CAIRO -- During an anti-government demonstration on Friday, protesters threw fire bombs over the wall of Egypt's presidential palace, setting fire to a guardhouse at one of the gates. The police responded by firing tear gas and birdshot at demonstrators, and at one point, stripping and brutally beating a man in an episode captured on live television.
The Egyptian Health Ministry reported that one protester was killed in the violence, which quickly dashed hopes of reconciliation between Egypt's quarreling political parties. On Thursday, Islamist and secular-leaning groups had been coaxed to sit down together on Thursday to issue a joint declaration condemning the violence after more than a week of unrest that left more than 50 people dead.
But on Friday, as clashes raged on a broad avenue outside the presidential palace, the warring parties reverted to the recriminations that Egypt's defense minister recently warned had brought the country to the brink of collapse. The parties' feuds have fed an atmosphere of growing polarization that many Egyptians blame for a rising tide of violence. The actions by some protesters on Friday -- and the officers' response -- seemed to confirm another fear: neither the opposition parties nor the government exercises firm control over the confrontations in the streets.
In a statement, President Mohamed Morsi blamed unnamed "political forces" for inciting what he said was an attempt to "storm the gates of the palace."
"We stress that such violent practices have nothing to do with the principles of the revolution or legitimate means of expression," the statement said. It called on "patriotic forces" to denounce the violence and "urge their supporters to immediately withdraw from the palace area."
The National Salvation Front, the largest coalition of secular-leaning opposition groups, said it had no connection to the violence and blamed "Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood group that he belongs to" for the "state of congestions and tension prevailing in the Egyptian society for the last two months."
It remained to be seen whether the fighting at the palace would turn into a deeper conflagration, like the deadly clashes outside the presidential palace in December between Mr. Morsi's supporters and anti-government protesters. The Brotherhood said on Friday that its members were staying away from the clashes and did not wish to be "dragged into the violence."
The clashes started after a peaceful sit-in that lasted several hours outside the palace walls, where protesters chanted against the rule of Mr. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement he once led. As night fell, a small group of protesters threw fire bombs over a palace gate, and launched fireworks toward buildings on the palace grounds. Officers inside fired a water cannon back, to disperse demonstrators but also to douse small fires, including one that started in a guardhouse by the gate.
Within an hour, the fighting had intensified, with armored personnel carriers advancing and firing tear gas into the crowd, which was forced back several blocks from the palace. Security officers set fire to tents set up by protesters across the street from the palace and threw flags and banners on bonfires that had been lit in the street. As the police started firing birdshot at the protesters, a small fire started in a cafe near the fighting, sending patrons running for the door.
The riot police officers, who serve under the command of the Interior Ministry, also captured and beat several protesters, witnesses said. In one of the beatings, which was captured on live television, officers could be seen dragging a naked, middle-aged man, covered in soot, across the asphalt toward an armored personnel carrier. The officers appeared to drag him by his arms and then his legs. One officer appeared to beat the man, and then another took a turn, appearing to hit the man in the face before finally placing him in the vehicle.
For many, the image served as a reminder that more than two years after Egypt's uprising, the Interior Ministry remains one of the country's many recalcitrant institutions, saddled with poorly trained officers who resort quickly to abuse. It also threatened to deepen hostility after a week of deadly clashes in several Egyptian cities.
In recent days, signs emerged that Egypt's political elite, unnerved by the sudden erosion of the state's authority, were working to settle some of their differences. Earlier this week, opposition parties reached across ideological lines for the first time, as a hard-line Islamist party joined with the National Salvation Front to put pressure on Mr. Morsi to form a new government.
Then on Thursday, a group of young revolutionaries managed to organize a meeting between opposition leaders and representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood. The meeting did not result in any breakthroughs, but the simple act of putting the antagonists in the same room was seen as a step forward.
Those efforts a[[reared to come undone in Friday's protests, with the quick descent into violence outside the presidential palace.
Shady el-Ghazali-Harb, one of the young organizers who helped guide the revolt against Hosni Mubarak two years ago, was on the scene, with a gas mask draped around his neck. "This will not stop. As long as the demands of the people are not met, people will stay in the street, and no one can control this violence," he said, arguing that the underlying issue was the failure of the Islamist-backed constitution to address the goals of the revolution -- bread, freedom and social justice, as the familiar chant goes.
Mai Ayyad contributed reporting.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.