Egypt's president sends messages of 'compromise' as tens of thousands surround palace

Nada Hussein Rashwan, Sherif Tarek, Mostafa Ali, Hatem Maher, Bel Trew, Nada El-Kouny, Yasmine Wali, Mohamed Nada, Saturday 8 Dec 2012

Hundreds of thousands take to streets in Cairo and cities around Egypt to pressure President Morsi to reverse recent constitutional decree. Ahram Online provided day-long coverage of protests, counter-protests and reactions

A general view shows protesters against Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi after they peacefully broke past barbed wire barricades guarding the presidential palace in Cairo December 7, 2012. (Reuters)

Ahram Online ends its live coverage of the events an intense day in Egypt as the country remains divided waiting for a resolution for the struggle over the controversial presidential declaration and draft constitution. We bid our readers good night and wish safety for everyone.


23:40 The Ministry of Interior warned the protests at the presidential palace, held by anti-Morsi demonstrators, and the rally of the president's supporters three miles away could be infiltrated and might spiral "out of control". In a statement issued by its media center, the ministry called on the participants in both congregations to go home "for the sake of the nation."

23:25 The Ministry of Health said 11 people were injured in Friday's protests against the constitutional declaration: three in Cairo at the presidential palace, six at the president's home in Zagazig located in Sharqiya governorate in the eastern Delta, and two in Behaira governorate in the northern Delta.

23:00 Protesters have set up barricades in Marghani Street leading to the presidential palace in the Heliopolis district in Cairo in preparation for a sit-in, according to Al-Ahram Arabic website.

Protesters are distributing blankets to wither the chilly night in the country's capital.

Rumors about attacks from Muslim Brotherhood supporters keep circulating, said Ahram Online's Bel Trew. Some anti-Morsi protesters formed groups to protect the rally at the presidential palace against "possible attacks."

Meanwhile, reinforced vehicles of the Central Security Forces are surrounding the Brotherhood supporters congregating at in Naser City’s Raba El-Adawiya Mosque, three miles away from the presidential palace.

Some of the officers deployed near the mosque stressed there is no way for the Brotherhood supporters to head towards the presidential palace.

22:15 Al-Ahram Arabic website reports that hundreds or anti-Morsi demonstrators in the northern coastal city of Alexandria ransacked the governorate’s headquarters, expressing anger at the killing of other protesters Thursday at the hands of what they described as "armed militias affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood."

anti-Morsi demonstrators in the northern coastal city of Alexandria ransacked the governorate’s headquarters (Photo: Al-Ahram)

Minutes later, a group of men wielding firearms and bladed weapons chased protesters out of the building. Fire shots were heard in the surrounding area. No reports on injuries are available yet.

22:12 Journalist Eman Mehanna confirmed that the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) in Zagazig, Sharqiya governorate in the eastern Delta, has been raided by protesters but police forces have contained the situation.

Earlier on Friday, violent clashes erupted between supporters of President Morsi, who hails from the Brotherhood, and opponents in the perimeter of his residence in his hometown in Zagazig.

“police forces have now cordoned the area around the president’s house, blocking thousands of protesting opponents from advancing towards it,” Mehanna told private satellite channel OnTV. “Families of protesters who were detained upon the clashes have joined the protest.”

The FJP said on its Facebook page Friday: “The thuggery episode continues ... Thugs have looted and vandalized the party’s office in Zagazig amid complicity from security forces and silence from the so-called political forces.”

20:30 Leader of the opposition National Salvation Front Mohamed ElBaradei calls on President Morsi to withdraw the constitutional declaration “tonight” and to postpone the referendum until national consensus is achieved.

“I ask President Morsi in the name of the Egyptian conscience to heed these two demands tonight. I am betting on president Morsi’s patriotism,” ElBaradei said in a live speech on private satellite channel ONTV.

21:12 Member of the National Salvation Front and ex-MP Amr Hamzawy says in a phone interview with private satellite channel CBC that members of the front will meet to discuss their stance after the announcement made by Mahmoud Mekki about Morsi’s readiness to hold off the referendum, describing the decision as a “positive step.”

