CAIRO - Egypt's top Muslim scholar on Thursday, January 31, brought together political rivals to renounce violence and engage in dialogue to resolve the political turmoil in the heavyweight Arab country.
"Political work has nothing to do with violence or sabotage, Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the highest seat of learning in the Sunni Muslim world, told the gathering politicians, Reuters reported.
And the welfare of everyone and the fate of our nation depends on respect for the rule of law.
The meeting was attended by leaders of liberal and Islamist parties, including the powerful Muslim Brotherhood.
Participants included Mahmoud Ezzat, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Saad el-Katatni, the head of its political party.
Television footage showed them sitting opposite liberal politicians Mohamed ElBaradei and Amr Moussa and leftist Hamdeen Sabahi - all prominent figures in an alliance of parties opposed to President Mohamed Morsi.
Attendees at the meeting signed a document renouncing violence and committing to dialogue to resolve differences.
Al-Azhar imam told the 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".
He urged the participants to commit to peaceful competition for power and the peaceful rotation of power and to prohibit and outlaw all types of violence and coercion to achieve goals, demands and policies.
Egypt has been ravaged by deadly violence, which broke out last week to mark the second anniversary of a popular revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak, killing nearly 60 people.
The opposition accuses Morsi of betraying the spirit of the revolution by concentrating too much power in his own hands and those of the Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood accuses its foes of trying to topple Egypt's first elected leader.
Leaving the meeting early, liberal politician Ayman Nour described it as "a promising start" towards ending the crisis
Analysts also hailed Al-Azhar's intervention to resolve Egypt's political crisis.
"It's a good first step, Ejijah Zarwan, who analyses Egyptian politics for the European Council on Foreign Relations, told Reuters.
Certainly it will help the formal opposition to be very clearly on record as opposing violence," he said.
Al-Azhar has tended to keep itself above Egypt's political fray.
Its intervention follows a warning by the army chief on Tuesday that street battles could bring about the collapse of the state
But analysts opine that Thursday's meeting would not be enough to satisfy Egyptians angry at the failure of the revolution to improve their daily lives.
"The people fighting the police and burning buildings are not partisans of any political party. They might not even vote," Zarwan said.
"There's a political crisis and there's a social and economic crisis. A negotiated solution to the political crisis will certainly help but it's just a necessary first step towards resolving the social and economic crisis."
Established in 359 AH (971 CE), Al-Azhar mosque drew scholars from across the Muslim world and grew into a university, predating similar developments at Oxford University in London by more than a century.
Al-Azhar, which means the "most flourishing and resplendent," was named after Fatima Al-Zahraa, daughter of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him).
The first courses at Al-Azhar were given in 975 CE and the first college was built 13 years later.
Al-Azhar first admitted women students in 1961, albeit in separate classes.Also in 1961, subjects in engineering and medicine were added to course on Shari`ah, the Noble Qur'an and the intricacies of Arabic language.