CAIRO — Islamists fought protesters outside the Egyptian president’s palace on Wednesday, while inside the building his deputy proposed a way to end a crisis over a draft constitution that has split the most populous Arab nation.
Meanwhile, three members of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s advisory team said on Wednesday they had resigned over the crisis ignited by a decree that expanded his powers.
Seif Abdel Fattah, Ayman Sayyad and Amr Leithy all tendered their resignations, bringing to six the number of presidential staff who have quit in the wake of a decree that has triggered countrywide violence.
The previously announced resignations included a Christian and a woman. They were part of a presidential staff assembled by Morsi, an Islamist, in an effort to build an inclusive administration.
Stones and petrol bombs flew between opposition protesters and supporters of Morsi who had flocked to the palace in response to a call from the Muslim Brotherhood.
Medical sources said 23 people had been wounded in clashes.
Riot police deployed between the two sides to try to stop the confrontations which flared after dark despite an attempt by Vice President Mahmoud Mekky to calm the political crisis.
He said amendments to disputed articles in the draft constitution could be agreed with the opposition. A written agreement could then be submitted to the next parliament, to be elected after a referendum on the constitution on December 15.
“There must be consensus,” he told a news conference, saying opposition demands had to be respected to reach a solution.
Egypt’s opposition coalition blamed Morsi for the violence around his palace and said it was ready for dialogue if the Islamist leader scrapped a decree he issued on November 22 that gave him wide powers and shielded his decisions from judicial review.
“We hold President Morsi and his government completely responsible for the violence happening in Egypt today,” opposition coordinator Mohamed Al Baradei told a news conference.
“We are ready for dialogue if the constitutional decree is cancelled... and the referendum on this constitution is postponed,” he said of the document written by an Islamist-led assembly that the opposition says ignores its concerns.
“Today what is happening in the Egyptian street, polarisation and division, is something that could and is actually drawing us to violence and could draw us to something worse,” the former head of the UN nuclear watchdog added.
Morsi has said his decree was needed to prevent courts still full of judges appointed by ousted strongman Hosni Mubarak from derailing a constitution vital for Egypt’s political transition.
Rival groups skirmished outside the presidential palace earlier on Wednesday. Islamist supporters of Morsi tore down tents erected by leftist foes, who had begun a sit-in there.
“They hit us and destroyed our tents. Are you happy, Morsi? Aren’t we Egyptians too?” asked protester Haitham Ahmed.
Mohamed Mohy, a pro-Morsi demonstrator who was filming the scene, said: “We are here to support our president and his decisions and save our country from traitors and agents.”
Mekky said street mobilisation by both sides posed a “real danger” to Egypt. “If we do not put a stop to this phenomenon right away... where are we headed? We must calm down.”
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton weighed into Egypt’s political debate, saying dialogue was urgently needed on the new constitution, which should “respect the rights of all citizens”.
“It needs to be a two-way dialogue... among Egyptians themselves about the constitutional process and the substance of the constitution,” Clinton told a news conference in Brussels.
The Muslim Brotherhood had summoned supporters to an open-ended demonstration at the presidential palace, a day after about 10,000 opposition protesters had encircled it for what organisers dubbed a “last warning” to Morsi.
“The people want the downfall of the regime,” they chanted, roaring the signature slogan of last year’s anti-Mubarak revolt.
The “last warning” may turn out to be one of the last gasps for a disparate opposition that has little chance of scuttling next week’s vote on the draft constitution.
State institutions, with the partial exception of the judiciary, have mostly fallen in behind Morsi.
The liberals, leftists, Christians, ex-Mubarak followers and others opposed to Morsi have yet to generate a mass movement or a grassroots political base to challenge the Brotherhood.
Investors have seized on hopes that Egypt’s turbulent transition, which has buffeted the economy for two years, may soon head for calmer waters, sending stocks 1.6 per cent higher after a 3.5 per cent rally on Tuesday.