groups are deeper than mere sympathetic rhetoric. A Brotherhood leader explained that “the relationship is one of ‘being there for you’—we provide the Shields with funding and we are helping them through communication and coordination.” Revealingly, the symbol of the Shields bears the two crossed swords, which act as a Muslim Brotherhood emblem, and the rhetoric of the two groups often strikes similar chords. Further complicating the issue—and for all of the Brotherhood’s efforts—the Shields have not quite yet transformed into the movement’s full-fledged armed wing. “Until now we have given them general instructions, but they have their own structure and merely coordinate with us—ideally we would like to have a proper chain of command and a more centralized decision-making process, but it’s going to take time,” stressed the Brotherhood leader.
It is definitely worth reading the whole article, which considers among other matters the possibility that the Shields could become a moderate Islamist force in the conflict "between" the salafi jihadists such as Jabhat al-Nusra and the more ideologically secular Free Syrian Army.  One major point is that only a minority of the Shield fighters are actual members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which complicates the MB leadership's ability to control the group and answer for its actions and viewpoints, especially at local levels.



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