The Syrian politician spoke with Today’s Zaman in his home in London, where he was granted asylum after having been exiled from Syria in 1979. He has not returned to his country since.
Salim slammed the Assad regime for labeling the opposition in the country as terrorists. “The people of Syria are holding non-violent demonstrations. The real terrorists are Assad and his supporters who are relentlessly killing the people.”
He explained that even small children were tortured to death in Syrian prisons for writing “freedom” on a wall. He recounted: “An 11-year-old child called Hamza Hatip was returned to his family with a broken right arm and both legs. So was this little child a terrorist?” Assad is labeling his own people as terrorists to legitimize the unspeakable violence he inflicts on his people. Salim claims that the Syrian national intelligence agency is responsible for many of the explosions that have occurred in Syria in recent times. “We [the Muslim Brotherhood] are near to non-existent in Syria in terms of numbers. We are carrying on our struggle in an unarmed way and we are not participating in any violent demonstrations. There is no way the people of Syria would be part of such a thing.”
He also highlighted the differences between the situations in Syria and in Libya. He said that in contrast with Libya, a majority of the people of Syria believed in a peaceful struggle against the regime. “Some security force members and commanders who couldn’t stand the killings of the people left the military, these people sometimes engaging in armed struggles for self-defense. Apart from these, there are no armed groups in the country,” Salim said.
In Libya, he explained, the opponents of the regime attacked Gaddafi forces with guns, which prevented a massacre as in Syria. “More people died in Syria. It is out of question for Syria to be divided in two like Libya. This can be done with peaceful protests.” He said the Assad government in fact wanted the opposition to take up arms. “But we won’t do that,” said Salim. “We think many people would die in such a case.” Salim also expressed his anger at the Assad government for wanting to talk to the opposition. “You can’t have a dialogue by pointing a gun at people’s heads. You can’t have talks as people continue dying.” He said the people of Syria do not want to establish any sort of dialogue with Assad, who has killed thousands of civilians. “Initially, dialogue could have been possible, but it is out of question after thousands were killed. The people of Syria and we, as the Muslim Brotherhood, want Assad to resign and we have stated many times that there is no other solution here.”
Salim also said that the Muslim Brotherhood suspects there is a secret agreement between the Assad government and the Israeli government. He said Assad appears to be anti-Israel, but that this is not reflected in his policies. He said that when Israel occupied the Golan Heights for the first time, Hafiz Assad was the defense minister and had the opportunity to stop the occupation. Salim added, “But the Golan Heights were handed over to Israel and not once been demanded back for over 40 years.”
Salim also claimed that Hafiz Assad had helped Israel kill many Palestinians and Lebanese. “It is a fact that the Syrian government is not friends with any country in that region other than Iran in Israel.” He said those in power are Alawites, who follow a denomination of the Shi’a faith. “This is why they have always had friendly relations with Iran,” he said. “It is interesting that Iran, which is openly supplying the Syrian government with weapons and soldiers, sees itself as Muslim. Our religion orders helping those in need, but Iran is openly supporting the oppressors and massacring innocent people.”
Last month, four Iranian trucks were stopped, two in Turkey’s Kilis province bordering Syria, and were found to be carrying raw materials used in the making of ballistic missiles.
Salim also commented on a recent fatwa issued by respected cleric Muhammed Said Ramazan el-Buti, who stated that protesting against government is un-Islamic. “We know him and we respect his knowledge. We have respect for him, but he is being deceived by the government. He is not much into politics and he doesn’t know it very well. He is making a mistake by politicizing himself. We don’t want fatwas from him on political matters. This was a mistake and we want him to offer a tawbah [repentance or return] and return from this mistake.”
The Muslim Brotherhood spokesperson also expressed his firm belief that Syrian and Turkish peoples are brothers and noted that only a hundred years ago they were part of the same country. He said that under Hafiz Assad, Syria hosted many camps of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), where hundreds of terrorists were trained and sent to Turkey to stage attacks. He also noted that Bashar al-Assad has always used the “PKK card” against the Turkish government. He noted that only a month ago PKK militants trained in Syria crossed the border into Turkey.
In response to a question as to whether the Muslim Brotherhood would implement Shariah law if they came to power, Salim replied: “Syria will be a democratic country when the people will vote for free and democratic elections. People misunderstand when one says Shariah. The Muslim Shariah protects freedom, justice and a civilized way of living. We want people to be governed according to their own free will. This is democracy. A parliament will make all the decisions. There won’t be compulsory Shariah or any other law that the people don’t want in the country.”