Egypt's call for 'ethical duty' in Syria

The Middle East is truly a new place when an elected Muslim leader of Egypt speaks out in Iran on the need for the world to help free Syria. Such moral stands can have real results.

Mehr News Agency/AP Photo
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, right, attends a summit of the Nonaligned Movement with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, center, and Iranian chief of Expediency Council, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, left, in Tehran, Iran, on Thursday.

Can moral force change world events? When it comes to ending the massacres in Syria and liberating its people, one would hope so.

A sign of that force playing out for Syria came Thursday in a startling moment. The newly elected leader of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi, spoke of the world’s “ethical duty” to side with the Syrian people against an oppressive regime. His were not idle words.

Mr. Morsi, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was speaking at the meeting of the “nonaligned” nations – many of whom are ruled by dictators – in Iran, which is also ruled by a de facto dictatorship. As the prime backer of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, Iran’s clerical autocrats could not help but note that the leader of Egypt, which was liberated last year, was asserting the moral momentum toward democracy in the region.

“Our hearts are bleeding for the Syrian crisis,” Morsi said. “We have to be totally aware that this bloodshed will not stop if we do not actively intervene.”

He was not alone in challenging the Non-Aligned Movement and others to act. India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, asked the assembly body of leaders to take a stand on Syria based on “universally accepted principles.”

And last week, the new French president, François Hollande, spoke of the massacres of women and children in Syria as “unbearable for the conscience of humanity.” He also took a courageous step by saying France would officially recognize a provisional government of Syrian opposition leaders “once it is formed.”

The French offer was a helpful nudge for the democratic opposition to unite. Egypt has tried to bring the various factions together. And the United States is training opposition leaders how to run a local government in areas of Syria they now control.

As more world leaders speak out in moral terms about Syria, it will help silence the lies by Mr. Assad and his supporters. Iran, for example, claims that terrorists backed by the US are behind the rebellion. Russia and China, too, find it difficult to explain events in Syria as anything other than a mass movement for freedom.

Egypt and Turkey now stand as the prime moral agents in the region for ending Syria’s civil war and putting together a transitional government. The two nations, ruled by elected Muslim leaders, must set aside any historical rivalry for strategic influence and help create a Syrian democracy.

The Egyptian president has some clout to persuade the United Nations Security Council to act in ousting Assad. Turkey is already seeking UN help in setting up a “no-fly zone” in Syria to safeguard the tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the violence.

With more than 20,000 Syrians killed over 18 months in this pro-democracy rebellion, leaders like Morsi are compelled to translate moral concern into action. Taking his message to Iran took courage. But seeing what freedom has done so far for Egypt, he can’t help but seek the same for Syrians.

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