Framing Political Islam Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and the 2011 Uprising

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Amir Abdul Reda



What aspects of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood’s (a.k.a. the Ikhwan) cultural/ideological framing contributed to its failure to gather opponents of the Assad regime around its leadership during the 2011uprising? What does this reveal about why some Islamist political parties failed in situations of high political contention, such as the Syrian civil war? I argue that despite considerable evolution in the Syrian Brotherhood’s cultural/ideological framing since its first uprising (1977-82), it failed to target three crucial aspects of the 2011 uprising: the military struggle, the masses, and the religious minorities. My research outlines how the movement’s ideological shift toward non-violence and post-1982 reorientation toward democratic elections (ironically) prevented its members from playing a leadership role in what was mainly an armed struggle. At the same time, my research outlines how this evolution and its related changes attracted neither the masses, which remained oriented toward the traditional economic elites, nor the Sunni-oriented religious minorities. I argue that these three crucial aspects undermined the Ikhwan’s efforts and illustrate how poor cultural/ideological framing can doom even those Islamist political parties with the strongest resource mobilization capacities and previously unmatched situations
of political opportunity structures.

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