Egypt To Take New Look At Syrian Ties

Egypt’s interim foreign minister on Saturday sought to distance the new government’s policy on Syria from that of former President Mohamed Morsi, who helped make Egypt a hub for Syrian opposition groups and a destination for refugees fleeing the war.

The foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy, also singled out Ethiopia for criticism for not working to resolve a dispute over access to water in the Nile River.

Before the military deposed him on July 3, Mr. Morsi severed diplomatic relations with Syria and called for a no-fly zone to help the rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad. His government also seemed to condone the participation of Egyptian militants in the Syrian war. On Saturday, Mr. Fahmy said that while Egypt would continue to support the “Syrian revolution” and was not considering restoring relations with its government, a political solution was necessary. He added that “there is no intention to go for jihad.”

Mr. Fahmy’s remarks, at a news conference, were the most wide-ranging on foreign policy by Egypt’s new leaders since Mr. Morsi was ousted. Analysts expect changes in both the tone and the substance of Egypt’s foreign policy, as its new leaders move quickly to dismantle what remains of Mr. Morsi’s yearlong experiment in Islamist rule.

Shifts in Egypt’s alliances are already evident, as neighboring countries that share a hostility toward the Muslim Brotherhood, the movement that catapulted Mr. Morsi to power, have embraced the interim government. The United Arab Emirates, which have prosecuted dozens of local Brotherhood activists, have given Egypt’s military-backed government $3 billion in aid.

On Saturday, King Abdullah II of Jordan, who has also worked to marginalize the Brotherhood at home and who in an interview this year derided Mr. Morsi as having “no depth,” became the first head of state to visit Cairo since Mr. Morsi’s ouster.

Syrians who have fled the war and have faced harsh conditions in Egypt are suffering new consequences from the leadership change, including travel curbs. Mr. Morsi’s ouster has also been accompanied by an outburst of national chauvinism, whipped up by television hosts and the authorities, who have cast Syrians and Palestinians as traitors while warning, absent any evidence, that they are fighting on behalf of Mr. Morsi’s supporters.

Security officials have also cracked down on news media outlets associated with Mr. Morsi’s allies, including Turkey and Qatar. On Saturday, Al Alam, an Arabic-language Iranian news channel, said on its Web site that security officers had raided its offices in Cairo and detained the channel’s director. During his year in office, Mr. Morsi worked to improve relations with Iran after decades of hostility. Within minutes of his ouster, Egypt’s authorities closed several Islamist television stations, as well as the local Al Jazeera news channel, and arrested journalists.

On Saturday, Mr. Fahmy, who served as ambassador to Washington under President Hosni Mubarak, delivered a warning to Ethiopia, which is planning to build one of the world’s largest dams on the Nile, leading to fears among Egyptian officials that it will cause water shortages downstream. The failure to resolve the argument over the dam was an embarrassing setback for Mr. Morsi’s government, and Mr. Fahmy indicated it was still a source of tension.

“I urge the Ethiopian party to respond quickly,” he said. “We believe that tardiness won’t benefit either party.”

Mr. Fahmy spoke a day after thousands of Mr. Morsi’s supporters marched in cities around Egypt as part of their effort to restore him to power. Early Saturday, the authorities said at least three women had been killed during a march in the Nile Delta city of Mansura.

State media initially said the women had been killed during clashes between Mr. Morsi’s supporters and his opponents. Prominent non-Islamists condemned the killings, but some also criticized the Muslim Brotherhood, asserting that it had put its supporters at risk. Hamdeen Sabahi, a former presidential candidate, wrote on Twitter that the “brutality of the criminals” who had attacked the protesters “doesn’t deem innocent the brutality of the extremists who threw them in doom’s way.”

In an interview, one protester said the attack, by armed civilians, had been unprovoked. The protester, Salwa al-Hefnawi, 34, said men who had been protecting women and children at the middle of the march had soon come under attack. They told the women to find shelter in alleys.

It seemed like a trap, Ms. Hefnawi said. “Thugs were waiting in the side streets with bladed weapons, pellet guns, firearms and rocks,” she said. Residents turned on them, too. “A butcher on the corner took his cleaver and joined the thugs,” she said, but other people tried to help.

Ms. Hefnawi said she had run alongside an acquaintance, Amal Farahat. Ms. Farahat fell behind, and when Ms. Hefnawi ran back to find her, she was lying on the ground, fatally shot, Ms. Hefnawi said. Her account could not be confirmed, but it roughly matched images in a video that seemed to show the protest as it was attacked.

Ms. Hefnawi reacted angrily to the suggestion that the Brotherhood was to blame for organizing the protest. “What is this? Am I an idiot?” she said. “Why would we take our children if we think we’re going to be killed?”

New York Times