Offered to revoke decree but hold referendum on constitution draft

Egypt’s political crisis shows no signs of abating as neither President Mohamed Morsy nor the secular opposition are budging from their core positions.

On Friday, the opposition National Salvation Front (NSF), headed by three former presidential candidates including Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, rejected a televised invitation for talks by Mr. Morsy.

During his address over national television on Thursday night, Mr. Morsy seemed to offer a feeble compromise: he would revoke a decree that gave him sweeping powers — a core demand of the opposition — on December 15 but would go ahead on that date with a national referendum on a controversial constitutional draft.

The secularists had demanded in the wake of considerable violence outside the presidential palace that the vote on the draft constitution should be cancelled.

After Mr. Morsy had spoken, the opposition said the President’s proposals for talks did not go far enough. In a statement, signed also by former presidential hopefuls Hamdeen Sabahi and Amr Moussa, the NSF reasserted its demand that the President scrap his special powers and cancel the December 15 vote.

It also took exception to the President’s remarks on the night-long violence that began late on Wednesday outside the presidential palace and left at least five people dead and over a thousand injured. Mr. Morsy had said the violence was a conspiracy hatched by corrupt beneficiaries of Hosni Mubarak’s rule who were “hiring thugs and giving out firearms”. He said these individuals must be “punished and penalised by the law”.

In their riposte, the secularists observed: “We are shocked at Morsy’s blatant denial of the facts of violence and brutality as seen by millions of Egyptians and others around the world on television and print media.” The NSF demanded that the Justice Minster should order an impartial probe into the incident.

Unfazed and mirroring the deep Islamist-secularist divide, the Muslim Brotherhood, Mr. Morsy’s parent organisation, went into considerable detail to buttress the President’s claim.

The Brotherhood said in a statement that elements from the former regime who were abroad and a number of politicians had conspired to confront the revolution. “The peak of the conspiracy is the attempt to storm the presidential palace and occupy it,” claimed the Brotherhood.

It added that Mr. Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood were defenders of the revolution. Wednesday’s violence was not initiated by Mr. Morsy’s supporters who had gone unarmed to the presidential palace already besieged by the President’s opponents and the five people killed during the violence all belonged to Muslim Brotherhood, the statement said. The President’s supporters were “faced by thugs armed with firearms, Molotov cocktails and tear gas, as well as snipers”. On Thursday, a mob had also attacked the Muslim Brotherhood’s Cairo headquarters.

By Friday evening, there were signs that the tensions may flare up further as many from the anti-Morsy camp headed for the presidential palace, heavily protected by the Republican Guard. A curfew is in force and security forces have warned the President’s supporters and opponents to vacate the area.

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