Egypt's Al-Azhar brings rival political groups together

Dialogue better than baton

CAIRO - Rival factions on Thursday condemned the violence which has killed dozens in a week of unrest and pledged support for a national dialogue to resolve the political crisis gripping Egypt.
"We come out of these talks with some sort of optimism," despite "the difficult challenges ahead," former UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei, a leader of the opposition National Salvation Front (NSF), told reporters.
Top Islamic scholar Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb chaired talks between liberal opposition heads, Islamists, youth groups, independents and church members at the headquarters of Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's highest seat of learning.
They signed an Al-Azhar document vowing to support "a serious dialogue" and "condemn all forms of violence and incitement to violence", and stressing "the responsibility of the state and its security apparatus to protect citizens."
Even with few concrete points agreed, the talks marked a coup for Egypt's Islamist President Mohamed Morsi whose calls for dialogue were snubbed by the opposition only last week.
But it remained to be seen whether the Al-Azhar document would carry weight on the streets, where clashes between protesters and police have killed dozens since rallies marking the second anniversary of Egypt's uprising last week.
Opposition groups have already called for mass protests on Friday against Morsi, who is accused of betraying the revolution that brought him to the presidency and of consolidating power in the hands of his Muslim Brotherhood.
In opening remarks, Tayyeb said a "national dialogue including all segments of society is the only way to resolve all the difference."
Such a dialogue would constitute a "guarantee against the monopolisation of power which leads to tyranny," Tayyeb said.
Apart from ElBaradei, also present at the talks was fellow NSF leader and ex-Arab League chief Amr Mussa.
Saad al-Katatni, head of the Freedom and Justice Party of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, likewise attended, along with other Islamist parties such as Al-Wasat.
The meeting was the latest attempt to strike up a dialogue between Egypt's political factions.
A week of deadly unrest has left almost 60 people dead and the country deeply split between Morsi's Islamist allies and an opposition of leftists, liberals, Christians as well as religious Muslims.
On Wednesday, ElBaradei called for urgent talks, just two days after the opposition had rejected an appeal for dialogue from Morsi.