Egypt's Morsi says time for change in Syria

Addressing the Arab League Wednesday, new Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi said four major Middle Eastern players will meet soon to discuss the situation in Syria.

Asmaa Waguih/REUTERS
Riot police stand guard while Syrian protesters hold anti-Assad placards in front of the Arab League headquarters in Cairo where a meeting of Arab foreign ministers is taking place September 5. The placards say, "We are on hunger strike for the sake of the Syrian children."

Egypt's president on Wednesday promised to put Cairo back at the heart of Arab affairs and made an impassioned appeal to Arab states to work to end the bloodshed in Syria, saying the time had come to change the Syrian government.

Making his first presidential address to the Arab League in Cairo, Mohamed Mursi also said a quartet of states - Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Egypt - would meet to discuss the Syrian crisis.

"The quartet which Egypt has called for will meet now," Mursi told Arab foreign ministers, though he did not give further details.

An Egyptian delegate said the president's comments meant the four states were talking about what action could be taken but that the formal formation of the quartet was still under discussion and that no date had been set for its representatives to meet.

Tehran has backed Syria's government but the three other states want President Bashar al-Assad to stand down.

Analysts said the group was unlikely to agree on how to handle the crisis but said the initiative was a sign of how determined the newly elected president was to put Egypt back at the centre of regional politics.

Mursi said the time had come in Syria for "change and not wasting time speaking of reform. This time has passed now. Now it is time for change."

"The Syrian regime must take into account the lessons of recent and ancient history," he said in the speech in which he also talked of the uprising in Egypt that unseated Hosni Mubarak and brought Mursi himself to power.


As Mursi was leaving the podium, the Islamist president briefly returned to the microphone to say: "Syria, Syria, this is the arena to do something", pointing to the ministers below him, and then again saying "Syria" before stepping away.

It was the second such appeal for action in a week by Mursi. At the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Iran on Aug. 30, Mursi referred to Tehran's ally as an "oppressive regime" and said it was an "ethical duty" to back rebels.

More than 20,000 people have been killed in Syria since initially peaceful protests against Assad erupted in March 2011. Tens of thousands more have fled across its borders to neighbouring states to escape the violence.

Nasser al-Kidwa, deputy to Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations-Arab League mediator on Syria, arrived in Cairo on Wednesday to join the talks with Arab ministers.

Brahimi, who is expected to visit Cairo on Sunday, has described his bid to broker peace as "nearly impossible" but Kidwa told reporters at Cairo airport that "we have not lost hope" despite the difficulties facing the mission.

Mursi, elected in June after Mubarak was ousted last year after 30 years in power, told ministers that Egypt and its people would "return to occupy their natural place at the heart of the Arab nation."

In his address, he called for Arabs to support the Palestinians against Israeli occupation and said Egypt was committed to help reconcile opposing Palestinian factions.

He also pledged to support Yemen, another Arab state where an uprising unseated an autocrat.

However, Mursi said Egypt would not "export the revolution", words he has used before and that are seen as a bid to reassure Gulf Arab states worried about the rise of Islamists in Egypt who fear unrest could spread to their monarchies.

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