21:10 Ahram Online’s Bel Trew describes the scene at the presidential palace right after President Morsi’s announced he is conditionally willing to postpone the referendum on the draft constitution.

“Protesters are celebrating the postponement of the expat vote on the constitution,” she said.

“Meanwhile, some of them are discussing fortifying the area surrounding the presidential palace with barriers, out of fear that the Muslim Brotherhood’s rally in Naser City’s Raba El-Adawiya Mosque [three miles away from the presidential palace] will head towards them soon.”

21:08 Egypt's vice-president Mahmoud Mekki read a presidential statement on Friday evening stating that President Mohamed Morsi is ready to postpone the constitution referendum.

However, "the political forces who demand the delay of the referendum must provide guarantees that there will not be appeals [against the delay] in courts," the statement said.

Last year's constitutional declaration, which was issued by then-ruling military council in March 2011 after a similar referendum, stipulates that a referendum on draft constitution must be held within 15 days of the date at which the president receives the draft from a constituent assembly.

The controversial draft constitution was handed to president Morsi by the outgoing constituent assembly on 1 December and the president set a referendum on the draft for 15 December.

20:42 Rights lawyer Ragia Omran confirms on Twitter that the 139 protesters captured on Wednesday during clashes at the presidential palace have been ordered to be released.

20:40 Ismail Fathy, head of Mahalla's city council, denies that protesters have attempted to create a "revolutionary council" and rule the industrial city, located in western Delta governorate of Gharbiya.

"The demonstrations, which attracted around 3,000 people, were peaceful. Nothing of this sort happened," he said in a phone interview with private satellite TV channel CBC.

20:30 Head of the Supreme Electoral Commission Samir Abu El-Maati officially confirms that the expatriate voting on the constitution referendum has been postponed from Saturday to Wednesday 12 December, according to Al-Ahram Arabic website.

20:25 Mokhtar El-Ashri, senior leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, denies the Mahalla announcement to secede.

“I was in Mahalla all day, I did not see any of this happening,” he asserted during a phone call with private satellite channel CBC.

20:20 Thousands of protesters in the industrial city of Mahalla in the western Delta governorate of Gharbiya have announced the city “independent” from the state’s authority and that they will elect a “revolutionary council” to handle the city’s affairs. Meanwhile, protesters are still blocking entrances and exits to the city.

Political forces reportedly involved in the Mahalla rebellion include: The Free Egyptians Party, Constitution Party, Strong Egypt Party, Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Popular Current and socialist activists.

20:15 The Muslim Brotherhood reported on its television channel Misr 25 that hundreds of pro-Morsi supporters are gathering three miles away from the presidential palace in front of Raba El-Adawiya Mosque in the Nasr City district to support the president.

20:10 Hossam Ali Ahmed, secretary-general of the Ghad El-Thawra Party led by 2005 presidential candidate Ayman Nour, announced on his Twitter account that the presidential office has agreed to postpone the expatriate voting processions on the draft constitution from Saturday 8 December to Wednesday 12 December, which was the party’s condition before accepting negotiations with President Morsi.

19:55 In a fresh swipe at opponents, the Muslim Brotherhood said they would not let opposition “detail the path to democracy.”

“The Egyptian people will defend their democratic choice and will not let opposition to derail path to full democracy through intimidation and violence,” the group said on its English Twitter feed.

“If opposition is seeking change, the only way to do it through ballot box and earning people's trust in upcoming elections. So far they have failed miserably.”

19:50 Protesters in the industrial city of Mahalla in the western Delta governorate of Gharbiya hung a sign on the gate of the city council that says ‘the Front of Revolutionary Salvation’ after breaking into it, according to journalist Caroline Kamel.

She told Ahram Online that some of the protesters outside the council, whom she estimates at thousands, persuaded those who broke into the city council to protest outside the building. She also said that entrances and exits of the city have been blocked by protesters who are calling for civil disobedience as tensions escalate.

19:40 Ahram Online’s Salma Shukrallah reports at the presidential palace.

