Today’s cable sheds some lights on recent events in Syria and raises the possibility that the revolt now unfolding was carefully nurtured in Washington.
Sent 8 July 2009 by Charge d’Affaires Raymond Maxwell, this SECRET/NOFORN dispatch is a report on dissident groups in the Syrian Arabian Republic [SARG refers to the Syrian government].
The cable refers repeatedly to The Damascus Declaration for Democratic National Change, a document signed by groups opposing the Bashar Assad regime on 16 October 2005, and available online here.
Groups signing the state included the Democratic National Grouping in Syria, the Kurdish Democratic Alliance in Syria, Committees for the Revival of Civil Society, the Kurdish Democratic Front in Syria, and the Future Party, headed by Shaykh Nawwaf al-Bashir.
This is the paragraph that piqued our curiosity, with MJD standing for the nonsignatory Movement for Justice and Development:
XXXXXXXXXXXX report begs the question of how much and for how long the SARG has known about Democracy Council operations in Syria and, by extension, the MJD’s participation. Reporting in other channels suggest the Syrian Muhabarat may already have penetrated the MJD and is using MJD contacts to track U.S. democracy programming. If the SARG does know, but has chosen not to intervene openly, it raises the possibility that the SARG may be mounting a campaign to entrap democracy activists receiving illegal (under Syrian law) foreign assistance.
The document is posted online here.
DE RUEHDM #0477/01 1891303
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 081303Z JUL 09
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6579
INFO RUEHRL/AMEMBASSY BERLIN PRIORITY 0180
RUEHBS/AMEMBASSY BRUSSELS PRIORITY 0314
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 0626
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS PRIORITY 0593
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 0697
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 0665
RHEHAAA/WHITE HOUSE WASHDC PRIORITY
S E C R E T DAMASCUS 000477
DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/ELA, NEA/PI, DRL/NECSA BARGHOUT
NSC FOR MCDERMOTT/SHAPIRO
LONDON FOR TSOU, PARIS FOR MILLER
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/08/2019
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM KDEM SY
SUBJECT: MURKY ALLIANCES: MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD, THE MOVEMENT FOR JUSTICE AND DEMOCRACY, AND THE DAMASCUS DECLARATION
REF: A. 07 DAMASCUS 01156
B. DAMASCUS 00185
Classified By: CDA Raymond Maxwell for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (C) Summary: The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Syria Website published a “letter” on June 11 accusing external Damascus Declaration committees of violating the Damascus Declaration National Council’s bylaws on electing members to the General Secretariat. XXXXXXXXXXXX explained the Muslim Brotherhood’s protest stemmed from the external Damascus Declaration committees’ failure to coordinate with the MB in setting up the external political structures meant to compliment the Damascus Declaration’s internal structures. The rancor expressed in the MB’s letter suggested a growing fissure between expatriate Damascus Declaration representatives, especially between the MB and the small, but politically connected and increasingly active Movement for Justice and Development (MJD). More worrisome, however, is recent information suggesting the SARG may already have penetrated the MJD and learned about sensitive USG programs in Syria. End Summary.
2. (C) Since 2005, internal squabbles among political parties signatory to the Damascus Declaration have stalled, but never obstructed, the organization’s forward progress. Disputes ranged from how vocal the organization should be in condemning U.S. policies in the region (ref A) to whether the Damascus Declaration should distance itself from the MB. Nasserists and nationalists of varying stripes, especially those in the Arab Socialist Democratic Party, whose participation in the Damascus Declaration was permitted by the SARG as a wedge to create division among reformist ranks, proved especially adamant in their rejection of the MB. The Nasserists, XXXXXXXXXXXX told us, insisted the MB’s involvement provoked the SARG; for the Damascus Declaration to continue safely, MB participation would have to be jettisoned.
3. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX
MJD vs. Muslim Brotherhood
4. (C) Since 2008, expatriates have formed Damascus Declaration committees throughout Europe and the United States. Initially, XXXXXXXXXXXX remarked, little coordination existed among the nascent “external committees” in the U.S., Britain, Belgium, France, and Germany. The MB, despite having a developed network in Europe and being signatory to the original Declaration, was left on the margin. The MB did not comment on the formation of the committees, nor was the MB’s input sought by those putting the committees together, XXXXXXXXXXXX said. XXXXXXXXXXXX added that the purpose of these committees was to put in place a temporary, seven person panel that could elect a small number of external representatives to the General Secretariat, an idea consistent with the founders intentions for the General Secretariat’s structure.
5. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX asked the representative of the London-based Damascus Declaration committee, Anas al-Abdah — who was also the leader of the Movement for Justice and Development, a self-professed moderate Islamic organization (ref B) — to contact the MB and invite them to participate in the formation and elections of the ad hoc political panel.
6. (C) “After a year,” XXXXXXXXXXXX lamented, “nothing has been achieved. Abdah claimed he tried to contact them, but this is hard to prove.” XXXXXXXXXXXX added that other external Damascus Declaration committee members had reported back that they too had attempted to contact the MB without success. XXXXXXXXXXXX told us XXXXXXXXXXXX doubted attempts at contact commenced until it was effectively beside the point — that is, after the MB broke with the NSF and disavowed opposition activities in response to the Israeli attacks on Gaza. By then, XXXXXXXXXXXX said, it was too late; the MB felt slighted by the external committees. When the MB broke from the NSF, XXXXXXXXXXXX said, “I tried to push XXXXXXXXXXXX to contact them directly,” to ask them to participate in the formation of the external political structure. “I said directly, not through (Anas) Abdah because I know competition among groups outside causes problems,” XXXXXXXXXXXX recounted. XXXXXXXXXXXX
7. (C) According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, it was the external committees’ disregard for MB participation that prompted the Brotherhood to draft and publish its incendiary letter. XXXXXXXXXXXX said “some people are now saying the MB isn’t serious about joining in the Damascus Declaration’s work” and that the letter is just an excuse — they have already renounced opposition activities and do not plan to resume them against Syria. XXXXXXXXXXXX cautioned, “I think this comes from outside, not in Syria,” and that it is not true. XXXXXXXXXXXX, “The MB is the largest Islamic group in the country; the MJD is just a few people.”
MJD: A Leaky Boat?
8. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX had told us in the past (ref B) that the MJD (1) had many members who were formerly with the MB; (2) was at odds with the MB and sought to marginalize it abroad; (3) was seeking to expand its base in Syria, though it had not been successful; and (4) had been initially lax in its security, often speaking about highly sensitive material on open lines. The first three points speak directly to the ongoing feud and the MB’s recent letter of protest. XXXXXXXXXXXX
9. (S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX told us security services had asked whether XXXXXXXXXXXX had met with anyone from our “Foreign Ministry” and with anyone from the Democracy Council (Comment: State Department Foreign Affairs Officer Joseph Barghout had recently been in Syria XXXXXXXXXXXX; we assume the SARG was fishing for information, knowing Barghout had entered the country. Jim Prince was in Damascus on February 25, XXXXXXXXXXXX
10. (S/NF) Comment: Born not as a political party, but as an umbrella organization composed of many different groups, the Damascus Declaration has been handicapped by internal divisions among unlikely allies: the Kurds, the MB, liberals, national socialists, communists and others. XXXXXXXXXXXX MJD’s organizational successes so far might best be explained as the by-products of its relationship with the XXXXXXXXXXXX and the USG. Evidence the organization has a sizable, influential constituency inside and outside Syria is difficult to discern. Post has seen no reporting on the size MJD’s base in Europe and the U.S. XXXXXXXXXXXX; therefore it would not surprise us if an external committee member like Anas Abdah, who heads both the Damascus Declaration’s external London committee and the MJD, would drag his feet when asked to contact the MB.
11. (S/NF) Comment continued: XXXXXXXXXXXX report begs the question of how much and for how long the SARG has known about Democracy Council operations in Syria and, by extension, the MJD’s participation. Reporting in other channels suggest the Syrian Muhabarat may already have penetrated the MJD and is using MJD contacts to track U.S. democracy programming. If the SARG does know, but has chosen not to intervene openly, it raises the possibility that the SARG may be mounting a campaign to entrap democracy activists receiving illegal (under Syrian law) foreign assistance. End Comment.