Egypt's Military Urges Dialogue as Anti-Morsi Protests Intensify

A day after tens of thousands of Egyptians broke through barbed wire at the presidential palace to seek Islamist President Mohamed Morsi's ouster, the nation's military on Saturday called for dialogue between Morsi's supporters and his liberal opponents.

Egyptians are allowed to express their views but "far from all displays of violence," a military spokesperson said on state media on Saturday, according to Reuters. The solution to a political crisis should not contradict "legitimacy and the rules of democracy," he said, adding that it was the army's duty to protect national interests and secure vital state institutions.

"The armed forces affirm that dialogue is the best and only way to reach consensus," the statement said. "The opposite of that will bring us to a dark tunnel that will result in catastrophe and that is something we will not allow."

Even as the media read the spokesperson's statement, protesters were still camped out by the gates of the presidential palace.

State-run Al-Ahram Saturday said Morsi will soon give judicial and protective powers to the military. Drafted with the participation of army leaders, a new law will task the armed forces with maintaining security and protecting vital installations in the state until a new constitution is promulgated and parliamentary elections are held.

On Friday, tens of thousands gathered at the presidential palace in Cairo, many of them shouting, "Leave, leave like Mubarak!" referring to former autocrat President Hosni Mubarak.

Morsi, who is from the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, has been facing a popular uprising since his Nov. 22 declaration that no one, not even the judiciary, can challenge the decisions he has taken since assuming office in June, or will take until a new constitution is in place. Protests increased after last week's announcement that a national referendum on the draft constitution will be on Dec. 15 – seen as Morsi's move to push a draft charter that secular parties do not approve of.

On Wednesday, at least six people were killed and hundreds injured when Morsi's supporters tried to forcibly break up a sit-in in front of the presidential palace, according to Egypt Independent. On Thursday, Morsi called for a "national dialogue" with opposition leaders while still refusing to abandon plans for the constitutional referendum or revoke the decree.

Vice President Mahmoud Mekki has announced that Morsi would be willing to postpone the constitutional referendum if the opposition agreed not to challenge the document in court, according to Los Angeles Times.

"Morsi underestimated the opposition," Ziad Akl, senior analyst at Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, was quoted as saying. "After witnessing the protesters break through the barbed wire to surround the palace, he realized that he had to make some kind of concession."

Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church had pulled out of the Islamists-dominated constituent assembly, saying it did not want the church's name on the draft constitution.

World Evangelical Alliance's Religious Liberty Commission said in a report on Thursday that while the draft constitution is not entirely according to the demands of the nation's ultra-conservative Salafi forces, its provisions are a cause for serious concern for those who care for religious freedom.

"The Muslim Brotherhood has claimed that it wants to Islamize the nation only gradually and peacefully, and with the consensus of Egypt's citizens," the Christian group noted. "However, the way the constituent assembly functioned, the provisions the draft constitution carries, and the haste in which the constitutional referendum is being held, all point towards a covert and crafty attempt to undermine religious freedom for minorities against the wishes of the people."