Protests engulf Egypt despite Morsi’s decrees

Cairo police fire tear gas near site of epic 2011 fight

Protesters in Suez had set afire cars and a police station Monday. Several said they would defy a curfew there.
Protesters in Suez had set afire cars and a police station Monday. Several said they would defy a curfew there.

PORT SAID, Egypt — Large protests in the Suez Canal city of Port Said and fresh clashes in Cairo on Monday extended unrest in Egypt to a fifth day despite President Mohammed Morsi’s declaration of a state of emergency and imposition of a curfew in three major cities.

In Port Said, where the police lost control over the weekend and where marchers on Monday said they no longer recognized Morsi’s authority, protesters chased away armored personnel carriers with rocks and shoes during a funeral procession for victims of the recent violence.

Protesters also called for the entire city to ignore the 9 p.m. curfew.


In the capital, Cairo, police fired tear gas at protesters at the foot of the Kasr el-Nile bridge, the scene of an epic battle during the uprising against the former president, Hosni Mubarak, exactly two years ago, on what was known as the “Day of Rage.”

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The protests and street violence now threaten Morsi’s government and Egypt’s fledgling democracy. By imposing a one-month state of emergency in Suez, Ismailia, and Port Said, Morsi’s declaration deployed one of the most despised weapons of Mubarak’s autocracy.

Under Mubarak-era laws left in effect by the country’s new constitution, a state of emergency suspends the ordinary judicial process and most civil rights. It gives the president and the police extraordinary powers. On Sunday, riot police officers took up positions near Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president and a leader of the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, took the step after four days of clashes in Cairo and in cities around the country between the police and protesters denouncing his government. Most protests were set off by the second anniversary of the popular revolt that ousted Mubarak, which fell on Friday.

In Port Said, the trouble started over death sentences that a court imposed on 21 local soccer fans for their role in a deadly riot. But after 30 people died in clashes on Saturday — most of them shot by the police — the protesters turned their ire on Morsi as well the court.


Police officers crouching on the roofs of their stations fired tear gas and live ammunition into attacking mobs, and hospital officials said that on Sunday at least seven more people died.

News reports on Monday put the overall death toll from five days of protests at more than 50.

Tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of Port Said on Sunday demanding independence from the rest of Egypt. “The people want the state of Port Said,” they chanted in anger at Cairo.

The emergency declaration covers the three cities and their surrounding provinces, all on the economically vital Suez Canal.

Morsi announced the emergency measures in a stern, finger-waving speech on state television on Sunday evening. He said he was acting “to stop the blood bath” and called the violence in the streets “the counterrevolution itself.”


“There is no room for hesitation, so that everybody knows the institution of the state is capable of protecting the citizens,” he said. “If I see that the homeland and its children are in danger, I will be forced to do more than that. For the sake of Egypt, I will.”

Morsi’s resort to the authoritarian measures of his predecessor appeared to reflect mounting doubts about the viability of Egypt’s central government. After decades of corruption, cronyism, and brutality under Mubarak, Egyptians have struggled to adjust to resolving their differences — whether over matters of political ideology or crime and punishment — through peaceful democratic channels.

“Why are we unable to sort out these disputes?” asked Moattaz Abdel-Fattah, a political scientist and academic who was a member of the assembly that drafted Egypt’s new constitution. “How many times are we going to return to the state of Egyptians killing Egyptians?” He added: “Hopefully, when you have a genuine democratic machine, people will start to adapt culturally. But we need to do something about our culture.”

Morsi’s speech did nothing to stop the violence in the streets. In Cairo, fighting between protesters and the police and security forces escalated into the night along the banks of the Nile near Tahrir Square. On a stage set up in the square, liberal and leftist speakers demanded the repeal of the Islamist-backed constitution, which won approval in a referendum last month.

Young men huddled in tents making incendiary devices, while others set tires on fire to block a main bridge across the Nile.

In Suez, a group calling itself the city’s youth coalition said it would hold nightly protests against the curfew at the time it begins, 9 p.m. In Port Said, crowds began to gather just before the declaration was set to take effect, at midnight, for a new march in defiance.

The death sentences handed down on Saturday to the 21 Port Said soccer fans stemmed from a brawl with fans of a visiting Cairo team last year that left 74 people dead.