Tensions reached a boiling point in Egypt on Tuesday night, with President Mohamed Morsi and his supporters still holding on tight to his "democratic legitimacy" while larger opposition forces continue to demand his ouster.
For the third day, millions of anti-Morsi demonstrators hit the streets across the nation to demand the removal of Morsi from power. A celebratory atmosphere was obvious most of the day in Cairo's Tahrir Square and at the Qubba and Ittihadeya presidential palaces.
Meanwhile, Islamist supporters of Morsi have also carried on their massive sit-in in the vicinity of Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque in Cairo's Nasr City district. Additional thousands have also been gathering at Cairo University in support of the elected president.
With pro-Morsi marches in different cities since Monday, more clashes erupted between the two camps. Cairo, Alexandria, Qalioubiya, Giza, Daqahliya, Damietta and Fayoum, among other governorates, have all witnessed violence.
Gunfights occurred in Cairo's Kit Kat Square, located in the Imbaba district, with mayhem extending to Nile Street in the nearby Agouza district.
Pellets, live fire and Molotov cocktails were also reported during the clashes, while the nearby Bein Al-Sarayat district of Giza witnessed similar fighting. Intermittent clashes also took place near Cairo University, leaving at least 16 dead and 200 injured as of the early hours of Wednesday.
Another five were killed during the melee in Giza and over 100 injured, according to a security source who said that three of the victims belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood, the group from which Morsi hails.
Apart from rival rallies and clashes, political representatives of both camps refused to back down.
The anti-Morsi 'Rebel' signature campaign said it had nominated three of its members to participate in negotiations called for by the armed forces aimed at drawing up a political "roadmap" for the country.
On Monday, the Egyptian Armed Forces gave all parties involved in the ongoing political impasse until Wednesday 17:00 (Cairo time) to end their differences.
Should they fail to do so, the armed forces warned that it would issue its own "roadmap" for Egypt's political future.
The Rebel campaign, whose protest calls have been endorsed by most opposition forces, proposed its own roadmap, calling for power to be handed over to the head of Egypt's High Constitutional Court (HCC) and the formation of a new technocrat government.
A member of the Rebel campaign's central committee, Mona Selim, announced that 90 percent of the campaign's organising committee had agreed to participate in negotiations, describing them as "a dialogue for handing over power."
Meanwhile, the April 6 Youth Movement has endorsed leading opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei to negotiate on behalf of the opposition. ElBaradei, generally disliked by Morsi supporters, has also been endorsed by the newly-formed 30 June Front, and the leftist Egyptian Popular Current.
Morsi, meanwhile, delivered a speech Tuesday night in which he defied opposition calls to step down.
Shortly after he called on the army to withdraw its 48-hour ultimatum, President Morsi addressed the nation, saying: "Democratic legitimacy is what is preventing bloodshed between the rival camps."
"We sacrifice for our country and I am the first to sacrifice. If the cost of legitimacy is my life, I will pay it gladly," he said, before renewing his longstanding invitation to all political forces to participate in national dialogue.
He also stressed his position as Egypt's first freely elected president, saying he could only be replaced via upcoming polls.
In the same speech, Morsi said he was ready to form a new government, reiterating his readiness to make concessions to bring about national reconciliation. These include forming a committee to amend contentious constitutional articles and appointing young Egyptians to important government posts.
His offers did little to appease the opposition, however, although they were warmly greeted by his supporters.
Opposition digs in
In response to Morsi's speech, the masses in Tahrir Square and at the Qobba and Ittihadeya presidential palaces chanted loudly, “Leave, leave,” with demonstrators declaring that sit-ins would continue nationwide until demands for early elections were met.
Talking to state television, Khaled Daoud, official spokesperson for the National Salvation Front (NSF), Egypt's largest umbrella opposition group, said that the speech was an "incitement to civil war" as it had only escalated matters more.
Ahmed Maher, founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, for his part, said via Twitter: "Unfortunately, your [Morsi's] speech came too late. It would have worked months ago, but now you have to resign if you really love Egypt."
Conversely, at Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque, where the bulk of Morsi supporters have been gathering, crowds greeted the speech with fireworks and pro-Morsi chants. "With our blood and souls, we will defend [the president's democratic] legitimacy," they shouted in unison.
Gamal Samak, prominent member of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya’s Building and Development Party, told state television that the president’s speech offered a solution to the crisis, as was requested by the armed forces on Monday.
President Morsi, Samak said, had called on all opposition forces to participate in dialogue and offered to form a new government. He urged opposition figures to respond positively to the president's initiative.
Morsi was elected one year ago in Egypt's first-ever free presidential polls. He was fielded in the elections by the Muslim Brotherhood, the group that has staunchly supported him, along with other Islamist parties and groups, most notable of which are Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya and the moderate-Islamist Wasat Party.
Late Tuesday night, the military-affiliated Facebook page known as "the Administrator of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces official page" issued a statement in which it vowed to "sacrifice lives to combat terrorists."