EGYPT’s feuding politicians renounced violence on Thursday after being summoned by the country’s most influential Muslim scholar to talks to end the deadliest unrest since President Mohamed Mursi took power.
It remains to be seen whether the pledge to end confrontation will halt a week of bloodshed on the streets that has killed nearly 60 people. Opposition groups did not cancel new demonstrations scheduled for Friday.
But participants at the meeting, including leaders of Mr Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood and its secular rivals, described their joint statement as a major step towards ending a conflict that has made Egypt seem all but ungovernable two years after an uprising toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
The meeting was convened by Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, head of the al-Azhar university and mosque, one of the few institutions still seen as neutral.
He said a national dialogue, "in which all elements of Egyptian society participate, without any exclusion, is the only tool to resolve problems or differences".
Participants signed a document pledging to renounce violence and agreed to set up a committee of politicians from rival groups to work out a programme for further talks.
"We come out of the meeting with a type of optimism," liberal politician Mohamed ElBaradei said. "Each of us will do what we can, with goodwill, to build trust once again among the factions of the Egyptian nation."
Saad el-Katatni, head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, called it a "historic day".
The opposition accuses Mr Mursi of betraying the spirit of the revolution by concentrating too much power in his own hands and those of the Brotherhood, which in turn accuses foes of trying to topple Egypt’s first elected leader.
Even as the meeting was under way, a statement issued by opposition parties reiterated a call for demonstrations at the presidential palace in Cairo on Friday.
Ejijah Zarwan, an analyst of Egyptian politics for the European Council on Foreign Relations, said Sheikh al-Azhar’s intervention was important, but it was far from clear whether it would be enough to calm the streets.