Egypt cuts relations with Syrian government
CAIRO • Egypt's Islamist president announced Saturday that he was cutting off diplomatic relations with Syria and closing Damascus' embassy in Cairo, decisions made amid growing calls from hard-line Sunni clerics in Egypt and elsewhere to launch a "holy war" against Syria's embattled regime.
Mohammed Morsi told thousands of supporters at a rally in Cairo that his government was also withdrawing the Egyptian charge d'affaires from Damascus. He called on Lebanon's Hezbollah to leave Syria, where the Iranian-backed Shiite militant group has been fighting alongside troops loyal to embattled President Bashar Assad against the mostly Sunni rebels.
"Hezbollah must leave Syria. This is serious talk: There is no business or place for Hezbollah in Syria," said Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president.
Morsi's address, particularly his call on Hezbollah to leave Syria, and the fiery rhetoric used by well-known Muslim clerics this weekend point to the increasing perception of the Syrian conflict as sectarian. At least 93,000 people have been killed since turmoil there began more than two years ago.
The rally that Morsi addressed on Saturday was called for by hardline Islamists loyal to the Egyptian president to show solidarity with the people of Syria. However, Morsi also used the occasion to warn his opponents at home against the use of violence in mass protests planned for June 30, the anniversary of his assumption to power.
Morsi repeated the allegation that Egyptians loyal to the now-ousted regime of autocrat Hosni Mubarak were behind the planned protests and that they were working against the January 2011 uprising that toppled Mubarak.
"Some who are delusionary want to pounce on the January revolution and think that they can undermine the stability that is growing daily or undermine the resolve that people have clearly forged with their will," said Morsi.
Morsi's government is widely thought to have failed to tackle any of the seemingly endless problems facing the country, from power cuts and surging crime to unemployment, steep price rises and fuel shortages. The declared aim of the June 30 protests is to force Morsi out and hold early presidential elections.
Morsi's allies say the protests have no legal basis and amount to a coup against his legitimate rule. They have been calling on opposition leaders to enter a national political dialogue to resolve the crisis, but the opposition has turned down the offer, claiming that previous rounds of dialogue did not yield results.
Spearheading the opposition to Morsi's rule now is a youth protest movement called Tamarod, or rebel, which claims to have collected millions of signatures of Egyptians who want Morsi to step down. Organizers say they aim to collect the signatures of more people than those who voted for Morsi in the June 2012 election.