Egypt's military has warned of "disastrous consequences" if the crisis that sent tens of thousands of protesters back into the streets is not resolved, signalling the army's return to an increasingly polarised and violent political scene.
The military said serious dialogue is the "best and only" way to overcome the nation's deepening conflict over a disputed draft constitution hurriedly adopted by Islamist allies of President Mohammed Morsi, and recent decrees granting himself near-absolute powers.
"Anything other than that (dialogue) will force us into a dark tunnel with disastrous consequences; something which we won't allow," the statement said. Failing to reach a consensus "is in the interest of neither side. The nation as a whole will pay the price," it added.
Egypt's once all-powerful military, which temporarily took over governing the country after the revolution that ousted autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak, has largely been sidelined since handing over power to Mr Morsi weeks after his election.
But it has begun asserting itself again, with soldiers sealing off the presidential palace with tanks and barbed wire, as rival protests and street battles between Mr Morsi's supporters and his opponents turned increasingly violent.
The statement said the military "realises its national responsibility in protecting the nation's higher interests" and state institutions.
At least six civilians have been killed and several offices of the president's Muslim Brotherhood set on fire since the crisis began on November 22. The two sides also have staged a number of sit-ins around state institutions, including the presidential palace where some of the most violent clashes occurred.
Images of the military's elite Republican Guards unit surrounding the area around the palace showed one of the most high-profile troop deployment since the army handed over power to Mr Morsi on June 30.
A sit-in by Mr Morsi's opponents around the palace continued today, with protesters setting up roadblocks with tanks behind them amid reports that the president's supporters planned rival protests. By midday TV footage showed the military setting up a new wall of cement blocks around the palace.
Tensions have escalated since Mr Morsi issued new decrees granting himself and an Islamist-dominated constitutional assembly immunity from oversight by the judiciary. The president's allies then rushed through a constitution and he announced a December 15 nationwide referendum on the charter.