World Bulletin / News Desk
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 President Mohamed Mursi 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 Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood and secularist foes who had previously rejected 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 state.
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.
Participants at 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 U.N. nuclear watchdog and Moussa was foreign minister under Mubarak era and then head of the Arab League.
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 crisis.
Attending the meeting was a partial reversal for the secularist opposition alliance, which had previously spurned Mursi's call for negotiations, demanding the president first agree to include opponents in a national unity government.
The call for a unity government has also been backed by the Islamist Nour party, in an unlikely alliance of Mursi's critics from opposite ends of the political spectrum.
The Brotherhood rejects a unity government as an attempt by Mursi's foes to take power they could not win at the ballot box.
The crisis forced Mursi to cut short a visit to Europe on Wednesday that had been intended to lure investment to Egypt.
While in Berlin, the president sidestepped calls for a unity government, saying the next cabinet would be formed after parliamentary elections due in April.
The streets have grown quieter in the past few days, and on Wednesday authorities scaled back a curfew imposed by Mursi 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. It was not immediately clear whether the calls for protest would be affected by the al-Azhar meeting.Last Mod: 31 Ocak 2013, 14:23