Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Shiite allies were denounced by leading Sunni Arab voices on Friday, including Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood, which had reached out across Islam’s sectarian divide, but has now called for jihad.
“We must undertake jihad to help our brothers in Syria by sending them money and arms, and providing all aid to save the Syrian people from this sectarian regime,” they said in a statement at the end of a gathering in Cairo on Thursday.
Thousands of Islamists rallied in the Egyptian capital on Friday in support for the calls for holy war against the al-Assad regime.
The demonstration took place outside a Cairo mosque where Saudi preacher Mohammed al-Oreifi called in a sermon for a “jihad in the cause of Allah in Syria.”
Saudi Arabia, like Egypt, is an overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim country and Sunnis are the backbone of the revolt against al-Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Demonstrators shouted “there is no God but Allah, and Bashar is his enemy.”
People waved not only the Egyptian flag, but also the one adopted by the Syrian opposition.
The Brotherhood accused Shiites of being at the root of sectarian conflicts throughout history and threw its weight behind holy war — just months after a high-profile rapprochement with Iran, which backs al-Assad and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
They called the “flagrant aggression” of Iran and Hezbollah and their “sectarian allies” in Syria “a declaration of war against Islam and Muslims.”
“Throughout history, Sunnis have never been involved in starting a sectarian war,” Brotherhood spokesman Ahmed Aref said, adding that Hezbollah provoked the new sectarian conflict in Syria.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who hosted his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadenijad in Cairo in February, was to make a speech to the conference yesterday, Aref said, in which he may clarify Egypt’s position on whether to encourage the faithful to go to Syria to fight.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech his men would battle on in Syria against what he called a threat from the US, Israel and takfiri — hardline Sunnis.
In another mark of how high sectarian feeling is running, Friday’s televised sermon for weekly prayers at the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca included an outspoken personal attack on al-Assad, calling him a tyrant whose troops had raped women, killed children and destroyed homes over the past two years.
That the Brotherhood now echoes Saudi hostility underlines a hardening of attitudes which could fuel unrest in the region.
In Cario, some young men said they were ready to go and fight: “We see children dying every day,” said Ahmed Fouad. “We will fight for the sake of God, God willing.”
Egyptian Secretary on Foreign Relations Khaled al-Qazzaz said the government was not trying to stop Egyptians from volunteering in Syria, mostly in relief work.
“The right of travel or the freedom of travel or taking certain positions is open for all Egyptians,” he told reporters at a briefing. “But we did not call on Egyptians to go and fight in Syria.”