In this image released by the Egyptian Presidency, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, center, is seen with Minister of Defense, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, left, and an unidentified officer, during his visit to a military facility in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, March 22, 2013. (Photo: AP)
(TheBlaze/AP) -- 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 his Muslim Brotherhood supporters and opposition protesters fought street battles in the worst bout of political violence in at least three months.
Nearly 200 people were injured in Friday's violence, some seriously, outside the Brotherhood headquarters.
"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 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," the Islamist leader who took office in June warned.
"Let us not be dragged into an area where I will take a harsh decision," he added.
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.
Morsi also warned that "appropriate measures" will be taken against politicians found to be involved in 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.
Friday's clashes followed an assault a week earlier between Brotherhood supporters and protesters painting derogatory graffiti outside the Brotherhood's headquarters. Reporters at the scene were also assaulted, though the Brotherhood maintains its members were provoked by the protesters.
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."
An Egyptian protester waves his national flag during clashes in the street that leads to the headquarters of the Muslim brotherhoods in Cairo on March 22, 2013. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)
Violence and a quick succession of political crises are deepening the schism in Egypt between Morsi and his Islamist supporters on one hand, and moderate Muslims, secular and leftist Egyptians along with Christians and women on the other. 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. But on Sunday, Morsi dismissed the prospect of the "collapse" of Egypt as a false notion entertained by his foes.
“Whoever sticks his finger inside Egypt, I will cut it off,” he said in an unusual presidential metaphor. “I can see a couple of fingers getting inside by nobodies who have no value in this world, thinking that money can make them men,” he added without specifying who these "nobodies" with meddling fingers are.
He also insisted that the threatened crack-down isn't because he dislikes personal criticism. Rather, in silencing his opposition, he is strengthening the country.
"...I will not allow it when criticizing the president of the republic is designed to undermine the nation," he explained.
Here's what appears to be video from Morsi's speech (note: TheBlaze has not translated the clip below):