President keeps the pressure on Damascus
The anti-Assad line expressed by Mursi in Tehran last week is reiterated at the Arab League in unequivocal terms, reports Dina Ezzat
"Syria, Syria, Syria: You have to do something; it is all up to you and we are here to support you," said President Mohamed Mursi Wednesday morning.
Mursi's statement was made before the opening session of the Arab League Foreign Ministers Council, at the Cairo headquarters of the pan-Arab organisation.
The statement was received with applause from Arab League Secretary-General Nabil El-Arabi and most participating Arab delegations.
Mursi's speech was the first by an Egyptian head of state at the Arab League since ousted President Hosni Mubarak attended the inauguration of a meeting on Iraqi reconciliation seven years ago. Unlike the mild statements Mubarak made then, Mursi's presence and language were uncompromising -- especially on Syria.
"I am telling the ruling regime in Syria that your rule shall not last for long. The Syrian people have said their word, and it is the Syrian people that will have the upper hand," Mursi said.
"I would advise you to refrain from listening to those who are telling you that your rule can persist. I urge you to take the right decision now and not later when it will be too late. You need to part with arrogance and to bow to reality. The Syrian people no longer wants you," he added, addressing -- though he was not present -- Bashar Al-Assad directly.
The president lamented the endless bloodshed suffered by the Syrian people every day, and said that Arab failure to act in support of the Syrian people makes the whole Arab nation responsible for their ordeal.
Mursi's statements came less than a week after harshly criticising the Syrian regime at the opening session of the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran. He went as far as equating the Syrian regime with the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Mursi's attack elicited a pointed response by a Syrian diplomat who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly. "Mursi is going the extra mile to appease the Americans. What he is saying is meant to pave the way for wide Arab support for a diplomatic and maybe even military intervention that would be led by the US against Syria," he said.
The Syrian diplomat added that the "attack" is in line with "US directives sent to Cairo through its new Arab ally in Doha". "It is such a shame that Egypt has become a follower of Qatar," he said.
The emir of Qatar is the only head of state to have visited Mursi, mid-August, since he was sworn into office 30 June. Mursi and his Qatari counterpart have met twice since, both on the fringes of an extraordinary summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference in Mecca, late August, and in Tehran last week.
A presidential aide who spoke to the Weekly denies that the position adopted by Mursi against Syria is the outcome of Egyptian-Qatari diplomatic coordination. "It is a function of the fact that we really see that this regime [in Damascus] has no chance to stay in power."
Meanwhile, the recently assigned UN-Arab League envoy on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, is expected in Cairo in a few days ahead of beginning his mission in the wake of the failure of his predecessor, Kofi Annan.
According to Arab -- including Syrian -- diplomats, Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister and an acclaimed international diplomat, has little chance to make a breakthrough in the current crisis in Syria, which started with pro-reform demonstrations in March 2011 and which met a severe military response.
The Syrian opposition, divided as it is, agrees on one thing: Al-Assad has to go. The Syrian regime, however, is not willing to talk about a power transition from Al-Assad and is fighting to survive with some democratic reforms.
Also hindering Brahimi is division within the UN Security Council, with Russia and China still determined to support the Al-Assad regime.
In his speech, Mursi expressed faith in Brahimi.
As Mursi was exiting the Arab League Wednesday, demonstrators gathering not far from the Tahrir Square headquarters of the Arab organisation were shouting: "Down, down with Al-Assad, the butcher of the Syrian people!"
On Tuesday evening, Syrian and sympathetic Egyptian and Arab demonstrators attempted to attack the Syrian embassy in Cairo. Egyptian security forces defended the premises with dozens injured on both sides.