CAIRO - Amid fears of violence between supporters and opponents of President Mohamed Morsi, Egypt signaled Wednesday, December 5, the possibility of making changes to disputed articles of the draft constitution, which triggered rival protests, calling for opponents to end the crisis.
"There must be consensus," Vice-President Mahmoud Mekky told a news conference cited by Reuters.
Unveiling a proposal to head off the crisis, Mekky said all parties would respect the document until new parliamentary elections that are expected early next year.
At that point, parliament would initiate steps towards a formal amendment of the constitution.
"There is real political will to pass the current period and respond to the demands of the public," Mekky said.
"(We) could ... agree from now on amendments in a written document before the referendum," he said.
Mekky called for "communication between political forces" on the document. He said the referendum would go ahead on time.
Turmoil gripped Egypt in recent weeks following a decree granting President Morsi sweeping powers.
The situation worsened after the Egyptian leader invited voters to cast ballot on a new constitution on December 15.
But opponents criticized the move, accusing Morsi, a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, of siding with his Islamist supporters
Morsi said he acted to prevent courts still full of appointees from the era of deposed president Hosni Mubarak from derailing the draft constitution meant to complete a political transition in the Arab world's most populous state.
Morsi's opponents took to the streets over the past days, with thousands of protestors besieged his presidential palace on Tuesday.
The constitution is meant to be the cornerstone of democracy after three decades of army-backed autocracy under Mubarak.
Fears of violence grew Wednesday after the Muslim Brotherhood called for a protest to show support for Morsi, and opponents called counter demonstrations.
Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan was quoted on its Facebook page as saying opposition groups "imagined they could shake legitimacy or impose their views by force".
Hundreds of pro-Morsi demonstrators, watched by equal numbers of police, waved flags outside the Supreme Constitutional Court, whose rulings have complicated the Islamists' rise to power.
"You are not a political agency," read one banner held by the demonstrators, addressing a court that in June ordered the dissolution of the Islamist-led lower house of parliament.
In response, leftist opposition leader Hamdeen Sabahy urged his supporters to go to the streets as well, heightening the chances of confrontation between Islamists and their opponents.
A spokeswoman for Sabahy's Popular Current movement asked protesters to head to the palace to reinforce those still camped out there after Tuesday evening's protests, in which officials said 35 protesters and 40 police were wounded.
About 200 protesters camped out overnight, blocking one gate to the palace in northern Cairo, but traffic was flowing normally and riot police had been withdrawn.
"Our demands to the president: retract the presidential decree and cancel the referendum on the constitution," read a placard hung by demonstrators on a palace gate.
Facing the gravest crisis of his six-month-old tenure, Morsi has shown no sign of buckling under pressure, confident that the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies can win the referendum and a parliamentary election to follow.Many Egyptians yearn for an end to political upheaval that has scared off investors and tourists, damaging the economy.