Turkey recently offered Syrian President Bashar al-Assad support for his embattled regime in exchange for relinquishing a limited degree of power to that country's Muslim Brotherhood, according to officials and diplomats familiar with the proposal.
As first reported by Agence France Presse on Thursday, the proposal put forth by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in June called for Assad to ensure that "between a quarter and a third of ministers in his government were members of the Muslim Brotherhood," according to an unnamed Western diplomat. In exchange, Erdogan would "use all his influence to end the rebellion."
Assad flatly rejected the plan, which since has been publicly denied by Turkish officials, according to the report. During talks, Turkey is said to have "called for the return of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria," one well-informed Syrian official said. In response, Assad said Muslim Brothers would be allowed to return "as individuals" but "never as a party, because they have a religious foundation which is incompatible with Syria's secular character."
The rejection may have had a ripple effect, contributing to what has been viewed as a rapid deterioration in relations between the two nations. According to AFP, Turkish President Abdullah Gul commented that the Turkish leadership had "lost our confidence" in Assad's regime.
The Syrian Brotherhood has been banned since 1963, yet it has carried on in one form or another while in exile. Previous attempts by the group to organize and mobilize against the ruling Ba'athist regime were shut down with an iron fist, leading to tens of thousands killed.
The group is closely affiliated with its parent organization, the ascendant Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Like its Syrian counterpart, the Egyptian Brotherhood has nudged ever closer to the Turkish ruling party in the wake of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's ouster. Just two weeks ago, members of the Brotherhood's leadership had a high-profile visit with the Turkish prime minister when Erdogan visited Cairo.
Many Brotherhood leaders have also expressed a desire for Egypt to follow in the footsteps of Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP)—a democratically elected center-right political party in Turkey, with clear Islamist influences and leanings.