Change is necessary if Egypt is to fulfill its historic potential

Egypt is of crucial political and cultural importance to the region. The international community must do its utmost to ensure its stability and prosperity.

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It is with a heavy heart that I have watched the events of the past few days unfold. Violence is always regrettable, but to watch the cities of my own country deteriorate into virtual war zones is a cause of unimaginable grief and sadness, and the recent attacks against demonstrators are worthy of the strongest condemnation.

The land of Egypt is dear not only to me and its 80 million citizens, but indeed to the world for its fundamental and substantial contributions to human civilisation for over seven millennia. To see it in such a state of chaos is truly heart-wrenching.

There is, however, always reason for hope and optimism. As the Quran teaches us: "With every difficulty, there comes ease." It is with great national pride that I affirm my confidence and trust in the Egyptian people to retreat from violence and aggression to peace and calm. At that point, our nation will have to engage in some profound introspection and soul-searching to make sense of the new state of affairs. Until then, however, the lives and welfare of our countrymen - regardless of their political beliefs - must be our first priority.

Security must be ensured, the rule of law must be respected and people's basic needs must be met. The reports of food shortages and other material concerns are deeply troubling. These considerations must take precedence in such a time of crisis. I salute those who have demonstrated immense courage in protecting their families and their neighbourhoods in the face of indiscriminate looting.

There is no denying that we are on the edge of a new period of Egyptian political and social life. The youth of our nation have organised en masse to make their voices heard, and to demand changes. They have demonstrated great resolve in their pursuit of fundamental reforms. There is no doubt that reform is a necessity. Indeed, I have long called, through the Misr El Kheir Foundation, for comprehensive reforms in economics, health and social solidarity.

This foundation supports educational efforts, scientific and medical research, and environmental initiatives by drawing on the expertise of the international business community to channel funds towards the needy and vulnerable in Egypt.

As such, I welcome the decision to engage in dialogue on these matters, and urge that the time has now come to translate all of these calls into tangible results. Steps must be undertaken to ensure that implementation of serious reform measures is immediate and direct.

The crisis we are currently living through is unprecedented. In the chaos of the current situation, lives have been lost, people have been injured, homes and businesses have been looted. It is unacceptable that our fellow citizens should be subjected to such danger. It should be the demand of every citizen that those who have perpetrated such violence be brought to full justice for their crimes.

Whatever becomes of Egypt after this period of crisis, one thing is certain: it must succeed. Its contributions and history speak for themselves. Egypt is much more than its presidential figure. It is a nation of richness, culture and sincerity. It is a nation made by its people, genuine and dedicated. Moreover, it is of crucial political importance in the region.

It is in the interest of all involved in the international community to do the utmost to help to ensure its stability and prosperity. I reiterate my confidence in the Egyptian people to work with them towards this goal.

Dr Ali Gomaa is the Grand Mufti of Egypt