Turkish game in Syria facing trouble with U.S. Brotherhood designation - analysis

A move by U.S. President Donald Trump to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a “terrorist organisation” could lead to their expulsion from the Syrian opposition, thereby upsetting the group’s financial backer Turkey, wrote historian Sami Moubayed for the Arab Weekly.

Trump has been mulling over the idea of designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation for years, a move that would bring the weight of sanctions against an Islamist movement with millions of members and likely further damage relations with Turkey.

The Brotherhood is strongly represented on the Turkey-backed Syrian National Coalition, Moubayed said, which is set to take part in the forthcoming constitutional committee within the context of the UN-mandated Geneva peace process.

Turkey has said that the United States, by designating the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorist organisation - a law-abiding group that steers clear of violence - makes the room for the Islamic State (ISIS). 

The sanctioning of the Brotherhood would make it technically difficult for any U.S. official to meet with the Syrian opposition, the Arab Weekly contributor noted, adding that its members may try to disrupt the Geneva process if they are left out.

As the most ‘’well-organised and coherent political group in the Syrian opposition, with a clear vision, hierarchy and programme,’’ the Brotherhood is not a group politicians can afford to confront, Moubayed wrote.

Underscoring that Syria’s Idlib  province in particular, where the terrorist organisation of Nusra Front controls the majority of the land, is a historical hotbed for the Syrian Brotherhood, the article noted that the group could make a visible comeback in the province, carrying arms to combat Syria's former al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), with full backing from Turkey.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has long wanted to usher the Brotherhood into the political process, ‘’more so today than ever, after losing his allies in Egypt and Sudan, and being on the verge of losing them in Libya as well,’’ the article said.

While Damascus sees zero reason to accommodate the Brotherhood, it noted Russians may have success talks with Syrians on accepting the group.

The Turkish president, however, received a cold shoulder from Syria in 2011 when he tried to push for the Muslim Brotherhood’s empowerment.

Washington may continue dealing with the Brotherhood members as individuals, not as part of an outlawed organisation, like they did with the Palestine Liberation Organisation at the start of the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991, Moubayed wrote.

And the Turkish president my peddle this approach with Trump during their meeting in July, allowing to keep his proxies on the Syrian constitutional committee, it said.