Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Last Thursday, two days before he announced the decision to sever relations with the Assad regime, Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi held a meeting with 19 Islamist scholars led by Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi. They were participating in a conference that took place in Cairo hours before the meeting.
Three members of this delegation of Islamist scholars told Asharq Al-Awsat that President Mursi came under pressure from the guests, especially Qaradawi. They urged Mursi to take strong measures against Assad’s regime. Mursi responded by discussing the results of his talks with the US, Russia and Iran regarding Syria, and expressed his anger at some Gulf states.
The Egyptian president told the delegation that some Gulf states were isolating him and refusing to work with him. Some, he added, were even working against him.
Sources who asked not to be identified told Asharq Al-Awsat that the meeting with the president lasted for 90 minutes, and that the president only listened to nine members of the delegation. The sources added that Qaradawi told Mursi it was important for Egypt to stand with the Syrian people. He called on him to sever diplomatic relations with Damascus, and to provide more assistance to the revolution.
Other members of the delegation talked to Mursi about Iran’s role in Syria and the dangers the Iranian agenda posed to the region. They also asked Mursi to ban Iranian ships from sailing through the Suez Canal because “they carried arms to the Syrian regime.” Mursi, however, said reports about arms going through the Suez to Syria were incorrect.
The sources said that when Sabah Al-Mousawi, an Iranian Sunni, told Mursi that “a president who has Islamic leanings cannot ignore 20 million Sunnis living in Iran,” Mursi described Iranian policies in the region as “malicious.”
The president allayed fears expressed by some members of the delegation about Iranian plans to spread Shi’ism in Egypt. He said this was unfounded, and that if the Iranian chargé d’affaires had such plans, he was under control. He added that “everything that is said on the subject is nothing more than scaremongering.”
The sources added that Mursi asked the Muslim Scholars to “speak to Arab leaders to enable him to make a decision on Syria … because I cannot work individually.”
The sources said Mursi has spoken with other world leaders about the Syrian crisis. One mentioned a three-and-a-half-hour meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin, in which Putin asked Mursi “if the Americans went into Syria, who would guarantee our interests. Would you guarantee our interests?” Putin also told Mursi that if Arabs guaranteed Russia’s interests in Syria, they would get Russia on their side.
During a conference attended by 20,000 of his supporters on Saturday, President Mursi decided to sever relations with the Syrian regime. He called on the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over Syria and for Hezbollah to leave the country. He said: “We have decided today to sever all relations with the current Syrian regime, close the Syrian regime’s embassy in Cairo, and recall the Egyptian chargé d’affaires from Damascus.”
Mursi added: “Hezbollah must leave Syria. This is serious…. There is no place for Hezbollah in Syria; we stand against Hezbollah and its aggression against the Syrian people.”
It was later revealed by the Egyptian presidency that Egypt was holding talks with Arab and Muslim states about holding an emergency summit in support of the Syrian people.