CAIRO - Egypt's feuding politicians finally met on Thursday,
summoned by the country's most influential Islamic scholar who made them call an
end to violence after a week of the deadliest protests since Egyptian President Mohamed
Morsi took office.
The meeting, called by the head of the
thousand-year-old al-Azhar university and mosque, was attended both by top
officials of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and secularist foes who had previously
rebuffed the Islamist president's calls for talks.
Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb
told the politicians that a national dialogue, "in which all elements of
Egyptian society participate, without any exclusion, is the only tool to resolve
any problems or differences".
"Political work has nothing to do with
violence or sabotage and the welfare of everyone and the fate of our nation
depends on respect for the rule of law," the sheikh said.
Leaders of all
the main political parties signed a document at the meeting renouncing violence,
attendee Ahmed Maher said in a Twitter message.
Al-Azhar, one of the main
seats of learning in Sunni Islam worldwide, has tended to keep itself above
Egypt's political fray. The extraordinary intervention follows a warning by the
army chief on Tuesday that street battles could bring about the collapse of the
Nearly 60 people have been killed in violent protests, which broke
out last week to mark the second anniversary of the uprising that toppled
President Hosni Mubarak.
Spirit of the revolution
The opposition accuses Morsi of betraying the spirit of the revolution by concentrating too much power
in his own hands and those of the Brotherhood, a decades-old underground
Islamist movement that was banned under Mubarak. The Brotherhood accuses its
foes of trying to topple Egypt's first elected leader.
Thursday's meeting included Mahmoud Ezzat, deputy leader of the Muslim
Brotherhood, and Saad el-Katatni, the head of its political party. Television
footage showed them sitting opposite liberal politicians Mohamed ElBaradei and
Amr Moussa and leftist Hamdeen Sabahi - all prominent figures in an alliance of
parties opposed to Mursi.
ElBaradei is a former head of the UN nuclear
watchdog and Moussa was foreign minister under Mubarak era and then head of the
Tayyeb presented the politicians with a document he said had
been drawn up by youth activists, which called for them to renounce violence and
commit to dialogue.
Leaving the meeting early, liberal politician Ayman
Nour described it as "a promising start" towards ending the
Attending the meeting was a partial reversal for the secularist
opposition alliance, which had previously spurned Morsi's call for negotiations,
demanding the president first agree to include opponents in a national unity
The call for a unity government has also been backed by the
hardline Islamist Nour party, in an unlikely alliance of Morsi's critics from
opposite ends of the political spectrum.
The Brotherhood rejects a unity
government as an attempt by Morsi's foes to take power they could not win at the
The crisis forced Morsi to cut short a visit to Europe on
Wednesday that had been intended to lure investment to Egypt.
Berlin, the president sidestepped calls for a unity government, saying the next
cabinet would be formed after parliamentary elections due in April.
streets have grown quieter in the past few days, and on Wednesday authorities
scaled back a curfew imposed by Morsi on three restive cities along the Suez
canal where most of the week's blood was spilt.
However, the opposition
alliance had called fresh protests for Friday, the Islamic sabbath, which could
unleash more violence. It was not immediately clear whether the calls for
protest would be affected by the al-Azhar meeting.
The past week's
violence followed weeks of demonstrations last year against a new constitution,
as Mursi failed to unite Egyptians despite the Brotherhood winning repeated
The rise of an elected Islamist president in the Arab world's
most populous state after generations of secularist military rule is probably
the most important outcome of the wave of Arab revolts over the past two
But his rule has been tarnished by the civil unrest, which has
thwarted efforts to end an economic crisis that has forced Cairo to sell off
most of its reserves to keep the pound currency from crashing.
Zarwan, who analyses Egyptian politics for the European Council on Foreign
Relations, said Thursday's intervention by al-Azhar was important, but it was
far from clear whether it would be enough to calm the streets.
good first step. Certainly it will help the formal opposition to be very clearly
on record as opposing violence," he said. But a deal among political leaders
would not be enough to satisfy Egyptians angry at the failure of the revolution
to improve their daily lives.
"The people fighting the police and burning
buildings are not partisans of any political party. They might not even vote,"
Zarwan said. "There's a political crisis and there's a social and economic
crisis. A negotiated solution to the political crisis will certainly help but
it's just a necessary first step towards resolving the social and economic