“Tens of thousands are celebrating entrance past the barbed wires, cheering with drums and singing “the revolution is back again,” she said.

“Fireworks have also been shot into the air as protesters continue chanting ‘the people want the fall of the regime,’ 'leave [Erhal]' and ‘free revolutionaries will finish their path’.

“Ultras songs are also chanted on drums. Republican guard and tanks center the crowds peacefully.”

19:20 Journalist Caroline Kamel confirms to Ahram Online that hundreds of protesters in the the industrial city of Mahalla in the western Delta governorate of Gharbiya have broken into the city council.

19:15 Thousands of protesters are marching in the streets of Assiut city, upper Egypt, chanting against the Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi.

19:10 Ahram Online’s Salma Shukrallah reports that protesters around the presidential palace have broken into the barbed wire surrounding the palace and are now marching towards it. Deployed security forces did nothing to stop them, she says. Meanwhile, reports say the presidential guard has removed the barbed wires and allowed protesters to approach after they began to breach it.

Egyptian protesters
Egyptian protesters take down barbed wire during a demonstration in front of the presidential palace in Cairo (AP)

19:00 Famous television presenter Wael El-Ebrashi, who works for privately-owned satellite channel Dream TV, hits out at Salafist protesters after they reportedly blocked entrance to the 6 October Media Production on the outskirts of Cairo.

“We have turned to a state of militias; we will enter our studios and continue to do our work even if that means sacrificing our lives,” he said.  

“Down with Tyranny, down with the killers of young children, revolutionaries and journalists,” El-Ebrashi chanted in Tahrir Square.

18:47 Ahram Online’s Salma Shukrallah reports that hundreds are protesting in front of Heliopolis Court, where scores of anti-Morsi protesters have been detained since Wednesday’s clashes pending trial. The demonstrators are chanting “down with the Brotherhood rule.”

18:40 In the city of Kom Hamada, in the nothern Delta governorate of Beheira, violent confrontations were reported between Morsi supporters and opposition protesters. At least 16 people have been injured so far. Clashes began in the early evening hours after anti-Morsi demonstrators reportedly attempted to break into the local Muslim Brotherhood headquarters, Al-Ahram Arabic website said.

18:30 In Tanta city, the capital of western Delta governorate of Gharbiya, members of the Freedom and Justice Party – the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm – have been conducting a constitution awareness campaign, Al-Ahram Arabic website reports. They have been visiting people at home to promote their message.

18:19 Al-Ahram Arabic website says hundreds of opposition protesters have blocked a main railway crossing in the industrial city of Mahalla in the western Delta governorate of Gharbiya, the hometown of the famous anti-Mubarak rebellion in April in 2008.

18:15 Additional presidential guard has been deployed around the presidential palace to prevent opposition protesters from breaching the barbed wire barrier and entering the buffer zone between them and the security forces, Al-Ahram Arabic website reports.

18:05 Leftist rights lawyer and former presidential candidate Khaled Ali, who is protesting at the presidential palace in Heliopolis, has told the independent Al-Shorouk newspaper that “whoever negotiates with Morsi now is a traitor to the revolution.”

18:00 Moving to Morsi’s hometown of Zagazig in Sharqiya governorate in the eastern Delta, Al-Ahram Arabic website says security forces are being deployed in anticipation of further clashes. Dozens of opposition protesters have been throwing rocks at Morsi’s house in the town. In response, security forces fired at least six tear gas canisters to disperse them from the scene. El-Zagazig University Hospital has received several cases of protesters suffering from tear gas inhalation.

17:53 Ahram Online’s Salma Shukrallah says there are tens of thousands of opposition protesters in front of the main gate of the Heliopolis club, which is opposite the northern entrance of the presidential palace. Protesters are also scattered in several areas around the palace, she says.

17:40 Ahmed Nour, a member of the Revolutionary Socialists protesting against President Morsi in front of the presidential palace, speaks to Ahram Online’s Salma Shukrallah.

“We refuse dialogue with President Morsi because he did not respond to our demands to reform the Constituent Assembly, cancel the constitutional declaration and replace Prime Minister Qandil’s failed government,” the 26-year-old physician said.

