CAIRO Prominent opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei said on Saturday there could be no dialogue with Egypt's president until he scrapped a "dictatorial" decree that he said gave the Islamist leader Mohamed Mursi the powers of a pharaoh.
The presidential decree issued on Thursday by Mursi, elected in June with the Muslim Brotherhood behind him, expanded his powers and caused fury amongst his opponents, prompting violent clashes in central Cairo and other cities on Friday.
Judges, angry at steps seen as undermining the judiciary, threatened to strike if it were not revoked and the opposition has called for more protests, with one planned for Tuesday.
"There is no room for dialogue when a dictator imposes the most oppressive, abhorrent measures and then says 'let us split the difference'," ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said in an interview with Reuters and The Associated Press.
ElBaradei, who had earlier in the day met opposition leaders and said he expected to be coordinator of a new National Salvation Front, said Mursi's decree threatened Egypt's troubled transition and action was needed to stop a "cycle of violence".
"How are we going to do that? I do not see any other way other than through Mr Mursi rescinding his dictatorial declaration," the 70-year-old former U.N. diplomat said, adding the decree created a "new pharaoh".
ElBaradei had met other opposition figures, such as former presidential candidates leftist Hamdeen Sabahy and Amr Moussa, the former Arab League chief. A third presidential candidate, Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, sent a representative.
"We will have to continue to escalate our level of expressing resistance, peaceful disobedience," ElBaradei said, adding the aim was to show the depth of opposition.
The former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said Mursi's moves had galvanised the liberal and other opposition camps to unite. Till now they have proved disparate forces, overwhelmed by the Brotherhood's organisational skills.
ElBaradei said he had met Mursi last week to discuss Egypt's political process, similar to talks the Islamist leader has held with other political leaders. But ElBaradei said he was given no "whiff" that a major decree was coming.
"You assume that if ... the president is going to take sweeping measures grabbing all powers that he will at least consult before," ElBaradei said. "There was no consultation at all. That doesn't show the best of ... intentions or good will."
In his decree, Mursi put all his decisions beyond legal challenge as long as there is no parliament, sacked the unpopular general prosecutor and opened the door to retrials for the already jailed ousted President Hosni Mubarak and his aides.
"I am waiting to see, I hope soon, a very strong statement of condemnation by the U.S., by Europe and by everybody who really cares about human dignity," ElBaradei said, speaking from his elegant villa on the outskirts of Cairo.
ElBaradei returned home to Egypt in 2010 as one of its best-known Egyptians on the world stage. He was a vocal opponent of Mubarak and then, after his overthrow, of the army council that took charge during a 16-month transition.
But ElBaradei disappointed many Egyptians for backing out of the presidential race. Pinning hopes on him to lead Egypt through its troubles, they said he spent too much time abroad.
"People still believe in the sense of a 'saviour,' you know, somebody who is able to single-handedly save them," he said, but added that Egyptians should no longer rely on a "single person" to resolve all their problems.
ElBaradei said he had long argued for a constitution first before elections to prevent the trouble the nation now faced, adding he was right not to take part in a "farcical" election for president when there was no constitution or job description.
Drafting a new constitution has hit gridlock with Islamists and their supporters on one hand and liberals and others on the other at loggerheads over the role of Islam. Liberals have quit and demanded the Islamist-dominated assembly be disbanded.
One of Mursi's measures in his decree was to immunise the assembly against any legal challenge and extend its life by two months, meaning it will not complete its job till February, delaying elections to a new parliament.
The founder of the Dostour (Constitution) Party, popular with many revolutionary youths, said: "We were paying the price of a completely convoluted, completely illogical transition."
(Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Alison Williams and Jon Hemming)