Muslim summit eyes Syria, Sunni-Shiite split

CAIRO (AP) — An Islamic summit that opened in Egypt on Wednesday lay bare the multiple divisions within the Muslim and Arab worlds, with conflicting approaches to the Syrian civil war exposing the Sunni-Shiite sectarian fault lines that have torn the region for years.

Egypt’s Islamist leader sharply criticized President Bashar Assad’s embattled regime in his address to the two-day summit, though he hedged his comments by only making an indirect call for the Syrian leader to step down.

The Syrian government “must read history and grasp its immortal message: It is the people who remain and those who put their personal interests before those of their people will inevitably go,” Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi said.

The conflict in Syria has been deeply divisive in the Middle East, pitting a largely Sunni opposition against a regime dominated by Assad’s Alawite minority — a heterodox offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Sunni nations such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are backing the rebels, while Shiite heavyweight Iran is Damascus’ closest regional ally.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose Shiite-led government has been ambivalent about the Syrian conflict, offered a more cautious approach.

In power for nearly seven years, al-Maliki is believed to be worried that his grip on power could weaken if the Sunni majority in neighboring Syria succeeds in overthrowing Assad and a new Sunni leadership takes power in Damascus.

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