During a conference supporting the Syrian uprising last Saturday June 16 in Cairo, President Mohamed Morsi publicly announced Egypt would cut all diplomatic ties with Syria.
In a speech delivered on live television and in front of over 200,000 supporters packed into Cairo Stadium, Morsi promised the Syrian opposition the support of the Egyptian army and people in the country’s ongoing uprising.
The Atlantic Council’s Sarah Grebowski accurately described the speech as a ‘cheap win’ for Morsi. Severing ties with Syria is a relatively risk-free diplomatic move, which both pleases foreign money-lenders, especially in the Gulf, and satisfies domestic calls for action and, in some cases, jihad, against the Assad regime’s use of violence against Syrian citizens.
Morsi announced the recall of Egypt’s diplomatic mission from Damascus and ordered the Syrian embassy in Cairo to be closed, complicating the situation for hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Egypt. Morsi also called for a no-fly zone over Syria while simultaneously denouncing foreign intervention in the crisis.
Morsi framed the conflict as a Sunni-Shia issue, and singled out Hezbollah for inciting hatred; this sectarian language was met with much crowd approval. According to Grebowski’s assessment, “Cutting ties with Syria is also likely to increase Morsi’s popularity among his broader Islamist constituency by tapping into a reservoir of resentment against Syria’s murderous regime and playing to sectarian Sunni-Shiite divisions that resonate with a large portion of the population.”
The setting of Morsi’s speech is significant. In a crowded stadium, filled to the brim with supporters, the government wanted to project to the world and to Egypt that many Egyptians stand with Morsi.
Meanwhile, the Tamarod (“Rebel”) campaign is organizing mass demonstrations on June 30, the one-year marker for Morsi’s presidency. On Wednesday, a campaign official declared they had collected their target of 15 million signatures from citizens withdrawing confidence from the President.
Undoubtedly, the visual spectacle at the stadium was intended to project legitimacy in the face of Tamarod’s claims of widespread discontent. Morsi’s speech is a clear indication of the President’s awareness about the potential for serious domestic unrest in the coming weeks and his blatant appeal for support.