Egypt's rival political factions have uniformly condemned the violence that has killed dozens over the past week. The groups pledged their support for a national dialogue to resolve the country's political crisis.
Egypt's top Muslim scholar, Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb, chaired talks between the factions Thursday at the headquarters of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Sunni Islam's highest seat of learning. Present at the talks were liberal opposition heads, Islamists, youth groups, independents and church members.
They signed an Al-Azhar document vowing to support "a serious dialogue" and "condemn all forms of violence and incitement to violence," stressing "the responsibility of the state and its security apparatus to protect citizens."
The talks come at an important time for an increasingly polarized Egypt.
Last week's unrest, which coincided with the second anniversary of the revolution that toppled longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak, erupted in response to President Mohammed Morsi's ever-increasing power. The ensuing violence left 56 dead.
In the days that followed, the situation worsened in Port Said, after a court had sentenced 21 residents of the canal city to death for their role in the Port Said Stadium disaster. By Tuesday, the country's army chief said that the ongoing street battles could bring about the collapse of the state.
The opposition has demanded that President Mohammed Morsi establish a nationally unified government and rewrite controversial parts of Egypt's recently-passed and Islamist-backed constitution.
Al-Tayyeb, who heads the thousand-year-old university, told 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," he said.
Al-Azhar tends to remain above the political fray in Egypt, and is one of the few institutions seen as neutral in the politically charged country.
Opposition, Brotherhood weigh in
"We come out of these talks with some sort of optimism" despite "the difficult challenges ahead," said former UN nuclear watchdog chief and leader of the opposition National Salvation Front, Mohamed ElBaradei (above right).
"We will do whatever we can with goodwill to build the trust of the Egyptian people," he told reporters.
Saad el-Katatni (pictured above speaking), head of President Mohammed Morsi's Freedom and Justice Party – the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood – called it "an historic day."
"Everyone in the meeting expressed readiness to make concessions to make this experiment succeed," he said.
Speaking from Berlin Wednesday on a trip to promote foreign investment in Egypt, Morsi skirted around calls for a unity government, saying the decision would have to wait until after parliamentary elections due in April.
dr/kms (Reuters, AFP, AP)