By Manar Mohsen
President Mohamed Morsi voiced unfaltering support for the Syrian uprising against the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad in a speech on Saturday. He accused the Syrian regime of subjecting its people to “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” in his vow to provide financial aid and moral support to the Syrian rebels.
“We hear your call, Syria,” said President Morsi at the start of his speech. The president condemned Al-Assad’s regime for using foreign aid against its own people and pledged his commitment to “the liberation of the Syrian population.”
“We stand strong by the Syrian people against this regime that kills its people and rapes its women […] Syria’s women, clerics, children, youth and national infrastructure are in danger of destruction when they are innocent, when all they wanted to be ruled by someone of their choice,” said President Morsi. He added that there is no place for the current regime in the future of Syria.
His speech announced six new policies regarding Syria, the boldest of which is the severing of ties with the Syrian regime.
“Today we have decided to completely severe ties with Syria. Today we have decided to close the Syrian embassy in Cairo and to withdraw our mission from Damascus,” he said.
President Morsi said he would provide financial aid to the Syrian rebels. He expressed his plans to work with other countries, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and the Red Crescent, in cooperation with civil society organisations, to coordinate Egypt’s assistance to the rebels in Syria and Syrian refugees residing in Egypt.
Although he expressed the government’s rejection of political or military interference in the situation of Syria by the west, President Morsi called on the international community to implement a no-fly zone over the conflicted country.
“I ask the international community, and I will be with them in every step, that we do not allow a recreation of oppressive regimes again, and that we do not delay in implementing a no-fly zone over Syrian airspace in accordance with a United Nations security council decision,” he said.
He justified this interference in Syria’s domestic affairs by claiming that it was the Syrian people who requested Egypt to come to their aid. “We will not let them down,” he said.
President Morsi strongly condemned the military interference of the Lebanese group Hezbollah in Syria, which has joined the battlefield alongside Al-Assad’s forces earlier this year.
“We had supported Hezbollah during the 2006 Lebanon war [against Israel], but today, we will stand firmly against Hezbollah’s aggression in Syria.”
The speech was delivered in the Cairo Stadium as part of the National Conference for the Support of the Syrian Revolution. High-level Muslim Brotherhood officials and Sunni clerics were seated in the front rows of the audience.
Tens of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters packed the Stadium to hear the president’s speech, a large number of whom were reportedly bused in from various governorates. The flag of the Free Syrian Army waved alongside that of Egypt as the crowds chanted against Al-Assad’s regime.
Two of the chants, “We will bring al-Assad to the ground” and “Sunni blood is not cheap,” echoed the calls for jihad in Syria recently voiced by Egyptian and Saudi Islamists.
Sunni calls for jihad in Syria
Islamic clerics who took the podium before President Morsi warned the Egyptian leader in their speeches of the threat of Shi’ia Muslims, who one cleric equated with “infidels”, saying: “Jihad is a duty of offering your self, blood and money, according to your own capability, for all Muslims.”
On Friday, thousands of Islamists rallied in support of calls by Sunni Arab clerics for a holy war against Al-Assad’s government. The rally followed a Friday sermon by Saudi preacher Mohamed Al-Arifi, who summoned Muslims for “jihad in the cause of Allah in Syria […] in every possible way” from the Cairo mosque.
On Thursday, the representatives of leading Sunni Arab groups convened in Cairo as part of a conference organised by the Coordinating Council of Muslim Organisations. The participants of the conference called for jihad against the Syrian regime, a move that was endorsed by the Muslim Brotherhood.
“We must undertake jihad to help our brothers in Syria by sending them money and arms, and providing all aid to save the Syrian people from this sectarian regime,” the participants said in a statement at the conference on Friday.
They accused Al-Assad’s regime and its Shi’a allies Iran and Hezbollah for carrying out a “flagrant aggression [that is] a declaration of war against Islam and Muslims.”
Syria: a proxy war
The Syrian conflict has inflamed tensions between Shi’a and Sunni Muslims in the wider Middle East, while at the same time developing into a regional proxy war between Hezbollah and Iran, with support from Russia, on one side, and the west and Sunni Arab countries on the other.
On Friday, Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah vowed that they would keep fighting in Syria after the United States agreed to arm Syrian rebels. US President Barack Obama authorised lethal aid to rebels for the first time on Thursday, reasoning that the Al-Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons was “a red line.”
“We will be where we should be. We will continue to bear the responsibility we took upon ourselves […] We leave the details to the requirements of the battlefield,” said Nassrallah in a speech where he announced the group’s “calculated” decision to defend the Syrian regime.
In a televised interview on Al-Arabiya TV, General Salim Idris of the Free Syrian Army said that US aid will “surely reflect positively on the rebels’ moral, which is high despite attempts by the regime, Hezbollah and Iran.”
Russia, which is the main arms supplier to the Al-Assad regime, was quick to condemn the US decision to arm the rebel army, claiming that it risks escalating violence in the region. According to Reuters, Russia sold nearly $1bn worth of arms, including missile systems, to the Al-Assad regime in 2011.
On Saturday, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) said it is currently preparing to deliver arms to the Free Syrian Army through Turkey and Jordan.
Hezbollah fighters have joined Al-Assad’s forces on the battlefield since May. The Lebanese group’s involvement is considered a game-changer by some after it helped Al-Assad’s troops recapture the strategic town of Qusayer in central Homs province on 5 June.
Since then, pro-government forces have attempted to overrun other areas in the Homs province and the northern city of Aleppo. It is reported that Iraqi Shi’a have traveled to Syria to join the ranks alongside Hezbollah.
In May, Al-Assad claimed that militants from 29 different countries are fighting against his government in different parts of the country.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other neighbouring countries began supplying the Syrian rebels with arms since last year.
The Syrian uprising, which erupted in March 2011, has so far claimed the lives of an estimated 93,000 people.