CAIRO - Egypt's military called on Saturday, December 8, for dialogue to resolve a crisis over President Mohammed Morsi's new powers, warning it will intervene to stop Egypt going into "a dark tunnel".
"The armed forces... realize their responsibility to preserve the higher interests of the country and to secure and protect vital targets, public institutions and the interests of innocent citizens," the BBC reported the army statement read on Egyptian TV by a spokesman.
In its first statement since Morsi's election, the army vowed to protect public institutions and innocent people.
The army statement sounded like a swipe at protesters who have besieged the palace of freely elected President Morsi and who have called for his removal, going beyond mainstream opposition demands for him to retract a decree that expanded his powers.
Meanwhile, the opposition has rejected his call for talks, unless he gives up powers and halts a constitutional referendum.
"The armed forces affirm that dialogue is the best and only way to reach consensus," the statement added.
"The opposite of that will bring us to a dark tunnel that will result in catastrophe and that is something we will not allow."
The military, which ruled Egypt for more 18 months after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 has maintained a low profile in the current stand-off.
But observers say that, with Egypt so polarized, it cannot be seen to be taking sides.
Abdel Khaleq al-Sherif, a senior official from the Muslim Brotherhood that backs President Morsi, said the army statement was "balanced".
The statement "announces that the army's loyalty is to the people and this is good", he told Reuters news agency.
The army statement came as President Morsi chaired a national dialogue meeting on Saturday with political and other public figures.
Attendants will discuss "means to reach a solution to differences over the referendum...and the constitutional decree, Morsi's office said
The main opposition movement, the National Salvation Front, however, rejected President's calls for dialogue to resolve the spiraling crisis.
Nobel prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei, the movement's chief co-ordinator, urged other political groups to shun all dialogue with President Morsi.
"We [want] a dialogue not based on an arm-twisting policy and imposing fait accompli," his Twitter message read.
Two other opposition groups, the liberal Wafd party and the National Association for Change, said they were also boycotting the talks.
Violence has engulfed Egypt since President Morsi issue a decree granting himself sweeping powers.
Opponents accuse the Islamist leader of seeking to create a new autocracy by awarding himself extraordinary powers and were further angered when an Islamist-dominated assembly pushed through a draft constitution that opponents said did not properly represent the aspirations of the whole nation.
The president has defended his decree as necessary to prevent courts still full of judges appointed by deposed autocrat Hosni Mubarak from derailing a constitution vital for Egypt's political transition.
Morsi has said that if the constitution were voted down, another constituent assembly would be formed to write a new draft.