New Egyptian government to reevaluate Syria, Iran ties

New Egyptian government to reevaluate Syria, Iran ties

Foreign minister rejects Islamists’ calls for Jihad, but stresses his country still supports overthrowing Assad regime

Egyptian Salafis shout slogans against Syrian President Bashar Assad as one waves a Syrian revolutionary flag during a rally after the Friday prayers at Amr Ibn Al As mosque, in Cairo, Egypt, on Friday, June 14, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Amr Nabil)
Egyptian Salafis shout slogans against Syrian President Bashar Assad as one waves a Syrian revolutionary flag during a rally after the Friday prayers at Amr Ibn Al As mosque, in Cairo, Egypt, on Friday, June 14, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Amr Nabil)

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt is reevaluating its relationship with Syria following the military’s ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, the country’s foreign minister said Saturday.

In his first public comments since becoming Egypt’s top diplomat, Nabil Fahmy said Cairo continues to support the Syrian uprising but that Egypt has no intention of supporting a jihad — or holy war — in Syria.

“Everything will be re-evaluated,” Fahmy told reporters in Cairo.

Fahmy’s comments signaled a shift from Morsi’s approach. The former president had made supporting the Syrian opposition in its fight against President Bashar Assad a cornerstone of his foreign policy. Cairo also is the official headquarters of the main Western-backed Syrian opposition group.

Just weeks before Morsi was deposed on July 3, a senior presidential aide said authorities would not prevent Egyptians from traveling to Syria to join the rebel cause.

Morsi also attended a rally on June 15 in which hard-line clerics called on Sunni Muslims to join the fight in Syria. Speaking at the rally, Morsi announced he was severing diplomatic ties with Damascus.

Fahmy said Egypt is seeking a political solution to the three-year crisis in Syria, which has killed more than 90,000 people, according to the United Nations.

“Egypt supports the (Syrian) revolution and the Syrian people’s right to live in dignity within the framework of a democratic system and we will work to achieve that goal,” he said.

While in office, Morsi launched an initiative with the aim of finding a regional political solution.

Since Morsi’s ouster, his critics have accused Syrians living in Egypt of participating in the protests calling for him to be reinstated. Television networks critical of Morsi aired allegations that his Muslim Brotherhood backers were paying Syrian refugees to take part in pro-Morsi protests.

Cairo’s new military-backed interim government swiftly imposed travel restrictions on Syrians, who for decades were able to enter Egypt without a visa.

The main Syrian opposition coalition has criticized the shift toward those seeking refuge in Egypt from the war, calling on authorities to ensure that “Syrian people living in Egypt, under such dire circumstances, are not used to achieve certain political ends.”

The arrest of at least six Syrians accused of taking part in violent street clashes further fanned the flames.

Clashes have erupted into violence several times since Morsi’s ouster, killing more than 60 people. The most recent incident occurred Friday night in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura when unidentified assailants opened fire at a Muslim Brotherhood-led march, sparking a melee that killed three female protesters, authorities said.

Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi and Vice President Mohammed ElBaradei condemned the incident in separate posts on Twitter, vowing to bring the perpetrators to justice.

El-Beblawi described it as “a reprehensible crime that shames humanity.” ElBaradei asked: “When will we learn that violence aggravates problems and does not solve them?”

No arrests in the shooting had been announced Saturday. Senior health ministry official Khaled el-Khatib said that doctors were examining the bodies of the slain protesters Saturday.

The Brotherhood identified the victims and said they ranged in age from 20 to 45 years old. The group says two were killed by gunshot and one died after suffocating on tear gas.

The Brotherhood said the assault “sheds light on the bloody nature of dictatorship and the police state under a military coup.” The group had called for Friday’s protests to demand Morsi be reinstated and to increase pressure on the new leadership.

Among the policy changes in post-coup Egypt, the new foreign minister said Cairo is also “seriously assessing” its relations with the Syrian regime’s key regional backer Iran. Morsi moved to improve diplomatic ties with Iran when he reached out to Tehran in a bilateral deal to promote tourism and improve relations between the two countries.

“We are neither enemies nor allies with anybody,” Fahmy said of Cairo’s ties with other nations.

The foreign minister said Egypt is also looking at its relationship with Ethiopia and Turkey. Some Brotherhood officials have close business ties with Turkey and the country’s prime minister, wary of the pro-secular Turkish military’s intervention in politics, has condemned Morsi’s ouster as “unacceptable”.

The ministry’s spokesman Badr Abdel-Aaty said Saturday Egypt is “very concerned” that Ethiopia has not replied to requests to take part in technical consultations in Cairo over its construction of a Nile dam. The project could leave Egypt with a dangerous water shortage. Before his ouster, Morsi had vowed “all options are open” in dealing with the dam’s construction.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press

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