“Instead, he threatened his opponents and incited his supporters against them. The regime not only uses state institutions for oppression, it also mobilises against the opposition with sectarian discourse."

“On Wednesday it was not the police that attacked opposition protesters, it was the regime’s supporters. After what happened, dialogue would mean these oppressive policies have succeeded.”

17:25 Ahram Online’s Sarah El-Rashidi asks two protesters at the presidential palace to share their opinions and predictions for what might happen next.

Essam Zahran, a taxi diver in his fifties, worried that there might be more blood shed if the current standoff continues.

Meanwhile, Hala Hafez, a middle-aged protester, said she has not made up her mind about the constitution.“I have not decided whether I will vote no or whether I will boycott. A large number of opposition forces seem to be toying with the idea of boycotting the referendum.” 

17:17 Al-Ahram Arabic website says four people have been injured during clashes in the northern Delta city of Kafr El-Sheikh. An estimated one thousand opposition protesters reportedly attempted to vandalise the local Muslim Brotherhood headquarters on Friday afternoon. Around two hundred Muslim Brotherhood supporters appeared from a side street and hurled rocks at the opposition demonstrators. Some fired shots into the air to disperse the crowds. One of the injured sustained a gunshot wound to his foot.

17:10 Several thousand protesters continue to demonstrate against president Morsi's recent decrees in Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the 2011 uprising. Protesters closed traffic in and out of the square. So far, the presidential palace in Heliopolis has been the most prominent venue of today’s mass protests.

17:05 Ahram Online’s Salma Shukrallah says a march consisting of thousands of protesters arrived from Higaz Street and settled in El-Marghani Street [leading to the palace]. Numbers are still increasing near the presidential palace.

17:00 Medhat Al-Zahed, official spokesperson for the Popular Socialist Alliance, tells Al-Ahram’s Arabic-language news portal: "The president is using Mubarak's language when he speaks about conspiracies without offering proof. He wants to continue making autocratic decisions, like the distorted constitution. Such decisions only benefit one current in society."

16:58 Ahram Online’s Salma Shukrallah says numbers anti-Morsi protesters are rapidly increasing near the presidential palace: “There are several thousands at Roxy Square, El-Orouba and El-Marghani Street [all leading to the palace]. Protesters are mainly chanting against the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood. ‘Bread, freedom and social justice’ was among the chants.”

16:54 President Morsi's speech was "a catastrophe that lacked a greater vision about the current crisis," says Shaheer George, official spokesman for liberal party Free Egyptians.

George added that the speech did not propose solutions and only proved that the president leader for the Brotherhood only and not for all Egyptians. The televised statement, George added, ignored the attacks and the violations by the Brotherhood on peaceful protesters.

He also refused President Morsi’s proposal for dialogue as Morsi refused to listen to any of the demands of opposition which "is an insult to democracy."

16:51 Protests are being held in the city of Tanta in the Nile Delta Gharbeya governorate, following the Friday prayers at the Sayed Badawi mosque in the city centre.

“No Brotherhood, no Salafists, this is the youth of the January 25 Revolution," protesters chanted.      

16:45 Meanwhile in the Nile Delta, thousands of protesters are marching from Mansoura's Al-Nasr Mosque circling Martyr’s Square on their way towards the governor’s offices.

16:30 Tension is rising at the presidential palace: protesters have broken through the military-erected barbed wire barricades and are chanting “Oh army, oh army, you are the right hand of the Brotherhood, you are cowards," Ahram Online’s Sara El-Rashidi reports. Some are now standing on top of the concrete wall, built this morning by security forces.    

Egyptian journalist Mohamed Abdelfattah at the scene tweets a picture of protesters attempting to push through the lines of officers guarding the palace:

"Stampede in direction of Republican Guard, chants by youth to break through their ranks"

16:25 Mohamed El-Qasas, a member of the supreme body of Brotherhood-breakaway party the Egyptian Current, told Ahram's Arabic website said that President Morsi's Thursday speech was "weird, shocking and unpredictable."

