Ashes of Hama
The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria
The resurgence of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, from the ashes of Hama in 1982 to key players in the Syrian revolt
When the convulsions of the Arab Spring first became manifest in Syria in March 2011, the Ba’athist regime was quick to blame the protests on the ‘Syrian Muslim Brotherhood’ and its ‘al-Qaeda affiliates.’ But who are these Islamists so determined to rule a post-Assad Syria?
Little has been published on militant Islam in Syria since Hafez Assad’s regime destroyed the Islamist movement in its stronghold of Hama in February 1982. This book bridges that gap by providing readers with the first comprehensive account of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood’s history to date.
In this ground-breaking account of Syria’s most prominent, yet highly secretive, Islamist organisation, the author draws on previously untapped sources: the memoirs of former Syrian jihadists; British and American archives; and also a series of wide-ranging interviews with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood’s historical leaders as well as those who battled against them—many speaking on the record for the first time. Ashes of Hama uncovers the major aspects of the Islamist struggle: from the Brotherhood’s radicalisation and its ‘jihad’ against the Ba’athist regime and subsequent exile, to a spectacular comeback at the forefront of the Syrian revolution in 2011—a remarkable turnaround for an Islamist movement which all analysts had pronounced dead amid the ruins of Hama in 1982.
‘Lefèvre has produced a richly detailed, well-written, and sober analytical account of the history of Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood. He does an outstanding job of bringing together a wide range of English, French, and Arabic sources to convincingly place the Syrian Brotherhood within its local political context. Ashes of Hama is without question the best available comprehensive English-language work on Syrian Islamist politics.’ — Marc Lynch, Foreign Policy Middle East Channel Best of 2013
‘In a compact and compelling account, [Ashes of Hama] describes in detail the build-up to an Islamist uprising in the city of Hama in February 1982. … [A]n important addition to Syria scholarship because the author debunks more thoroughly than others have done the myth perpetuated by the regime and accepted as received wisdom by the world ever since that the Muslim Brotherhood was responsible for the anti-government violence in the 1970s.’ — Times Literary Supplement
‘In this timely book Lefévre rightly observes that the ashes of Hama have become the ashes of Syria … highly recommended.’ — Choice
‘No book could be more timely than Lefèvre’s on the Muslim Brotherhood. Anyone wishing to understand Syria must understand the long and bitter history of the Muslim Brotherhood’s struggle with the Assad regime. Islamic groups are poised to take power in Syria — and the Brotherhood is foremost among them. Westerners and Syrians alike who fail to appreciate the importance and centrality of the Brotherhood to Syria’s modern history are foolish.’ — Joshua M. Landis, Director, Center for Middle East Studies, University of Oklahoma, and author Syria Comment
‘A fascinating study that unravels the complexity of dynamics between radical and more moderate currents within the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, and its most radical offshoots that were primarily responsible for prematurely provoking the Ba’th regime into the tragic bloodbath of Hama in 1982. Lefèvre explains how today’s Syrian Revolution provided the Brotherhood with a golden opportunity to make a historical comeback to the forefront of Syrian politics, after decennia of relentless repression by the Syrian Ba’th regime.’ — Nikolaos van Dam, author of The Struggle for Power in Syria: Politics and Society Under Asad and the Ba’th Party, and former Ambassador of the Netherlands to Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, Germany and Indonesia
‘This is a truly excellent book, not only because it provides the first detailed account of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood from its inception to 2012, but also becaue it situates the movement within the twentieth-century history of Syria, particularly in the context of the movement’s arch-adversary, the Alawite-dominated Ba’athist regime. It deserves a place on the bookshelves of every scholar of the contemporary Middle East.’ — George Joffé, Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge
‘A timely and essential history … [Ashes of Hama]’s great strength is the way in which it sets the Syrian story of the Brotherhood in the context of the place, firmly rooted in the country’s tumultuous, often violent post-colonial history.’ — Frederick Deknatel, The National
‘When the Assad regime has fallen and the bloodletting finally ends, the Muslim Brotherhood — the Ikhwan al-Muslimeen — will likely command centre stage in the new Syria. Yet the movement is little understood and much misrepresented. This highly readable and impressively researched account could not be more welcome — or more timely.’ — Alan George, Senior Associate Member, St Antony’s College, Oxford University, and author of Syria: Neither Bread Nor Freedom
‘An impressive and unprecedented compendium of research.’ — New York Journal of Books
‘To understand the blood-letting in Syria there is no better guide than Raphaël Lefèvre’s brilliant, wonderfully-sourced and timely book. He demonstrates that the current vicious civil war is but the latest phase of a fifty-year struggle between the Muslim Brothers and the secular Ba‘th Party, which seized power in Damascus in 1963, overturning Syria’s centuries-old socioeconomic and political order. The Muslim Brothers tended on the whole to be relatively moderate but, time and again, their grave error was to allow themselves to be out-distanced and then co-opted by radical jihadists, whose violence gave the regime the pretext for even greater violence. This was the pattern of the 1964 uprisings in Hama; of the massacre of Alawi cadets at the Aleppo Artillery School in 1979; of the slaughter of dozens of Ba’thist officials in Hama in February 1982, which triggered the regime’s massacre of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of citizens as it retook the town. Revenge for that catastrophe still drives much of today’s jihadi violence. Lefèvre explains how military experience gained by exiled Syrian militants fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan and the Americans in Iraq has lent muscle to the current rebellion against President Bashar al-Asad’s regime. Once again, however, as so often in the past, the Muslim Brothers have lost the initiative to more violent Islamist groups — the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front among them — thus seriously damaging the prospects of an early negotiated settlement of the savage civil war.’ — Patrick Seale, author of The Struggle for Syria and Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East
‘An important contribution on the massacre’s impact on the Syrian political landscape and on an organization set to play a crucial role in post-Assad Syria.’ — Tam Hussein, The Huffington Post
‘Raphaël Lefèvre’s book is the definitive study of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. Besides providing a comprehensive overview of the movement’s development, Lefèvre also uses interviews Brotherhood leaders to throw new light on pivotal episodes of conflict with the Ba’th regime, from the Hama Revolt to the current uprising, in which the regime’s violent reaction unwittingly empowered the Brothers as the main alternative to its rule.’ — Raymond Hinnebusch, Professor of International Relations and Director of the Centre for Syrian Studies, University of St. Andrews
‘Raphaël Lefèvre’s book sheds valuable light on the Islamist movements that seem poised to take power in a post-Ba‘th Syria. It draws on new primary sources, such as interviews with and memoirs of Brotherhood leaders and Western government archives. The definitive study of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, it also throws new light on its jihadi offshoots.’ — Middle East Journal
‘The work of Lefèvre allows for a re-evaluation of the influence attributed to the Brotherhood in the [Syrian] revolution, and questions the role of the organisation in a post-Assad Syria.’ –– Jean-Loup Samaan, Politique étrangère
Raphaël Lefèvre is a Gates Scholar and PhD student at King’s College, Cambridge University, where he also earned an MPhil in International Relations. He has published extensively on the Syrian Islamic movement and is the co-author of State and Islam in Baathist Syria: Confrontation or Co-optation?