Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi assigned himself the heavyweight’s role in the Middle East on Wednesday, declaring in his first speech to the UN that the civil war raging in Syria is the “tragedy of the age” and must end.
In a wide-ranging address that touched on all major issues confronting the region, Morsi also decried Israeli settlement-building on territory Palestinians claim for a future state and condemned a film produced in the US that denigrates Islam’s Prophet Mohammed.
He urged all UN member nations to join in an effort to end what he called “the catastrophe in Syria” that pits the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against opposition forces trying to end 40 years of dictatorship. More than 30,000 have been killed in the conflict.
Morsi has called for al-Assad to step down and said Wednesday that “the bloodshed in Syria and the humanitarian crisis that has unfolded must be stopped.”
He then quickly inserted himself into the thorniest issues in the Middle East, demanding that the UN grant membership to the Palestinians, with or without a peace agreement with Israel. The Palestinians are expected to again ask for UN recognition and formally apply to the world body in November, after the US presidential election. US President Barack Obama said when the Palestinians sought recognition last year that Washington would block the move until there was a peace deal with Israel.
Meanwhile, the head of the Arab League called for the international community to criminalize blasphemy, warning that insults to religion pose a serious threat to global peace and security.
Nabil Elaraby’s comments to a special session of the UN Security Council put him at direct odds with the US and its Western allies, which are resolutely opposed to restrictions on freedom of expression. However, Elaraby said that if the West has criminalized acts that result in bodily harm, it must also criminalize acts that cause “psychological and spiritual harm.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at length about his vision for a new world order without the “hegemony of arrogance.”
Of Israel, he cited what he termed the “continued threat by the uncivilized Zionists to resort to military action against our great nation.”
The US delegation boycotted Ahmadinejad’s speech in response to the “paranoid theories and repulsive slurs against Israel” included in a separate address delivered by the Iranian president on Monday.
In his speech, Ahmadinejad did not refer to Iran’s nuclear program. Israel and Western nations contend that Tehran is using what it insists is a peaceful nuclear program as a cover for developing the ability to build atomic weapons.
Israel has threatened a military strike against Iranian nuclear installations, but Obama insists the issue can be solved through diplomacy.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was to set a “clear red line” on Iran’s controversial nuclear program in a speech to the General Assembly yesterday, an Israeli official said.
Also on Wednesday, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe accused the UN Security Council of wielding an “insatiable appetite for war” as he condemned NATO’s campaign that helped topple former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.
The 88-year-old told the General Assembly that NATO’s “military hegemony” in Libya showed how the alliance’s members are “inspired by the arrogant belief that they are the most powerful among us.”