"I felt that we were listening to the speech of the head of Freedom and Justice Party mourning the martyrs of the Brotherhood. Unfortunately his televised statement encourages citizens to turn against the revolutionaries while threatening the opposition as well as creating internal strife. In conclusion the whole speech was directed to the Brotherhood and not the public." 

16:20 Back at the presidential palace, Ahram Online reporter Sara El-Rashidi talked to engineer Sami El-Masr who explained that if Morsi had gone back on his decree, the current crisis would have been manageable.

"He needs to listen to the people and try to acknowledge their demands to calm the situation in the country”. El Masr added that Morsi is “belittling the Egyptians’ intelligence."

Another protester at the scene, Mohamed Hussein a businessman tells Rashidi that he is taking part in Friday’s protests because he wants to make the oppositions’ numbers representative.

“I believe that Morsi’s speech was agreed upon with the army beforehand; his only apparent concession of attempting to amend Article 6 of the constitutional decree was not even guaranteed as it does not seem likely he would actually amend it," Hussein added.

He believes that his speech was a clear threat to National Salvation Front members Mohamed ElBaradei and Hamdeen Sabbahi.

“Even if a dialogue is initiated with opposition members, we know what the outcome will be beforehand and thus it is renders useless”. 

16:15 Moving to the coastal city of Alexandria, Revolutionary Socialist activist Mahienour El-Masry tells Ahram Online reporter Yassin Gaber that there is currently a march from the Qaed Ibrahim Mosque on the city’s corniche to towards Sidi Gaber in the north of the city.

Approximately 15,000 protesters are participating in the march, representing a wide array of opposition groups and parties.

Protesters, responding to violence in Cairo, chant: “The regime has lost its legitimacy, they killed our brothers and sisters at the presidential palace”.  

16:05 Funerals were held at Cairo's main Al-Azhar Mosque Friday afternoon for three Muslim Brotherhood supporters who died in Wednesday's clashes between pro-Brotherhood groups and anti-Morsi protesters at the presidential palace.

Dr. Abdallah Karyoony, assistant secretary-general of the Doctors' Syndicate, at the scene told Ahram Online's Nada El-Kouny that around 50,000 protesters attended, several of which helped carry the coffins through the crowds.

"There was a stage built near the Hosseiny Hospital adjacent to the mosque where some public figures like the Muslim Brotherhood’s main operative in the Constituent Assembly Mohamed El-Beltagi and prominent Salafist Sheikh Nashaat Ahmed spoke."

Speaking about the ongoing crisis across Egypt, Karyoony said that he believes the only way to get out of the current impasse is to call on all national forces to unite and attempt to reach a consensus.

“While I believe that approximately 15 articles of the constitution draft might be controversial, I do not see that there should be calls for its complete annulment”.

He added that such criticisms can be dealt with and that “Egyptians need to look at the bigger picture and the greater good for the country at such a crucial time in its history.”

“The passing of the referendum is one step along that way to ensure the stability of the country and to move forward along a logical path”.

He concluded that If the constitution passes after the referendum, there is the opportunity to change them in parliament and discuss these criticisms.

Supporters of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi
Supporters of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and members of the Muslim Brotherhood carry the coffin of Mohamed Mamdouh al-Husseini, who died in recent clashes at the presidential palace according to local media, at Al Azhar mosque in Cairo (Reuters)

16:00 The Liberal Wafd Party delegation has just arrived at the presidential palace carrying the party's green flags and logos. The group arrived in five micro-buses and ten cars, explains Ahram Online reporter Mai Shaheen.

15:51 The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) urged Egypt's new prosecutor-general to finish investigations into Wednesday's presidential palace clashes, the "barbaric criminals who brutally assaulted the lawyer Sobhi Saleh" and attacks on FJP headquarters in Suez, Ismaila, Port Said, Alexandria, Mahalla and Cairo.

Published in a Friday statement on their official website, the Islamist party wrote:

"Our demonstration [on Wednesday at the presidential palace] remained peaceful for three hours, until counter-demonstrations arrived, including opposition groups infiltrated by professional violent criminals paid by former regime figures. It is our national responsibility to demand that investigators do their legal duty to announce the dimensions of this heinous plot and the names of the perpetrators and instigators of violence, to prosecute all in fair and speedy trials.

