Egypt’s Republican Guard restored an uneasy calm to the area around the presidential palace in Cairo on Thursday after fierce clashes killed seven people, as the political crisis worsened over Mohamed Morsi’s decrees extending his power.
He announced the start of a “comprehensive and productive” dialogue with the Opposition starting Saturday and said that the referendum on the disputed constitution, at the heart of the crisis, would go ahead as scheduled on December 15 despite Opposition demands to rescind the document. Morsi also refused to annul his decrees of November 22 giving him near-absolute powers.
However, the Opposition National Salvation Front refused the calls for dialogue. Co-ordinator Mohamed ElBaradei said the door for dialogue with Morsi had been closed after the bloodshed outside the presidential palace on Wednesday and called for Egyptians to take to the streets on Friday in “all of Egypt’s squares”.
The president, criticised for his silence in the past few days, addressed the nation, accusing some opposition protesters of serving remnants of the old regime and vowing never to tolerate anyone working for the overthrow of his “legitimate” government.
Late on Thursday, the Muslim Brotherhood’s main office in Cairo and an office used by the Islamist group in a suburb south of the capital were set on fire, Brotherhood officials and state media said.
The Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice party said on its Facebook page that the headquarters in the Mukattam district had been attacked in “a terrorist aggression” by thugs.
Brotherhood officials blamed police for failing to prevent the violence.
Earlier, hundreds of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters who had camped out near the palace withdrew before a deadline set by the Republican Guard. Scores of opposition protesters remained but were kept behind a barbed wire barricade guarded by tanks.