Egypt's Islamist President Backs Syrian Calls to Punish al-Assad

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who is from the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, said in an interview that he supports Syrian calls to try President Bashar al-Assad for war crimes. Syria's Christian minority, however, fears that the fall of al-Assad's regime can endanger their security.

"The Syrian people through their revolution and through the movement will -- when the bloodshed stops -- move to a new stage where they will have an independent parliament and a government of their choosing," Morsi told CNN in an exclusive interview in Cairo on Sunday. "And then they will decide what they want to do to those who committed crimes against them. It is the Syrian people who decide."

Asked whether he thought the Syrian leader should be tried before the International Criminal Court for war crimes, the Egyptian president replied, "It is not I who want this, but the Syrian people who want this."

"This phase is the phase of the people," Morsi said. "Similar to what the Egyptian people wanted, the Syrian people want it. And we support the Syrian people, and they're going to win, and they have the will to win."

It is estimated that about 10 percent of Syria's 23 million people are Christians, who want stability more than anything else. A U.N.-appointed panel last month said the civil war in Syria is split along ethnic and religious lines, and the minority fears that fall of al-Assad's regime will put their security in danger.

"As battles between government forces and anti-government armed groups approach the end of their second year, the conflict has become overtly sectarian in nature," the U.N.-appointed panel led by Brazilian expert Paulo Pinheiro said.

The conflict in Syria, which has killed upwards of 60,000 people, is seen by many as a proxy war. The Syrian government, led by al-Assad, who is from a Shia group, is reportedly being supported by Iran as well as Lebanon's Hezbollah. The opposition movement, on the other hand, has the support of Saudi Arabia and is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and Arab nationalists.

Though autocratic, al-Assad has given some protections and freedom to Christians and other minorities, while the opposition has launched many attacks on Christians, apparently due to perceptions that they back the embattled regime.

Even in Egypt, Coptic Christians have faced numerous attacks after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Mubarak, an authoritarian leader, kept Islamists under tight control. The Islamist-backed constitution Egyptian voters approved through a controversial referendum last month also establishes Islamist supremacy and has caused concerns over the lack of full religious freedom in the country.

Morsi, however, claimed during the interview with CNN that he is committed to promoting democracy and protecting minorities, including Christians, from discrimination.

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