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 have thrown their weight behind 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, 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. Maliki faces a wave of protests against his rule in Iraq's Sunni provinces and has had to fight Sunni extremists linked to al-Qaeda for most of his time in office.
"Syria suffers from violence, killings, and sabotage," he said and called on the summit to "find an exit and peaceful solution for its conflict." He called on member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the summit's organizer, to unite against terror, suggesting that he, like the regime in Damascus, views the rebels fighting the Syrian regime as terrorists.
Later Wednesday, another Syria-related event reflected the divisive impact of the conflict there.
Saudi Arabia stayed out of a gathering of Morsi and the presidents of Turkey and Iran on the sidelines of the summit to discuss Syria. Saudi Crown Prince Salman, who was heading his country's delegation to the OIC summit, left Egypt just before the mini-summit was held.
Morsi has been trying to form a working group of the four countries to address the Syria crisis. But Saudi Arabia has attended only the "quartet's" first meeting several months ago.
Egyptians insist the Saudis have not pulled out, and an Egyptian presidential spokesman said Salman left because of personal engagements. The Saudi foreign minister stayed for the OIC summit.
But it is widely suspected that the kingdom has quit the group because they could not see the point of working with Iran.