Although the Muslim Brotherhood had existed in Syria since about 1937, it was not until 1963 that it began to develop into an opposition party.
At that time the Syrian Baath Party, in coalition with the Army, seized political power in Syria. Although the Baath were pan-Arabist in their political orientation, they were also secularist, a position that was totally rejected by the Sunni Islamist fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood.
The MB remained a fringe group in politics of the Arab World until the Six-Day War in 1967, after Israel managed to defeat several Arab nations, including Syria, and hence the MB Islamism managed to present itself as a potential alternative to secular pan Arabism.
However, in 1970, Defense Minister of Syria Hafez al-Assad initiated a coup which ousted the head of the ruling al-Baath party’s radical military faction Salah Jadid and hence Assad became the new strongman of Syria, who brought stability to the country after decades of political instability.
In March 1973, the Assad government introduced a new constitution for Syria, which deleted any reference to Islam as the religion of the state. This action was seen by the MB as further evidence that the Baathist secularists are anti-Islam. Consequently, the MB organized protests in Syria and Assad retracted from deleting the religion of the state in the constitution.
In 1973, Hafez al-Assad planned with formed President of Egypt Anwar al-Sadat a joint offensive against Israel, in a bid to liberate the territories occupied by Israel after the Six-Day war in 1967.
The era that followed the Yom Kippur or October war witnessed active American diplomacy headed by Henry Kissinger to strike ceasefire deals and peace agreements between Egypt and Israel on one hand, and Syria and Israel on the other.
While President Assad had his preconditions such as the full withdrawal of Israel to the line of 4th June 1967 and the right of Palestinians to return to their homes after being expelled by the Israeli occupation army, President Sadat went to Israel in 1977 and expressed his intention to conclude an unconditional peace agreement with Israel.
In 1978, Sadat and Menachem Begin, Prime Minister of Israel, signed a peace treaty in cooperation with US President Jimmy Carter.
This unilateral move has left Syria’s Hafez al-Assad in serious trouble because for the Americans if Egypt is signing a peace treaty with Israel without pre-conditions then Syria is not in a position to impose any conditions.
Syria and Iraq have led a joint diplomatic effort to punish Egypt, and for that, Arab League members met in Baghdad in 1979 and voted to suspend Egypt’s membership and transfer the League’s headquarters from Cairo to Tunis.
For the United States, the peace agreement was very important because it allowed Washington to become a major player in the Middle East. After years of Soviet influence in the region, especially in Egypt, Anwar Sadat provided a historic opportunity for the US.
So, Washington was determined to repeat the same scenario in Syria, which was also revolving in the Soviet orbit, but Hafez al-Assad refused to strike a deal which was unfair for the Palestinians.
This historical context is very important to understand the timing of the MB’s uprising against Hafez al-Assad, which erupted in 1979 till 1982.
During this period, the US and the MB shared the same goal, therefore Washington supported the MB as a weapon to force Assad to compromise.
In June 1979, the MB committed a massacre in the artillery school in Aleppo, where an officer on duty, Ibrahim el-Youssef, and members of the Syrian MB calling themselves the Fighting Vanguard and led by Adnan Uqla, massacred up to 80 Alawi cadets in the Aleppo Artillery School.
The duty officer in charge of the school called Alawite cadets to an urgent morning meeting in the mess hall of the school; when they arrived, he and his accomplices opened fire on the unarmed cadets with automatic weapons and grenades. This incident marked the beginning of full-scale warfare of the Syrian MB against the leadership of Hafez al-Assad.
It is important to note that there was a group of Muslim Sunnis that refused to betray their brothers in arms and join the MB. They were massacred alongside their Alawite counterparts.
Following the massacre, terrorist attacks became almost a daily occurrence, particularly in Aleppo and other northern cities. The MB killed more than 300 people, most of whom were Baathists.
On 26 of June 1980, Syrian President Hafez al-Assad escaped an assassination attempt after the MB militants threw two grenades at his convoy and then fired bursts towards him in the capital, Damascus.
This assassination attempt infuriated the government forces and opened their appetite for revenge;
on June 27, 1980, the Defense Companies led by the brother of Hafez al-Assad, Rifaat al-Assad, executed tens of MB prisoners in Palmyra Prison and after less than a month later, the government passed a decision to execute all those affiliated with the MB and gave its members one month time to surrender.
But the Muslim Brotherhood decided to escalate and carried out three car bomb attacks against government and military targets in Damascus, killing hundreds of people.
Not only that, the MB declared Hama as an Islamic independent emirate in the heart of Syria and declared in December 1980 the formation of an Islamic Front, which was supported by Saddam Hussein.
Simultaneously, a sophisticated worldwide propaganda campaign was launched by the US and Israeli allies supporting the MB rebellion and emphasizing its victories and the wholesale desertion of Army units to the rebel side.
Press releases were made in Europe and the US, while propaganda broadcasts against Syria were carried by the Phalange-controlled Voice of Lebanon and the Iraqi-controlled Voice of Arab Syria.
During late January or early February 1982 the top three leaders of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, the Supreme Guide Adnan Said al Din, Said Hawi, and Ali Sadr ad-Din al-Bayanuni left their clandestine headquarters in Brussels, to dispersed locations where they could direct the operations in Syria.
On 2nd of February, following a clash between the Muslim Brotherhood and Syrian security forces, the loudspeakers atop the mosque minarets in Hama called on the people to begin a Jihad against the government. The appeal also told the people that arms were available at specified mosques.
On the 9th of February the leadership of the Islamic Revolution in Syria, a nom de guerre for the Muslim Brotherhood, reported about the fighting in Hama over the Iraqi-controlled Voice of Arab Syria. The news commentary described the rebels’ seizure of the city and the execution of some 50 “spies and informers.”
They also stated that major elements of the 47th Army Brigade, sent to recapture Hama, had defected and joined the rebellion, while Syrian Air Force pilots refused to carry out orders to bomb the city.
The news bulletin pointed out that mutinies against the government had spread to naval units at Latakiyah and the airbase at Palmyra, and new clashes were erupting in Aleppo.
About 3,000 government forces had been killed or wounded, according to the MB reports.
As the MB’s propaganda, campaign intensified, MB spokesman in Bonn, on the 10th of February 1982, reaffirmed that Hama had been captured by the Islamists and noted that the government attempts to retake the city had failed.
On the 14th of February, as the propaganda offensive continued, MB sources in Ankara reported that large portions of the Damascus-Hama-Aleppo Highway were under the control of the Islamic Revolution.
Despite the propaganda reporting, the rebellion had never spread outside of Hama, although some limited bombings had taken place in Damascus and elsewhere.
And note that similar propaganda campaigns were launched by the MB during the Islamist rebellion against Bashar al-Assad in 2011.
The patience of Hafez al-Assad has run out after 3 years of war of attrition against the MB and he sent the Defense Companies led by Rifaat al-Assad to Hama.
After three-weeks siege and artillery and air force bombing, the MB rebellion was completely crushed by the end of February 1982, in which thousands of MB militants, SAA soldiers and civilians were killed.
If you read the propaganda reports of the MB and their backers in the region and the West, one might think that the SAA killed tens of thousands of civilians in Hama, therefore they called it the Hama massacre.
However, according to a leaked document by the American Defense Agency in 1982, the total casualties for the Hama incident probably number about 2,000.
This includes, of course, an estimated 3 to 4 hundred members of the MB’s elite Secret Apparatus or about one-third of their total Secret Apparatus strength in Syria.