Thousands of Islamists rallied in the Egyptian capital on Friday in support of calls by Sunni Muslim clerics for a holy war against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
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.”
Oreifi urged worshippers to “unite against their enemy.”
Saudi Arabia, like Egypt, is an overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim country, and Sunnis are the backbone of the revolt against Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Demonstrators, most of them bearded and wearing the traditional white galabiya, 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.
On Thursday, influential Sunni clerics from several Arab states called for a holy war against the “sectarian” regime in Syria.
They called the “flagrant aggression” of Iran and the Lebanese movement Hezbollah — both Shiite — and their “sectarian allies” in Syria “a declaration of war against Islam and Muslims.”
Hezbollah has been fighting alongside Assad’s forces, and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said on Friday it would continue to do so.
Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia’s top cleric Abdulaziz al-Shaikh has urged governments to punish the “repulsive sectarian group” while Qatar-based Sunni cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi has called on Sunnis to join the rebels.
Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria, which helped Assad’s troops overrun the strategic town of Qusayr, has been roundly condemned by Arab countries.
In Cairo, a senior aide to President Mohamed Morsi demanded on Thursday that the group “immediately end” its involvement in Syria.
The Shiite group’s assistance to Assad could “further turn this conflict into a sectarian conflict that will spill over into the entire region,” Khaled Al-Qazzaz said.
Qazzaz, Morsi’s secretary on foreign relations, said the government was not trying to stop Egyptians from volunteering in Syria, mostly in relief work.
Egypt believes the conflict will have to be resolved politically, he added.
The conflict has drawn Sunni volunteers from several Arab countries to join rebel ranks. In addition to Hezbollah, Shiites have travelled from Iraq to support Assad.
During Friday’s rally, 22-year-old student Ossam Zeyd said “I am here to support the Syrian people. I am participating in jihad in Allah’s cause by prayer and by sending money.”
A number of Egyptian humanitarian organisations have set up stands outside mosques to collect funds for Syrians.
And Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, from whose ranks Morsi comes, will hold a gathering on Saturday at a stadium in Cairo under the slogan “in support of the Syria revolution.”