Wikileaks: U.S. Funded Syrian 'Liberal, Moderate' Islamists

According to internal government documents obtained by Wikileaks, the U.S. has sought to undermine the Assad dictatorship and promote democracy by secretly financing the Movement for Justice and Development -- an opposition group described in a diplomatic cable as “liberal, moderate Islamists.”

At least $6 million was given to Syrian opposition groups, though one cable indicates the total was $12 million between 2005 and 2010, with financing earmarked as late as September of last year. The money came from the State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative through the Democracy Council based in Los Angeles. Major funding was provided for the Movement for Justice and Development (MJD), a group which the cables say is made up of former Muslim Brotherhood members seeking regime change in Syria and consists of “liberal, moderate Islamists.” The U.S. was especially interested in sponsoring Barada TV, whose chief editor, Malik al-Abdeh, is also a co-founder of MJD. The chairman of MJD is Anas al-Abdeh, his brother.

The files describe a split between the Brotherhood and MJD, particularly after the Brotherhood took Hamas’ side during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead and announced it would “suspend its activities against the Syrian regime” in response. The files say that MJD sought to “marginalize it [Muslim Brotherhood] abroad” and the division became public in June 2009 when the Brotherhood publicly lashed out at the external parts of the Damascus Declaration for Democratic National Change, which MJD is a part of.

A cable from 2006 reveals that the U.S. had difficulty in finding Syrian opposition forces willing to take the money, fearing arrest or death at the hands of the Assad regime. It said that “no bona fide opposition member will be courageous enough to accept funding.” In September 2009, Syrian intelligence is documented as having interrogated political prisoners about the Middle East Partnership Initiative. One cable from June 2009 questioned whether the MJD is a “leaky boat,” saying its members had discussed sensitive matters on open lines and that “[r]eporting in other channels suggest the Syrian [Mukhabarat] may have already penetrated the MJD and is using MJD contacts to track U.S. democracy programming.”