"I will meet with legal experts and opposition figures on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at the presidential headquarters to come up with a solution to save the nation,” he said.
But who was invited and what could come of such talks was not clear. ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and Nobel Peace Prize winner who on Wednesday was named the leader of the opposition, said he would not attend.
The current crisis began Nov. 22, when Morsi declared that his decisions could not be reviewed by the country’s judges. It continued when the constitutional assembly, which is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, hastily completed a draft document before a court ruling could have dissolved the assembly. Morsi quickly approved the document and set Dec. 15 for the country to vote on it.
Since then, the opposition has called for Morsi to delay the referendum until a more representative body can craft a new version. Liberals, secularists and Christians had withdrawn from the assembly.
After several demonstration and counterdemonstrations, the crisis reached its most violent moments Wednesday when rival protesters set upon one another with rocks, firebombs and gunshots outside the presidential palace.
On Thursday, Morsi said that an investigation into the clashes had yielded 80 arrests and found that “paid elements” were involved.
That claim worried opponents who said they feared their leaders – former presidential candidates Hamdeen Sabahi and Amr Moussa, along with ElBaradei – would be rounded up in the days ahead as suspected instigators.
In describing the agitators, Morsi said: “These people became rich through the ex-regime and are now spending their fortunes to burn our homeland.”
At one point, Morsi blamed the protests for tying up traffic in Cairo, a city notorious for traffic jams, though the claim seemed unrealistic – the streets of the city have been uncommonly empty this past week as residents stayed inside, fearful of the protests, fires and street fighting.
Thursday morning, Egypt’s elite Republican Guard deployed troops and tanks near the presidential palace, and police had been stationed around the palace. Graffiti that demonstrators had painted on the palace walls had been hurriedly painted over.
The president called for demonstrators to leave the presidential compound area, and most of Morsi’s supporters appeared to have obeyed.
But after Morsi’s speech, the opposition pledged to turn out large numbers of protesters on Friday in rallies scheduled for Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the turmoil that led to Mubarak’s fall nearly two years ago.
Ismail is a McClatchy special correspondent.