The competing rhetoric and scenes of defiance underscored how the population has been polarized as it struggles to define the balance of power in the country nearly two years after the forces now opposing each other joined hands in the mass uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
Amid calls for a delay to the scheduled Dec. 15 vote on a contentious draft constitution, Egypt’s High Election Commission said Friday that it would postpone overseas voting on the charter. The move raised hopes among some that Morsi might be moving toward making concessions.
But a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, which backs Morsi, said Friday night that a delay to next week’s vote would be possible only if the opposition heeded the president’s invitation to dialogue.
On Saturday, Egypt’s military joined the call for dialogue, warning in a statement read on state TV of “disastrous consequences” if the political crisis gripping the country is not resolved. The military said that serious dialogue is the “best and only” way to overcome the nation’s deepening dispute.
A decree by Morsi last month that gave him the power to legislate without oversight yielded an unlikely alliance of disorganized opposition groups, including liberals, human rights activists, Christians and old-regime loyalists.
They differ on many things, including the concessions they hope to extract from Morsi and whether to vote against the constitution or boycott the referendum altogether if it goes to a vote as planned. But they agree that Egypt’s first democratically elected president has drastically overstepped his authority — and that protest is the only way to turn him around.
As the standoff enters its third week, politicians and activists on each side said that the flow of angry words and violent protest from the other side is cementing a dangerous divide that is likely to outlive the current crisis.
Some of the protesters who massed outside the palace Friday said that they had voted for Morsi — giving him “a chance to rule” — but that the president’s recent actions had left them feeling that he was no longer fit to lead Egypt and that the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood from which he hails could never again be trusted.
“He said he was the president of Egypt. But the truth is he’s the president for the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Amr al-Tahry, 20, a student at Egypt’s naval academy who said he voted for Morsi in the summer. “I was willing to try trusting the Muslim Brotherhood. Now — no, never.”