The document also asserted that the FJP is ready for dialogue and cooperation and that their "hearts are open to all citizens who want a real national partnership on the basis of upholding the best interests of the country. The group affirmed the right of everyone to the freedom of expression, demonstration and protest, according to their "political convictions, provided they commit to peaceful action, respect and obey popular will." 

15:45 Dozens are currently protesting outside the grounds of Egyptian Media Production City against what they say is the "incitement by the media" towards Islamist groups. Ultra-orthodox Salafists are reportedly at the television complex located about 30km outside of the capital, together with supporters of former Salafist presidential contender Hazem Abu-Ismail.

15:35 Back at the presidential palace, Ahram Online reporter Mai Shaheen describes protesters attempting to break through the barbed wire fences erected by the military and the Republican Guard to prevent protesters from demonstrating directly outside the palace.

The security forces implemented the curfew at 3pm Thursday and called all groups, both supporters of the president and opposition forces, to evacuate the area in front of the presidential building.

15:30 Participants in the Journalists' Syndicate protest outside its downtown headquarters report that the march has left for the presidential palace. 

15:15 Leftist Taggamu Party has joined opposition groups in refusing to meet the President Mohamed Morsi during his planned Saturday meeting.

"We will not participate in any deception of the public and trust that all democratic political forces refuse this deceiving dialogue."

The statement also expressed its surprise at Mohamed Morsi's call for talks with his opponents after refusing the legitimate demands of the parties, political forces, National Salvation Front, judiciaries, constitution and legal consultants.

"President Mohamed Morsi announced in his televised speech that the project of the Salafist and Brotherhood referendum will take place as scheduled on 15 December," the party statement read.

"The president, Brotherhood and their party are insisting on deepening the political crisis and causing more bloodshed by the Brotherhood and Freedom and Justice Party's militants continuous attacks on peaceful protests against their constitution and their invalid referendum." 

15:00 Ahram Online journalist Mai Shaheen reports that the Rabaa Al-Adaweya Mosque march has just reached the presidential palace, protesters chant "peaceful, peaceful" as they join the hundreds already gathered in front of the military barricades.

14:45 A few thousand are marching through downtown Cairo’s Ramses Street towards the presidential palace Ahram Online reporter Simon Hanna confirms. The protest, which originated at the Nour Mosque in Abbasiya, is not dominated by any particular party or movement Hanna says, the majority of the banners call for the cancellation of the draft constitution.

 “We just passed by the girls Catholic college in Ramses Street, and the whole school was filled with girls cheering us on,” adds Hanna, saying that the leader of the chants, which are calling for the end of the Brotherhood rule, is part of the Ultras Ahlawy hardcore football fan group.   

14:30 Back at the presidential palace Ahram Online reporter Sarah El-Rashidi says around 500 protesters have gathered but the numbers are building slowly, as the marches have yet to reach the rallying point.

“There is a large diversity of people here, women, children, and older members of the public. The banners read 'No to the Constitution' and 'No to the Muslim Brotherhood; Egypt is not your private estate'.”

Veiled housewife Safaa Abdou, accompanied by her two children, told Aharm Online that she believes that President Mohamed Morsi is worse than Mubarak.

“While Mubarak stole from us, at least we were living in safety; what we are seeing these days is similar to acts of terrorism. At this point, it is not enough for Morsi to cancel the declaration or the referendum, but instead we call on nothing short of his removal.”   

14:15 After some deliberation the National Salvation Front headed by Constitution Party leader Mohamed ElBaradei and presidential contenders Amr Moussa and Hamdeen Sabbahi announced that they officially reject President Mohamed Morsi’s invitation for national dialogue.

“We are shocked at Morsi’s blatant denial of the facts of violence and brutality as seen by millions of Egyptians and others around the world on television and print media.”

The front listed their key demands in the statement.

