Tens of thousands of Egyptian protesters surged around President Mohamed
Morsi's palace in Cairo on Friday after breaking through barbed wire
barricades and climbing onto army tanks guarding the premises.
people want the downfall of the regime" and "Leave, leave," they
chanted, using slogans used in the uprising that toppled Morsi's
predecessor Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
earlier rejected a national dialogue proposed by the Islamist president
as a way out of a crisis that has polarised the nation and provoked
deadly street clashes.
Elite Republican Guard units had ringed
the palace with tanks and barbed wire on Thursday after a night of
violence between Islamist supporters of Morsi and their opponents, in
which seven people were killed and 350 wounded.
had obeyed a military order for demonstrators to leave the palace
environs, held funerals on Friday at Cairo's al-Azhar mosque for six
Morsi partisans who were among the dead. "With our blood and souls, we
sacrifice to Islam," they chanted.
Morsi had offered few
concessions in a speech late on Thursday, refusing to retract a November
22 decree in which he assumed sweeping powers or cancel a referendum
next week on a constitution newly drafted by an Islamist-dominated
Instead, he called for a dialogue at his office on
Saturday to chart a way forward for Egypt after the referendum, an idea
that liberal, leftist and other opposition leaders rebuffed.
have demanded that Morsi rescind the decree in which he temporarily
shielded his decisions from judicial review and that he postpone the
December 15 referendum before any talks begin.
A leader of the
main opposition coalition said it would not join Morsi's dialogue: "The
National Salvation Front is not taking part in the dialogue," said Ahmed
Said, a leader of the coalition, who also heads the liberal Free
The Front's coordinator, Mohamed ElBaradei, a
Nobel peace laureate, urged "national forces" to shun what he called an
offer based on "arm-twisting and imposition of a fait accompli".
Ali, spokesman of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP),
said opposition reactions were sad: "What exit to this crisis do they
have other than dialogue?" he asked.
Morsi's decree giving
himself extra powers sparked the worst political crisis since he took
office in June and set off renewed unrest that is dimming Egypt's hopes
of stability and economic recovery after nearly two years of turmoil
following the overthrow of Mubarak, a military-backed strongman.
turmoil has exposed contrasting visions for Egypt, one held by
Islamists, who were suppressed for decades by the army, and another by
their rivals, who fear religious conservatives want to squeeze out other
voices and restrict social freedoms.
Caught in the middle are
many of Egypt's 83 million people who are desperate for an end to
political turbulence threatening their precarious livelihoods in an
economy under severe strain.
"We are so tired, by God," said
Mohamed Ali, a labourer. "I did not vote for Morsi nor anyone else. I
only care about bringing food to my family, but I haven't had work for a
A long political standoff
will make it harder for Morsi's government to tackle the crushing budget
deficit and stave off a balance of payments crisis. Austerity measures,
especially cuts in costly fuel subsidies, seem inevitable to meet the
terms of a $4.8-billion IMF loan that Egypt hopes to clinch this month.
President Barack Obama told Morsi on Thursday of his "deep concern"
about casualties in this week's clashes and said "dialogue should occur
The upheaval in the most populous Arab
nation worries the United States, which has given billions of dollars in
military and other aid since Egypt made peace with Israel in 1979.
the leader of the Free Egyptians Party, accused Morsi of ignoring all
the opposition's demands in his "shocking" speech on Thursday and of
fixing the dialogue agenda in advance.
Ayman Mohamed, 29, a protester at the palace, said Morsi should scrap the draft constitution and heed popular demands.
is the president of the republic. He can't just work for the Muslim
Brotherhood," Mohamed said of the eight-decade-old Islamist movement
that propelled Morsi from obscurity to power.
Brotherhood's spokesman, Mahmoud Ghozlan, told Reuters that if the
opposition shunned the dialogue "it shows that their intention is to
remove Morsi from the presidency and not to cancel the decree or the
constitution as they claim".
The conflict between Islamists and
opponents who each believe the other is twisting the democratic rules to
thwart them has poisoned the political atmosphere in Egypt.
this an environment for people to say 'yes' or 'no' to a document that
is going to divide them rather than unite them?" Said asked, referring
to the planned vote on the constitution.
Voting for Egyptians
abroad starts on Saturday, a week before the ballot in the country
itself, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said on its official Facebook
© Thomson Reuters 2012