CAIRO — Egypt's president delivered a stern warning to his opponents on Sunday, saying he may be close to taking unspecified measures to "protect this nation" two days after supporters of his Muslim Brotherhood and opposition protesters fought street battles in the worst bout of political violence in three months.
Nearly 200 people were injured in Friday's violence, some seriously, outside the headquarters of the Brotherhood, Egypt's dominant political group.
"If I have to do what is necessary to protect this nation I will, and I am afraid that I may be close to doing so," a visibly angry Mohammed Morsi said in an animated speech to the opening session of a conference on women's rights.
"I will do so very, very soon. Sooner than those trying to shake the image of this nation think," said the Islamist leader who took office in June as the country's first freely elected president. "Let us not be dragged into an area where I will take a harsh decision," he warned.
While not naming any one opposition group or critic in particular, his comments were the strongest hint to date that he believes the parties and politicians grouped in the National Salvation Front, the main opposition coalition, were directly behind the violence. His comments were initially released in a series of tweets on his account but state television later aired extensive excerpts from the address.
He also warned that "appropriate measures" would be taken against politicians found to be behind Friday's violence, regardless of their seniority. Anyone found to be using the media to "incite violence" will also be held accountable, he added.
His comments came just hours after dozens of Islamists staged a protest outside studios belonging to independent TV networks that are critical of the Egyptian leader.
The Islamists are protesting what they see as the biased coverage of Friday's clashes. The Brotherhood says it does not support the protest, but some of the protesters were chanting slogans in support of Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie.
Friday's clashes followed an assault a week earlier by Brotherhood supporters on protesters painting derogatory graffiti outside the group's headquarters. The protesters chanted hostile slogans and taunted Brotherhood supporters when some of them tried to stop demonstrators from posting fliers on the headquarters' outside walls.
The Brotherhood supporters also assaulted reporters at the scene. The group later said its supporters were provoked by the protesters who scribbled profanities on the headquarters' outside walls and that the reporters were part of the protest.
Morsi's comments made no direct mention of the clashes but appeared to be a possible prelude to measures against the mostly liberal and secular opposition.
"I call on all political forces not to provide a political cover for violence, rioting and attacks on private and public property," Morsi said. "I will not be happy if investigations find some politicians guilty."
The National Salvation Front said in a statement it did not condone violence and called for an independent probe into all incidents of violence. It contends that the Brotherhood aims to monopolize power and control the state. Only "drastic political solutions and genuine national participation" will save Egypt from the cycle of violence, it added.
The latest bout of political violence was the worst seen in Egypt since at least 10 people died in clashes between supporters and opponents of Morsi in Cairo in December.
The seemingly endless political unrest in the eight months since Morsi took office, coupled with a free-falling economy and tenuous security situation, have led some commentators and politicians to warn of civil war if nothing is done soon. Morsi however on Sunday dismissed the prospect of the "collapse" of Egypt as a false notion entertained by his foes.