Egypt’s warring political factions sat down with the country’s religious leaders on Thursday and endorsed a joint declaration pledging an end to the political violence that has left over sixty dead in the past week.
On 31 Jan 2013, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of the al-Azhar University and the country’s leading Islamic scholar, convened a meeting of top officials of President Mohammad Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood party and the secularist opposition. Egypt’s leading religious and social leaders including the Anglican Bishop of Egypt, Dr. Mouneer Anis, attended the conference at the 1000-year old university in Cairo in a bid to halt Egypt’s slide toward anarchy.
Sheikh al-Tayyeb told the politicians that a national conversation “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, according to Egyptian press accounts.
The unprecedented intervention by the al-Azhar follows two weeks of political tensions in the wake of the second anniversary of the fall of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. Last week President Mursi declared a “state of emergency” for Port Said, Ismailia and Suez, placing them under martial law.
The imposition of a curfew and suspension of civil law on 27 Jan 2013 comes in the wake of violent riots in Port Said and demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahir Square. Protesters claim the Muslim Brotherhood government has hijacked the Arab Spring, substituting the despotism of the Mubarak regime with an Islamist one.
“Egypt is passing through a difficult moment because of the anniversary of the 25 January 2011 Revolution and the hearing of the verdict of the Port Said Football Massacre,” the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, Bishop Mouneer Anis said.
“Please pray for our beloved country Egypt as many have been injured or killed in the last days because of these demonstrations, and because the country is still in a time of transition.”
Clashes between police and protesters over the weekend left at least 60 dead and hundreds injured Western news agencies have reported. The political tensions in the capital were inflamed on Saturday after a court in Port Said sentenced to death 21 men for their part in a football riot.
On 1 Feb 2012 a riot erupted in the stands of Port Said Stadium at the close of an Egyptian premier league match between the Al-Masry and Al-Ahly soccer clubs. More than 1000 people were injured and 79 killed after Al-Masry fans stormed the pitch after their 3-1 victory over Al-Ahly. The Al-Masry fans attacked the opposing side’s players and fans.
The 26 Jan 2013 death sentences sparked riots in Port Said and escalated to street battles between the security services and demonstrators. In a nationally televised address on Sunday President Mursi said the Port Said rioters were counter revolutionaries. He had imposed martial law to prevent further violence.
“There is no room for hesitation, so that everybody knows the institution of the state is capable of protecting the citizens,” he said. “If I see that the homeland and its children are in danger, I will be forced to do more than that. For the sake of Egypt, I will.”
However, the president’s get tough warnings did not deter protestors. The New York Times reported the clashes near Tahrir Square in Cairo spilled over for the first time into an armed assault on the historic Semiramis InterContinental Hotel, “sending tremors of fear through the vital tourism sector.”
On 29 Jan 2013 Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, warned President Mursi and the opposition that “their disagreement on running the affairs of the country may lead to the collapse of the state and threatens the future of the coming generations.”
At Thursday’s meeting at the al-Azhar, Sheikh al-Tayyeb presented Mahmoud Ezzat, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Saad el-Katatni, the head of its political party with a document that called for the renunciation of violence and a pledge to engage in dialogue with the opposition.
Across the table from the Muslim Brotherhood leaders were leaders of Egypt’s National Salvation Front – including Mohamed ElBardie, the former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency and leader of Egypt’s Constitution Party, and former presidential candidates Amr Moussa and leftist Hamdeen Sabahi. Representatives of Egypt’s hardline Islamist parties, including the head of the salafist Nour Party also participated in the talks.
The secular opposition joined by the Nour Party, had called upon President Mursi to form an all-party government to end the political crisis. However, while on a trip to Berlin this week, the Egyptian president rejected the proposal but offered to hold talks with the opposition.
The ten point agreement signed by the political and religious leaders agreed to renounce violence “in all its forms and manifestations” and respect the dignity of all Egyptians irrespective of religion or political views. The document called upon the state to protect the lives of its citizens, respect the human and legal rights of Egyptians, and observe the distinction between legitimate political protest and treason. All parties agreed to refrain from the destruction of public and private property, honor the rights of all Egyptians for free and unfettered speech and engage in a national dialogue to resolve the political disputes dividing the country.
Dr. Anis reported after the meeting: “Today the Grand Imam invited all opposition parties and ruling party and churches. We produced a document against violence and formed a committee to prepare for a dialogue. We pray so that the Lord may put an end forthis violence and bring peace to Egypt.”