"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 army said in a statement read on Egyptian TV by a spokesman. "The armed forces affirm that dialogue is the best and only way to reach consensus. 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 opposition has called on Morsi to relinquish extraordinary powers he invoked last week and to call off a Dec. 15 referendum on ratifying a new constitution that Morsi opponents say is inadequate in terms of protecting political and religious freedoms and the rights of women, the BBC reported.
The New York Times said the official newspaper al-Ahram has reported Morsi approved legislation allowing the use of armed forces to arrest civilians in an attempt to keep order but had not yet ordered the army into action.
"President Morsi will soon issue a decision for the participation of the armed forces in the duties of maintaining security and protection of vital state institutions until the constitution is approved and legislative elections are finished," al-Ahram reported.
The Egyptian newspaper said the defense minister would determine the parameters of the military's involvement.
Morsi was conducting what he called a national dialogue at the presidential palace Saturday, following two weeks of sometimes violent demonstrations against his Nov. 22 decree asserting broad new powers.
Protesters gathered again at the palace Saturday. Morsi's opponents said his call for dialogue is inadequate, al-Masry al-Youm reported.
"The president didn't offer any incentives for dialogue," said Mohamed Abu-Shaqra. "Rather he emphasized the use of haphazard power and referred to opposition protesters across the country as a minority, as well as pointing to a third party. If he wants to start a healthy dialogue at such a critical moment, you need to show an understanding of the opposition's demands."
Protesters said their main demands were for Morsi to repeal the November decree and to scrap the referendum.
Ahram Online said the cabinet approved Morsi's plan to expand the military's authority, a move that would require Morsi to issue a constitutional declaration, The Washington Post reported.