Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi pressed the plight of Palestinians and criticized Syria’s leaders, as fellow Muslim leaders called for unity at an Islamic summit grouping nations often at loggerheads.
Mursi’s calls, echoed by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and Iraq’s prime minister, marked a renewed push by Egypt’s Islamist president to regain international influence for his nation after the 2011 uprising that ousted his predecessor. The summit also marked a historic visit by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who offered aid to cash-strapped Egypt.
“Egypt is clearly and firmly committed to supporting the Palestinian people until they gain their freedom in an independent state,” Mursi said. “The international community has a responsibility to stop settlement activity on Palestinian land, which stabs the peace process in the heart,” he said, referring to Israeli settlements.
The Egyptian leader has been facing mounting domestic pressures, with secularist and youth-activist opponents claiming he and his Muslim Brotherhood backers have hijacked the revolt against Hosni Mubarak. Near daily protests have erupted into violent clashes that have battered the economy, leaving it growing for the past two years at its slowest pace in two decades. Foreign reserves have fallen by 62 percent, to $13.6 billion, since the uprising.
Mursi told Muslim leaders the country was working to build a new era based on justice, and said the Islamic world must step up and develop concrete mechanisms for growth to boost its lacklustre standing in the global economy.
The fractious political issues that have plagued the Arab and Muslim world were again on show at the two-day summit of Muslim nations’ leaders.
Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz said the international community must assume its responsibility to stop the suffering of the Syrian people while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose party controls the West Bank, said his people needed action, not words to resolve their status. Palestinians wouldn’t accept visits or policies that undermine unity efforts, he said in a reference to attempts by some leaders to score political points with visits to the Gaza Strip.
Minutes earlier, Abbas tripped up while thanking Mursi, referring to him as “Mohamed Hosni” -- the first names of the ousted Egyptian president -- before quickly correcting himself.
Mursi and other leaders spoke out harshly against the violence in Syria, which is mired in a civil war.
“Our hearts continue to bleed over what’s happening in Syria,” he said. The “Syrian regime should learn the lessons of history” that tell of how “people remain” while those who put their interest first fall, he said.
Egypt, Turkey and Iran were to hold a meeting today to discuss the situation in Syria, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported. Egypt had launched an initiative including Iran, whose support for the government of Bashar al-Assad has outraged many Arab nations.
Ahmadinejad received a public rebuke yesterday from the top cleric at al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world’s preeminent religious institution, over Syria and what Arabs say is Iran’s interference in Sunni Muslim nations’ affairs. During his trip to the institution, he was greeted by a group of ultraconservative Salafis who raised their shoes at him in a sign of contempt while another man tried and failed to thump him with his footwear outside a mosque.
The incidents and the cleric’s comments, which also focused on centuries-old rifts between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, cast a pall on Ahmadinejad’s efforts to thaw what have been frosty relations between Iran and Egypt for more than 30 years.
The Iranian president offered to provide Egypt with a cash lifeline, the state-run Al-Ahram reported today. He also said that through closer cooperation and relations the two nations could fare better against outside pressure, it said.
The leaders stressed the need to combat Islamophobia, with Saudi Arabia calling on the United Nations to issue a declaration condemning nations that insult religions and Mursi saying the Islamic world shouldered some of the blame.
Chronic rifts that have befuddled efforts to forge a broader Muslim consensus reappeared at the summit which had begun days earlier with a ministerial gathering pressed the need to combat Islamophobia, the again appeared.
Senegal’s president, Macky Sall, gave a nod to France for its military intervention in Mali as part of a push to rout Islamist militants.