Hundreds of members of the Muslim Brotherhood have returned from exile in order to rebuild their movement in Syria that was crushed already more than 30 years ago. Also Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates classify the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. Being a member is still punishable by death in Syria but those who return mainly settle in areas held by the Syrian opposition in Aleppo, Idlib and Hama. They claim to practice moderate Islam and distance themselves from radical Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq. Notwithstanding, the Brotherhood is believed to back rebel brigades such as Jaysh Al-Mujahideen.
In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood was once the most successful opposition movement but since Islamist President Mohammed Mursi was overthrown in 2013 hundreds of its members have been killed or detained. In Syria it was a minor political actor before the 1963 coup by the secular nationalist Baath Party. The Brotherhood’s popularity grew under the rule of then-President Hafez Al-Assad, when the minority Alewite community dominated the Sunni Muslim majority. In 1982 security forces under Hafez Al-Assad demolished neighborhoods in the Northwest of Syria and killed thousands to put down a Brotherhood uprising. Today, the Syrian branch of the Brotherhood has no young generation and is not very popular. Syrians still remember the escape of the Brotherhood’s leadership in 1982 that left hundreds of its members to face execution.
Thus, the Brotherhood tries to create a new network and hopes that Saudi Arabia’s mistrust might ease under its new monarch, King Salman, who has called on Sunni Muslim nations to set aside differences over political Islam.