Egypt’s Top Sheikh Calls for Dialogue

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Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the head of Egypt’s leading Islamic authority al-Azhar, has called on political officials and public figures to attend a national reconciliation meeting later this week. The exact date of the dialogue, which will be lead by the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar himself, has not yet been announced. According to an al-Azhar official, the dialogue will invite people who had proposed initiatives for ending the crisis to the table claiming, “There are some initiatives that can be built upon to start national reconciliation.”

In a statement on Friday, Al-Tayeb said he rejects the ongoing violence and incitement of violence, adding that the only way to move forward is through a national dialogue. He underscored the necessity for conflicting parties to avoid violence and bloodshed and work to maintain the safety of civilians. Al-Tayeb also stressed the right to peacefully protest and the responsibility of the state to protect protesters. He further argued, “Everybody has to respond quickly to dialogue as history will not forgive a stubborn or inacting person.”

Yolande Knell from BBC News reports, “al-Azhar, a highly respected institution, has had some success at unifying different political forces since the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.” She claimed, however, that “on this occasion, its task is exceptionally difficult,” given that “The grand [sheikh] openly supported the military intervention to remove Mr. Morsi after mass street protests, which angered his supporters, and the country is now deeply polarized.”

On Saturday, Muslim Brotherhood leaders rejected the initiatives by al-Azhar to engage in dialogue and take part in the country’s upcoming presidential elections. The Brotherhood leaders have accused al-Azhar’s Grand Sheikh al-Tayeb of supporting the “military coup” against Morsi and said that Morsi’s reinstatement is a precondition for joining talks. The National Alliance for the Defense of Legitimacy, a coalition of Islamist parties supportive of Morsi, claimed, “Any initiative should respect constitutional legitimacy, mainly the reinstatement of the elected president,” adding, “We appreciate local and foreign calls for dialogue and calm, and stress that calm measures should secure the return of constitutional legitimacy first.”