Ali Sadreddine al-Bayanouni was the secretary general of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood from 1996–2010. Born in Aleppo, Syria, to a family with a long line of Muslim Brotherhood sheikhs, al-Bayanouni joined the Brotherhood while in secondary school. He graduated with a law degree from the University of Damascus in 1963.
Al-Bayanouni was imprisoned from 1976–1977 due to his membership in the Brotherhood. After being released from prison, he was elected deputy guide of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. He left Syria in 1979 for Jordan, where he lived in exile until 2000. At that point, he moved to the United Kingdom.
Al-Bayanouni, who hails from the Brotherhood’s more moderate Aleppo faction, is seen as one of the most moderate and eloquent Islamists in Syria. In 2009, he severed the close ties between the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and the National Salvation Front, a Syrian opposition group, in response to a disagreement over the proper response to the Israeli Operation Cast Lead, which killed over 1,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The Brotherhood suspended domestic opposition activities to focus on assisting besieged Palestinians, but the National Salvation Front saw this as a violation of its charter.
In the wake of the recent unrest in Syria, al-Bayanouni has called for the end of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its replacement with a “free conference of all the nationalist forces in Syria" that would enable "Syrians to develop a collective national alternative.” In the early days of the Syrian uprising, Al-Bayanouni rejected foreign intervention and advocated nonviolence, but now he calls for international protection of civilians in Syria and supports the Free Syrian Army.
Zuhair Salim is a spokesman of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and a member of the leadership council. He is also the director of the Arab Orient Center for Strategic and Civilization Studies in London, a Muslim Brotherhood think tank.
Salim has been known to make controversial statements. In December 2011, he told a Kurdish website “to hell with Syria, we do not recognize Syria” and called for a greater Islamic caliphate. A frequent guest on Arab talk shows, Salim has been extremely critical of Iran, saying that the Syrian uprising is the last trench guarding against Iranian expansion and that if Syria falls, Iran will dominate the entire region. He has stated that Saudi Arabia has the most sympathetic stance toward the Syrian revolution of all countries and claimed there is an international conspiracy between the United States, Russia, Israel, and Iran against the Syrian people.
Mulham al-Droubi is a spokesman of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and a member of the Syrian National Council. He was a member of the Executive Council of the 2011 Antalya Conference.
Born in Hama, Syria, al-Droubi is a veteran dissident of the Assad regime. He is seen as the policy brains behind the Brotherhood, having been intricately involved in writing the organization’s political platform and policy documents.
In August 2012, Droubi announced that the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood had formed a militia to fight inside the country, a claim that was denied strongly by other members of the Brotherhood.
Mohammad Riad al-Shaqfeh is the secretary general of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. He was born in 1944 in Hama to Sheikh Khaled al-Shaqfeh, a famous Muslim Brotherhood preacher.
Al-Shaqfeh studied civil engineering at Damascus University, graduating with a BS in 1968. He worked as a project engineer for the Syrian National Irrigation Company until 1986.
He joined the Muslim Brotherhood as a young boy in 1956. In 1970, when a dispute erupted between the Aleppo and Hama branches of the Brotherhood, al-Shaqfeh remained a member of the Hama wing, which is ideologically closer to the Brotherhood in Damascus.
He was imprisoned during the 1982 Hama revolt against then president Hafez al-Assad. He left Syria in 1986 for Iraq. He fled Iraq 2003 after an assassination attempt against him, and throughout the Syrian uprising he has been based in Turkey.
Al-Shaqfeh said in 2010 that the Muslim Brotherhood was ready to form a political party if the Syrian regime would allow it to practice politics. In the beginning of the uprising, he was keen to clarify that the Brotherhood was not instigating protests but that it did support them. He is vehemently against a political process with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or one brokered by Iran or Hezbollah, two entities he describes as enemies to Syria.
He has also stated that the historical Alexandretta Province of Syria (known as Hatay Province in Turkey) is Turkish territory and not Syrian-occupied land, a comment that elicited controversy in Syria. He has said that the goal of the Brotherhood is to establish a moderate party similar to the Justice and Development Party in Turkey.
Issam al-Attar is a former secretary general of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. Born in Aleppo in 1927, he is seen as one of the major figures in the Islamic political movement in Syria in the past century.
Born to a family that supported the Turkish Caliph Sultan Abdul Hamid II, al-Attar’s father was exiled to Istanbul during the First World War and returned to Syria after the war. Issam al-Attar’s sister, Dr. Najah al-Attar, is the vice president of Syria and a strong supporter of President Bashar al-Assad.
Al-Attar studied the Quran as a child and joined a youth movement that eventually formed the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. He was one of the organization’s original members and a close confidant of Dr. Mustafa al-Sibai, its founder, who formed the Syrian Muslim Brotherhod after returning from Egypt and studying with the founder of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Dr. Hassan al-Banna.
In the early 1950s, al-Attar and al-Sibai strongly opposed the constitution of Syria, saying that the the state should be based on Islam. They were, however, strong supporters of the constitutional article specifying that the president of Syria must be a Muslim.
In 1951, al-Attar publicly attacked the dictatorship of then president Adib al-Shishakli. Al-Attar escaped arrest by fleeing to Egypt, where he developed close ties with leading members of the Egyptian Brotherhood, including hardline thinker Sayyid Qutb and former supreme guide of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood Ibrahim al-Hudaybi. Al-Attar returned to Syria in 1954 and experienced a crushing defeat in the 1957 Syrian parliamentary election.
Al-Attar was one of the leading voices criticizing the way in which the 1958 agreement to join Egypt and Syria into the United Arab Republic was made. He said the agreement was tyrannical and strengthened the Nasserists. He held weekly speeches in Damascus to denounce Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Yet, unlike many of the Syrian political parties at the time, al-Attar was against seceding from Egypt. It was not Syria’s unity with Egypt he objected to but terms of the agreement; indeed, he contended that a large, powerful Islamic state with a strong economy could help fight Israel and the United States.
In the 1961 parliamentary elections, after Syria had seceded from the United Arab Republic, al-Attar helped the Brotherhood to electoral victory in Damascus. This achievement strengthened the group.
After the 1963 Baathist coup in Syria, al-Attar prominently opposed the government, saying that the Baath Party was tyrannical. He continued his Friday sermons against the regime in Damascus and was placed under house arrest a few times. There was an attempt on his life in 1963.
After leaving Syria to perform the hajj in 1964, al-Attar was prohibited from reentering the country. He lived in exile in Lebanon. In 1964, after al-Sibai’s death, al-Attar was named supreme guide of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.
In 1968, Attar moved to Germany, where he led the Brotherhood from exile. While in Germany, he had a falling out with the Brotherhood’s local leadership, which had become fractured as a result of the Islamic insurgency against Syrian President Hafez al-Assad in the 1970s.
Al-Attar rejected violence and attempted to leave the leadership of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood many times. He was finally removed in 1980 due to failing health and old age. He founded a movement to help European Muslims learn about Islam and was an accomplished poet, although he continued to consult with the Brotherhood from a distance. During the Arab Spring, al-Attar supported the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, calling for the Muslim Brotherhood to seize the moment in the Middle East. He has been a strong supporter of the Syrian revolution.