Demonstrators stage a protest outside the presidential palace in Cairo. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
Tens of thousands of Egyptian protesters have surged around
President Mohamed Mursi's palace in Cairo after breaking
through barbed wire barricades and climbing onto army tanks
guarding the premises.
"The people want the downfall of the regime" and "Leave,
leave," they chanted, using slogans used in the uprising that
toppled Mursi's predecessor Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
Opposition leaders 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
Elite Republican Guard units had ringed the palace with tanks
and barbed wire on Thursday after a night of violence between
Islamist supporters of Mursi and their opponents, in which
seven people were killed and 350 wounded.
Islamists, who had obeyed a military order for demonstrators
to leave the palace environs, held funerals on Friday at
Cairo's al-Azhar mosque for six Mursi partisans who were
among the dead. "With our blood and souls, we sacrifice to
Islam," they chanted.
Mursi 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
They have demanded that Mursi rescind the decree in which he
temporarily shielded his decisions from judicial review and
that he postpone the Dec. 15 referendum before any talks
A leader of the main opposition coalition said it would not
join Mursi'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 Egyptians
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
Murad 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.
Mursi'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.
The 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
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
"We are so tired, by God," said Mohamed Ali, a labourer. "I
did not vote for Mursi 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 Mursi'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.
U.S. President Barack Obama told Mursi on Thursday of his
"deep concern" about casualties in this week's clashes and
said "dialogue should occur without preconditions"..
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
Said, the leader of the Free Egyptians Party, accused Mursi
of ignoring all the opposition's demands in his "shocking"
speech on Thursday and of fixing the dialogue agenda in
Ayman Mohamed, 29, a protester at the palace, said Mursi
should scrap the draft constitution and heed popular demands.
"He 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 Mursi from obscurity to
The Muslim Brotherhood's spokesman, Mahmoud Ghozlan, told
Reuters that if the opposition shunned the dialogue "it shows
that their intention is to remove Mursi from the presidency
and not to cancel the decree or the constitution as they
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.
"Is 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
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 page.