Beirut • The jubilation among opponents of Egypt’s deposed Muslim Brotherhood president in Cairo was matched on Thursday in the halls of power in the Syrian capital, Damascus, where President Bashar Assad declared that the Egyptian events signified the fall of “political Islam” and a vindication of his government’s fight against the two-year Syrian uprising.
Even as the Egyptian army was busy rounding up the Brotherhood’s entire leadership, Syrian state media were quick to seize on an inescapable fact: that the most prominent of the leaders brought to power by a series of Arab popular revolts that inspired the Syrian uprising had met an ignominious downfall, yet Assad, after becoming practiced at wielding uncompromising force against his opponents, was still standing.
Assad, in an interview with the pro-government Al Thawra newspaper, said the fall of Egypt’s president, Mohammed Morsi, proved that Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood were unfit to rule, and drew pointed comparisons to the movement against him in Syria, in which Islamists play a prominent role.
“Whoever brings religion to use for political or factional interests will fall anywhere in the world,” Assad said, adding that he was confident that nothing short of foreign military intervention would bring him down.
“The countries that conspire against Syria have used up all their tools,” he said. “They have nothing left except direct intervention,” he added, calling that step unlikely.
It was a politically dismaying day for Assad’s Syrian opponents, as Morsi has been increasingly vocal supporter of the Syrian uprising.
Assad and his supporters have long argued that his rule is far preferable to Islamists’ taking power, and that most of the Arab revolts were conspiracies bound to wreak havoc on citizens’ lives. The mass demonstrations against Morsi and the army’s decision to oust him allowed Assad to claim that many Egyptians - whose largely peaceful rebellion against the 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak helped to inspire the Syrian revolt - agreed with him.
“You cannot deceive everyone all the time,” Assad said, “particularly the Egyptian people who have a civilization dating back thousands of years and clear pan-Arab nationalist thought.”
The dynamics in Egypt, though, are more complicated. While many demonstrators were secular liberals opposed to Islamist rule, many others were themselves Islamists angry that Morsi had not gone farther in pushing a religious agenda.
Still, citing “an official source,” Syria’s state news agency, SANA, said that Morsi’s ouster proved “the incapacity of the forces of political Islam to manage the state” and protect cultural diversity.
“Egypt has always been an example to follow throughout its great history, as we believe that it is important that other nations would follow this transformation to foil these futile attempts which are sins against Islam, nation, history and mankind,” the agency added.
The symbolism was awkward for the Syrian opposition, as some of its most prominent Arab backers, including Saudi Arabia and even Qatar, seen as generally backing the Brotherhood, congratulated the interim president installed by the Egyptian army.
Just a day earlier, anti-Assad activists had mocked the Syrian information minister, Omran al-Zoubi, for calling on Morsi to realize that “the overwhelming majority of the Egyptian people want him to go,” a statement they called absurd coming from a government that has used airstrikes and artillery to quell a persistent uprising.
In a twist of profoundly unfortunate timing, the main exile Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, was meeting in Istanbul on Thursday, still trying to agree on a coherent leadership and convince Western backers it could be trusted with heavier weapons. One of the biggest challenges for the opposition has been internal wrangling between the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and its allies with other factions who have accused them of monopolizing power.
The Muslim Brotherhood has a particularly bitter history with Assad, having fought a bloody insurgency against his father, Hafez Assad, in the 1980s, culminating in a government crackdown that leveled much of the city of Hama and killed tens of thousands.
That history is one of the reasons that Assad has been able to hold onto a significant popular base, especially as Islamist rebel groups became the best-armed and most prominent on Syrian battlefields.