They called on the Minister of Justice Ahmed Mekki to assign a neutral judge to lead investigations into the use of force on Wednesday outside the presidential palace and try those responsible, regardless of what their political and ideological affiliations are.

They also reiterated their calls for the Constitutional Declaration to be revoked and the draft constitution and referendum to be cancelled.

In conclusion the front promised to continue all “legitimate means of defense to get their rights and ensure their freedom” as well as affirming they will hold peaceful protests until the president revokes his recent decisions.

According to MENA news agency, the liberal Wafd Party also decided not to participate in President Morsi’s Saturday talks and instead joined the National Salvation Front’s Friday afternoon meeting.  

14:00 Official spokesman of the Salafist Nour Party Nader Bakkar tweets his comments on the recent bloody events across Egypt:

"I refuse the siege of the presidential palace, constitutional court or media city and call on everyone to control themselves, prioritise the well-being of the country and stop the bloodshed."

13:50 Back on Tahrir Square, National Salvation Front leader and Nasserist presidential contender Hamdeen Sabbahi is addressing the crowds.

Ahram Online reporter Mai Shaheen in Tahrir says Sabbahi condemned the use of force in demonstrations including attacking Muslim Brotherhood offices, referencing Thursday night's torching of the Brotherhood Moqattam headquarters in Cairo.

“We cannot accept a dictatorship”, Sabbahi said forcibly, referring to President Mohamed Morsi's recent contentious decree and his refusal to back down on the upcoming referendum on the constitution.

Sabbahi condemned the use of force in demonstrations including attacking Muslim Brotherhood offices (Photo: Mai Shaheen)

Meanwhile on the corners of the flashpoint square, the imam leading Friday prayers in Tahrir’s Omar Makram Mosque strongly condemned Muslim Brotherhood attacks on opposition protesters at the presidential palace, Ahram Online's reporter added.  

13:45 The marches have set off towards the presidential palace, with hundreds moving from Tahrir Square, Mohandiseen's Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque and Nasr City's Rabaa El-Adaweya Mosque. Meanwhile supporters of the president flock to Al-Azhar Mosque to stage their own demonstration.

13:30 Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie is seen preaching at Cairo's main mosque Al-Azhar as hundreds spill on the streets outside the gates of the building.

A funeral prayer for those killed during clashes outside the presidential palace on Wednesday will be held after the Friday sermon.

"We will sacrifice our blood and our souls for Islam,” the gathered worshipers chant.  

13:15 As the sun rose above the Presidential Palace in the Heliopolis suburb of Cairo, Ahram Online journalist Bel Trew spotted the military building another security barricade in Merghani street: the scene of Wednesday’s bloody clashes. The wall, which divides the street in half, is part of increased security around the palace - which has been manned by the Republican Guard since Thursday - ahead of expected protests.

13:00 Good afternoon, we open our live coverage of nationwide protests against President Mohamed Morsi's decision to stick by his decree and the constitutional referendum. 

Thousands are expected to converge on the Heliopolis presidential place from 17 venues across Cairo, Friday, in protest of President Mohamed Morsi’s decision to stick by his controversial Constitutional Declaration and the upcoming constitutional referendum, as announced during his televised statement Thursday.

In the long awaited speech, Morsi blamed “infiltrators” and “third parties” for causing the bloody clashes between Brotherhood supporters and protesters on Wednesday night at the presidential palace, which saw seven dead. He also accused opposition forces of “serving the interests of the remnants of the former regime” to overthrow his legitimate rule.

The president refused to bow to the demands of opposition coalition the National Salvation Front, who demand he rescind the Constitutional Declaration and re-form the Constituent Assembly, saying that his recent decisions were necessary.

However, Morsi called for Saturday talks with his opponents. This was promptly rejected by the National Salvation Front who said that following the recent bloodshed they could not open dialogue with the president while he “ignores the demands of the people.”

There have been violent scenes across the country since Morsi issued his contentious decree, as rival protest groups meet and clash. Muslim Brotherhood and Freedom and Justice Party offices nationwide have also been attacked: Thursday night saw the Brotherhood headquarters in Moqattam torched by angry demonstrators.

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