Cairo - Most Egyptian judges rejected any role on Tuesday in overseeing the country's constitutional referendum, a move likely to cast further doubt on the legitimacy of the disputed charter.
The nation's worst crisis since Hosni Mubarak's ouster nearly two years ago also forced the government to put off a crucial deal with the International Monetary Fund for a $4.8bn loan, shattering any hope for recovery of the country's ailing economy anytime soon.
On one side of the divide is President Mohammed Morsi, his Muslim Brotherhood and their ultra-conservative Islamist allies, against an opposition camp of liberals, leftists and Christians who contend the draft charter restricts freedoms and gives Islamists vast influence over the running of the country.
An unexpected twist came when the defence minister, a Morsi appointee, invited the opposition, along with judges, media leaders and Muslim and Christian clerics to an informal gathering on Wednesday, saying he was doing so in his personal - not an official - capacity.
It was the second time this week that the nation's powerful military has addressed the crisis, signaling its return to the political fray after handing over power in June to Morsi, Egypt's first civilian president.
The military sees itself as the guarantor of Egypt's interests and secular traditions. Earlier this week, it warned of disastrous consequences if the crisis over the country's draft constitution is not resolved.
"We will only sit together ... For the sake of every Egyptian, come and disagree. But we won't be cross with one another or clash," Defence Minister Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi, said on state television.
"We are not concerned with politics. We want to reassure the people that we can sit together," added Major General Mohammed el-Assar, el-Sissi's deputy, speaking on a private TV network.
The opposition said it would not participate in any meeting that was nothing more than an informal gathering. The Brotherhood said it would attend.
Egypt's political crisis began on 22 November when Morsi issued a decree granting himself - and the Islamist-dominated panel that drafted the constitution - immunity from judicial oversight or challenge, sparking mass demonstrations.