Egypt backs no-fly zone over Syria after calls for ‘Holy War’

BY: MICHAEL HUGHES

Egypt's President Morsi at a "support for Syria" rally.
Egypt’s President Morsi at a “support for Syria” rally.

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President Mohamed Morsi urged the international community to enforce a no-fly zone over Syriaon Saturday just twenty-four hours after the Muslim Brotherhood called for a jihad against the Assad regime and its Shi’ite allies.

According to Egypt’s Ahram Online Morsi made his announcement in front of 20,000 spectators in Cairo at a Sunni Islamist-organized conference which included more than 70 religious organizations from across the Arab world.

Morsi also said Egypt had cut all diplomatic ties with Damascus while declaring that “the Egyptian people and army are supporting the Syrian uprising.”

The Egyptian President stressed that fighters from Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shi’ite militant group, must leave Syria at once, while claiming that “a campaign of extermination and planned ethnic cleansing” was being fueled by certain regional and international states, a none-too-veiled reference to Iran.

The outrage in Egypt comes on the heels of recent advances made by Hezbollah fighters and the Syrian army against the anti-regime rebels, including the capture of the strategic town of Qusayr.

Morsi’s accusations contrast sharply with attempts to develop a closer relationship with the clerics in Iran, including a historic visit to Tehran less than a year ago.

During the conference in Cairo Islamic clerics urged “jihad with mind, money, weapons – all forms of jihad”, according to Reuters, signaling that it was time to take up arms against the Syrian regime. In fact, as high-profile Brotherhood-linked preacher Youssef al-Qaradawi called for holy war, the Morsi administration indicated it would not stop jihadists from pouring into Syria.

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Morsi’s call to jihad could be construed as a convenient gambit to divert attention from Egypt’s struggling economy, which has been the source of persistent social unrest.

Morsi’s comments strike some analysts as quite timely, given the rumors circulating in Washington on Friday that the White House was considering “a limited no-fly zone over parts of Syria.” Pentagon officials have been reticent to take military action, arguing that Assad’s Russian-made anti-aircraft weapons would make such a mission considerably more lethal than the Libyan intervention.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday warned the U.S. and its allies that imposing a no-fly zone over Syria would constitute a flagrant violation of international law.

The situation has made strange bedfellows, with GOP Senator John McCain and Egypt’s Islamists all agreeing that the world community needs to arm the rebels and impose a no-fly zone, primarily in an effort to break the Iranian-Hezbollah-Syrian axis.

Yet McCain and his newfound allies will likely diverge on which factions to arm. McCain has been banging the drum for the U.S. to provide heavy weaponry to moderate groups like the Free Syrian Army. In contrast, reactionaries within Egypt would likely be more inclined to support the Al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra front, which the U.S. has designated as a terrorist organization.

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