Supporters of Mohammed Morsi are rallying in Cairo ahead of opposition-led protests on June 30. Egypt's liberal and secular opposition has rejected the president's call for dialogue, instead demanding early elections.
In two days, Egypt's presidential palace will serve as the focal point of opposition protests. According to the opposition, a petition called Tamarod, which demands Morsi's dismissal and early elections, has collected up to 20 million signatures - several million more than put the president in the office he assumed last June 30.
During Friday's sermon at a main mosque in Cairo, the cleric warned congregants - many of whom support the Islamist Morsi - that, should protesters succeed, "there will be no president for the country" and Egypt will descend into "opposition hell."
On Wednesday, Morsi gave a two-and-a-half hour televised speech acknowledging mistakes during his year in office. The president also called for national reconciliation, saying that he was open to cooperating with the opposition on constitutional reform. By Thursday, the opposition said Morsi had failed to take responsibility for Egypt's political polarization and weak economy.
'Moment of truth'
On Friday, Germany's foreign minister called Egypt's escalation a "moment of truth." Guido Westerwelle underlined that demonstrators had a right to peaceful assembly and urged both sides to refrain from bloodshed after one activist was killed overnight, his spokesman said.
Westerwelle "is deeply concerned about the current escalation in political tensions in Egypt," the spokesman, Andreas Peschke, told reporters. "What Egypt needs above all are reforms so that the economic situation will improve and people have real future prospects," he added. "That must be, in our view, the goal of all politicial forces in Egypt."
The German foreign minister urged Egyptians to "prevent any outbreak of violence," Peschke said.
Not giving in
Cairo's ancient Al-Azhar academy warned Friday of "civil war." The religious authority, which has traditionally maintained a distance from the political establishment, also urged opponents of Morsi to accept his offer of dialogue rather than pressing on with plans for demonstrations.
Opposition leaders have already dismissed Morsi's offer as insufficient and disingenuous. Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the opposition National Salvation Front (NSF), had told reporters in Cairo on Thursday that the opposition "remained determined to call for an early presidential election to bring about the objectives of the revolution, with social justice foremost among them."
Later on Thursday, rival demonstrators clashed overnight outside offices of the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), on whose platform the president had won election last year. The FJP announced on its website that one of its supporters had died in the clashes, which also injured 30 people, the Health Ministry announced. Clashes linked to the political tensions have killed a total of five and wounded scores in the recent days.
The army has urged both sides to reconcile and has warned that it could step back in to impose order if violence spins out of control. Morsi and the Brotherhood accuse loyalists of the old regime of being behind violence and of thwarting their efforts to reform an economy hobbled by corruption.
Dissidents accuse the Islamists, who have won a series of elections against a diffuse opposition, of seeking to entrench their power and impose religious rule.
mkg/kms (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)