CAIRO — Burnt cars and motorcycles, shards of twisted metal, broken glass, and bullet casings littered the streets around Cairo University on Wednesday, where supporters and opponents of President Mohamed Morsi had clashed overnight, leaving at least 18 people dead, and hundreds injured, according to state television.
The Egyptian army’s deadline for Morsi and his critics to forge a compromise that would end the political crisis was rapidly approaching. But with Morsi defiant, and scores of thousands again taking to the streets to demand his resignation, none of the factions involved in the standoff showed any sign of backing down.
Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, delivered a defiant televised speech Tuesday night that made it clear he would not cede power. Waving his hands and shaking his fists, he swore that he was committed to the process that led to the historic elections last year and said that any attempts to subvert the constitution were “unacceptable.”
The army, in turn, posted a message to its Facebook page saying: “We swear to God that we will sacrifice even our blood for Egypt and its people, to defend them against any terrorist, radical or fool.”
In his speech, Morsi acknowledged that he had made mistakes during his year in office as Egypt’s first democratically elected president. But he appealed to Egyptians to give him more time to deal with the country’s problems.
The speech represented a direct challenge to the nation’s military and a signal that efforts to mediate the crisis have so far failed. Earlier on Tuesday, Morsi met with his defense minister, Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, in an apparent bid to reach an accord.
Although Sissi was appointed by Morsi, the general’s announcement Monday afternoon that he would give the president and his opponents 48 hours to resolve their differences before the military implemented its own “road map” for the country was seen here as a direct threat to Morsi’s hold on power.
Morsi’s backers in the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood have described the statement as a pledge for “a coup,” and are vowing that they will not go quietly if their president is forced out.
As night fell Tuesday, bursts of automatic gunfire crackled along the Nile as the president’s supporters and opponents came to blows in the working-class neighborhood of Kit Kat in central Cairo and near the university, where the president’s supporters had gathered.
On Wednesday, as the two camps staged rival protests in neighborhoods across the city, awaiting the countdown to the military’s deadline.
By afternoon, fewer than 200 Morsi supporters milled about near the main gate of Cairo University, where thousands had gathered the day before. At another gate a few blocks away, opposition protesters gathered to block Islamists from approaching the area.
“They have beards! They have beards! There are beards inside!” shouted one of those anti-government demonstrators, Mohamed Mustafa, as a minibus approached the gate, packed with more than a dozen Brotherhood supporters.