Egypt’s Morsi Calls for No-Fly Zone over Syria: A step toward regional Sunni-Shiite War?

Egypt’s President, Muhammad Morsi, called Saturday for a no-fly zone over Syria authorized by the UN Security Council. At the same time, he cut off diplomatic relations with Syria.

It was the Arab League demand for a no-fly zone that led to the UNSC resolution on Libya and hence to the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime, and one question is whether Morsi’s change of position presages a new such campaign by the Arab League, which has already sided with Syria’s rebels.

Morsi’s step was intended to repair relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, from which he stems but which had been unhappy with his overtures to Iran and lack of firm position on Syria. (The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, a separate branch, has been most upset at him).

It also plays to the movement of Sunni and Wahhabi clerics to call for jihad against the Syrian regime, especially now that Shiite Iran and the Shiite Hizbullah have become so central to the fighting against the mostly Sunni rebels. Egyptian Sunni clerics have downplayed the dangers of al-Qaeda-linked groups coming to the fore in northern Syria, seeing them as much less dangerous than Hizbullah. The growing Sunni clerical chorus against Hizbullah and Shiite Islam is an abandonment of the “taqrib” or rapprochement movement of earlier times, which sought Sunni-Shiite ecumenism. Many Sunni fundamentalists admired the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran and the stance of Hizbullah against Israel in 2006. But now, in 2013, we are seeing the kind of anti-Shiite fatwas and calls for holy war by Sunni authorities that were typical of the 1500s, when Iran first turned Shiite under the Safavids and militarily challenged the Ottoman and other Sunni powers.

The sectarian polarization cannot be confined to Syria. The call by Muslim Brotherhood cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, based in Doha, for Sunnis to go fight Hizbullah in Syria has been blamed by Iraqi Shiites for the uptick in attacks on their community by Sunni guerrillas in Iraq.

Morsi’s speech is also intended to deflect attention from his domestic woes. He is under severe pressure from the Egyptian youth movement, the left, and the secular right. The youth movement has launched a “Rebellion” movement, a petition drive to gather 15 million signatures for Morsi to call early presidential elections, which will culminate in nationwide demonstrations against the president on June 30. In part, the objection is to his authoritarian ruling style, in part to his inability to improve the economy. Morsi’s attempt to establish an interim legislature by appointing members to the senate (Majlis al-Shura) has also been struck down by the courts, leaving him as singular leader without a firm separation of powers, and so hurting his legitimacy. Parliamentary elections may be held in the fall.

Aljazeera English has video:

14 Responses

  1. Just read the same news and had the same thought. It’s a wonderful thing we’ve gotten into, supporting opposition so internally opposed that it couldn’t even get up a set of representatives for negotiations.

    If there’s to be a no-fly zone, Turkey has had practice patrolling the skies over Syria. I believe they even found their plane.

  2. A secular perspective entirely; there’s been war in that region between Shia and Sunni for a very long time. And while there is clear hatred and rancor between the clerics of Saudi Arabia and Iran, it is a bit biased to suggest that it all emanates from the Saudi side. In the early 1980s, Iranian jets used to land in Saudi Arabia and rev their engines watching the Saudis try to man planes to chase them back across the Arabian/Persia Sea. This prompted the sale of Awacs and an air defense system to the Saudis by America. There’s been enough provocation and blame to go around and any suggestion that the Wahabis are to blame is a bit misleading. The overwhelming majority of Sunni Muslims from around the world support the removal of the Ass(ad). Most would prefer he leave and transition leadership peacefully, but he has no intention of doing so and never has. His overtures and ultimate solicitation of Hezbollah is proof positive. He will do anything to retain his power, so he can hand it down to the next generation of screwed-up Ass(ad)es. Instead of focusing your ire on Morsi, you would get far more traction in truth if you focused on the real problem in Syria…a tyrannical leader who would see his people covered in blood and their land obliterated than to yield power. And it is not just any kind of power. It is the kind of power that gave rise to nations like America. It is absolute power and absolute power corrupts absolutely…

    • The sectarian problem emanates most certainly from Salafi propaganda, which vilifies Shias not for their foreign policy choices but for what they are. I find it hard to see how you can excuse this, as it is plainly obvious to anyone who has followed the region for any length of time.

      Does your personal distaste for Shias color your understanding of the Syria question? We have seen dreadful crimes from the government side, but perhaps we should support the side that chews out human organs and kills children for blasphemy.

  3. Morsi is a US puppet, what do you expect. Egyptian told him go to hell US puppet.

  4. Morsi has shown himself to be simultaneously authoritarian, unreliable, and feckless. Not that I think the US should make any decisions on Syria based upon Morsi’s pronouncements, but in calling for a “no-fly” zone over Syria, I would be interested in what Morsi plans to ante-up in support of such a mission? I suspect Morsi would stand by and let others carry the water.

  5. All we heard on the Sunday morning ‘talk’ programs was Israel blah blah blah. The creepy Lindsey Graham was all serious and beholden to biblical prophesies as a foreign policy.

  6. Egypt’s economic crisis also has its foreign policy dimensions.

    In particular, the need for IMF support, its loans from Qatar, and its need to placate U.S. policy hawks, all factor into the picture.

    The U.S. is likely playing a powerful role in ensuring that Egypt satisfies many different interests.

    link to washingtoninstitute.org

  7. Sheikh Muhammad al-Arifi – one the panelists visible on the Middle East Online article link provided by Dr. Cole – recently gave a khutbah (sermon) on the historical and Islamic importance of Syria on June 14, 2013:
    link to youtube.com

  8. This is one of my fears for the Pakistani Shia minority, bracing for more attacks by sectarian Wahhabi/Salafi/Deoband/Sunni extremists.

    You’ll see their usual insane anti-Shia bigoted polemics online currently incorporating revenge for Syria, despite the fact the sectarian cleansing program run by Sunni extremists in Pak has been running for decades based on one hateful excuse or another, well before this catastrophe.

  9. Go for it, Morsi!

    The Saudis have a very good air force, too. The Qataris and Kuwaitis sport some spiffy American-made aircraft. Not to mention the Turks.

    You go on with your bad self.

  10. Nothing good can come of this.

    But here’s my question: Is Morsi’s statement just for show? Seems that only the US and NATO is capable of enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria. I don’t suppose he’s going to ask Israel to do the work :)

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