CAIRO — Egypt said Sunday it was withdrawing its ambassador to Syria, the latest Arab country to scale back its relations with the embattled regime in Damascus.
The 11-month-old Syrian uprising began with mostly peaceful protests in a number of the country’s impoverished provinces. As security forces violently suppressed them, killing thousands, the protest grew and escalated into an increasingly armed insurrection.
Syria faces mounting international condemnation over its crackdown on protesters, including harsh sanctions and political isolation.
The Egyptian state news agency MENA said that Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr decided Sunday during a meeting with Ambassador Shukri Ismael to keep the envoy in Cairo until further notice.
Tunisia, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab nations already have reduced ties with Damascus.
But the move by Egypt, home to the Arab League’s headquarters, carries added symbolic weight: Egypt and Syria once shared the same flag in a union that lasted for three years until 1961.
Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Amr Roshdy, told reporters Sunday that the decision to recall the ambassador sends “a message of Egypt’s dissatisfaction with the situation in Syria.”
He added that Egypt will keep staff at its embassy in Damascus and said the move to downgrade its presence in Syria was in “the interest of the Syrian people.” He said the view of the Egyptian public was taken into account when making the decision.
The Syrian embassy in Cairo has been attacked twice this year, and in one instance part of the embassy was set on fire. And on Friday, 2,000 protesters rallied outside the embassy to demand authorities expel the country’s ambassador because of Damascus’ deadly crackdown on dissent.
Egypt’s move comes as Homs, a central Syrian city which has seen some of the most intense fighting in the uprising, comes under renewed shelling from government troops, according to activists.