Egypt’s Morsi denounces Syria regime, defying summit host Iran

August 31, 2012
By Ramin Mostaghim and Reem Abdellatif, Los Angeles TimesTEHRAN — Egypt’s new president rankled his hosts but won plaudits elsewhere Thursday when he condemned the Iran-backed government of Syrian President Bashar Assad as an “oppressive regime,” sparking a walkout by Assad government officials at a summit of nonaligned nations.

“We express our solidarity with the struggle of the Syrian people against an oppressive regime that has lost legitimacy,” Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi told the assembled delegates at a conference hall in the Iranian capital. “It is not only an ethical duty but a political and strategic necessity.”

Morsi’s impassioned plea represented a diplomatic humiliation for Tehran, which had touted his presence as a diplomatic coup, the first visit by an Egyptian leader here since the Islamic Revolution overthrew the U.S.-backed Iranian shah in 1979.

But instead of toeing Tehran’s line on the delicate issue of Syria or sidestepping the incendiary topic, Morsi acted like the guest who spoiled the party, making an emotional case for the ouster of Assad, Iran’s closest Arab ally.

“The blood of the Syrian people is on our necks, and it will not stop unless there is an intervention by all of us,” Morsi said while calling for a transition to a representative government in Syria, where the Assad family has ruled for more than 40 years.

Morsi left no doubt that he views the 17-month-old Syrian rebellion as a popular uprising against a repressive dictatorship.

The infuriated Syrian delegation, led by Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, walked out of the conference hall in protest. Moallem later labeled Morsi’s remarks “an interference in Syria’s internal affairs” and an “instigation for continuing the shedding of … Syrian blood,” according to Syria’s official news service.

There was no immediate official reaction from Iran, where President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warmly embraced Morsi upon his arrival in Tehran.

The Syrian government is a key member of the Iran-proclaimed “axis of resistance” against the United States and Israel.

Morsi’s comments were a direct contradiction of Tehran’s oft-stated view that Assad’s rule is being undercut by “terrorists” backed by the United States and other foreign powers hostile to Iran.

The rebellion of Syria’s largely Sunni Muslim population against Assad’s minority Alawite-led regime has drawn broad sympathy in the Arab world, where Sunnis predominate.

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