CAIRO (AP) — Riot police fired tear gas at rock-throwing protesters in central Cairo on Monday as clashes continued a day after Egypt’s president declared a state of emergency in three provinces and vowed to deal “firmly and forcefully” with a wave of political violence roiling the country.
The violence, which began around Friday’s second anniversary of the uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak, has plunged Egypt once again into political turmoil and exposed the deep fault lines running through the country. More than 50 people have been killed in the unrest, which is fueled by anger over the policies of the country’s new Islamist leader and the slow pace of change.
In Cairo, hundreds of young protesters fought pitched battles Monday with riot police outside two landmark Nile-side hotels and near the eastern entrance of another Cairo monument, Qasr el-Nil bridge. White clouds of tear gas hung over the area from early on Monday morning and at times whiffed across the river to the upscale island of Zamalek and the leafy district of Garden City.
Monday’s violence fell on the second anniversary of the deadliest day of the 18-day uprising against Mubarak, when thousands of protesters battled police on Qasr el-Nil bridge, fighting back against water cannons, tear gas and gunshots. Police melted away later that day and have yet to fully take back the streets two years later.
President Mohammed Morsi, who has struggled to address the country’s daunting social and economic problems since taking power in June, declared in a televised speech late Sunday a 30-day state of emergency in the cities of Port Said, Ismailiya and Suez and their surrounding provinces in an attempt to quell the unrest.
The military was deployed in Suez on Friday and in Port Said the next day. The two cities have been hit the hardest by the violence.
Morsi’s government was taking moves to give the military an even greater role. The Cabinet on Monday approved draft legislation that would authorize the armed forces to work alongside police in keeping security, the state news agency MENA said. The military would have that role until the end of parliamentary elections, expected in April.
The legislation, which now goes to the Islamist-dominated parliament for approval, means soldiers would be maintaining law and order on the streets alongside the police at a time when many Egyptians are increasingly distrustful of both.
Anger over Morsi’s latest measures was evident at the site of Monday’s clashes near Tahrir square.
“People died to gain their freedom, social justice, bread. Now after 29 years of the despotic Mubarak, we’re ruled by a worse regime: religious fascist, more dangerous,” said Mohammed Saber, a 65-year old engineer who came to watch the clashes with his wife and children.
For the second time in as many days, thousands of Port Said residents poured out onto the streets Monday for the funeral of six of the seven people killed in violence the previous day. They offered prayers on the dead at the city’s Mariam mosque and were readying to march with the bodies to the city’s cemetery about a mile away. Two army helicopters hovered above the funeral. There were no reports of violence.
Rioting in Port Said over the weekend killed 44 people. The unrest was sparked by a court conviction and death sentence for 21 defendants involved in a mass soccer riot in the city’s main stadium on Feb. 1, 2012 that left 74 dead. Most of those sentenced to death were local Port Said soccer fans, deepening a sense of persecution that Port Said’s residents have felt since the stadium disaster, the worst soccer violence ever in Egypt.
Stores were shuttered for the second successive day in the city and merchants were complaining that the curfew, which goes into effect Monday, would hurt their business. Already, some hotels asked guests to leave, fearing renewed violence and supplies of fresh farm produce that normally come from the Nile Delta were running low, according to the head of the local chamber of commerce, Mohammed Hassanein.
Clashes around the country Friday left another 11 dead, most of them in Suez, during rallies marking the second anniversary of the uprising that toppled Mubarak nearly two years ago. Protesters used the occasion to denounce Morsi and the Brotherhood, which emerged as the country’s most dominant political force after Mubarak’s ouster.
After Morsi’s speech late Sunday, protesters in all three cities along the Suez Canal poured into the streets to reject both him and his state of emergency, which includes a curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. In Port Said, at least 2,000 protesters chanted against Morsi and the Brotherhood, from which he hails.
In his televised address, Morsi also warned that he would not hesitate to take more action to stem the violence.
Angry and at times screaming and wagging his finger, the Egyptian leader also invited the nation’s political forces for talks to resolve the nation’s crisis, saying “a dialogue between the sons of the nation is indispensable and is the only way to shepherd Egypt to security and stability.”
Among those invited to Monday’s talks is pro-reform leader and Nobel peace laureate Mohammed ElBaradei and other leaders of the National Salvation Front, an umbrella group of opposition parties.
The invitation, however, was met with little enthusiasm from the opposition leaders.
“Any dialogue is a waste of time unless the president acknowledges his responsibility for the bloody events, pledges to form a national salvation government and a balance commission to amend the constitution,” ElBaradei wrote on Twitter early on Monday.
Another Salvation Front leader, the leftist Hamdeen Sabahi, set conditions on his participation: “Halt the bloodletting, respect for the popular will and placing political solutions ahead of security measures are conditions for a serious dialogue.”
ElBaradei, Sabahi and other opposition leaders have boycotted Morsi’s previous calls for dialogue, saying he did not have the political will to effect change.
Salvation Front leaders are meeting later on Monday, when they are expected to decide whether to participate in the dialogue.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.