Riot police fired tear gas at rock-throwing protesters in central Cairo on Monday, a day after Egypt's president declared a state of emergency in three provinces hit hardest by political violence and vowed to deal "firmly and forcefully" with the unrest roiling the country.
The eruption of 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 60 people have been killed in the unrest, which is fuelled by anger over the policies of the country's new Islamist leader and the slow pace of change.
The latest death came on Monday in Cairo, where a protester died of gunshot wounds as youths hurling stones battled all day and into the night with police firing tear gas near Qasr el-Nil Bridge, a landmark over the Nile next to major hotels. In nearby Tahrir Square, protesters set fire to a police armoured personnel carrier, celebrating as it burned in scenes reminiscent of the 2011 revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak.
"I will be coming back here every day until the blood of our martyrs is avenged," said 19-year-old carpenter Islam Nasser, who wore a Guy Fawkes mask as he battled police near Tahrir square.
Amid the turmoil, several foreign embassies, including Canada's, temporarily shut down due to their proximity to Tahrir Square — a flashpoint of violence and mass demonstrations in Cairo.
The Canadian government's travel advisories website posted a warning shortly after midnight on Monday asking citizens in Egypt to avoid Port Said, Suez and Ismaili, and to "exercise a high degree of caution due to the unpredictable security situation and continued demonstrations throughout the country."
CBC's Nahlah Ayed said from Cairo that reports are circulating that President Mohammed Morsi's cabinet has granted the army additional powers to make arrests without warrants or judicial oversight.
CBC's Nahlah Ayed reports from Cairo
In Cairo, the clashes have been small and contained so far, but persistent. Yet those clashes — and the way they have been dealt with — have wreaked havoc on the city’s traffic.
The closure of Tahrir Square (in fact, a major traffic circle) and the Qasr el Nile Bridge, where many of the recent clashes have occurred, have led to congestion on already busy expressways. On most roads, cars inch along at a maddeningly slow pace.
Some nights protesters have cut off major roads using flares, fires, or just their presence. More disruptive was their shutting down of Cairo’s underground metro.
Further, traffic police — or any police for that matter — are largely absent on the streets, with the exception of those battling the protesters at Qasr el Nile. The end result is a city on the verge of chaos, and complete gridlock.
"The Egyptian cabinet has approved a law that would give the army the right to arrest people — essentially the same rights as police to, quote, 'protect property,'" Ayed said, noting that those reports are still unconfirmed, but potentially very provocative.
"It just adds to the sense that this regime is turning to tactics that it said it would never do," she said.
Ayed said that Egyptian TV has been repeatedly broadcasting clips of a Morsi speech from several months earlier, in which he vowed never to follow his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, by giving the army the power to make arbitrary arrests.
The reports, if true, would invite unflattering comparisons between Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and the ousted Mubarak regime.
"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.
The clashes intensified in Monday evening. A group of protesters, including black masked youth, flashed the V-for-victory signs as they jubilantly milled around the burning police vehicle in Tahrir.
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.
'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.' —Opposition leader Mohammed ElBaradei
Protesters in all three cities poured into the streets after Morsi's speech to reject both him and his state of emergency, which includes a curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. In Port Said, where 44 people were killed in rioting over the weekend, at least 2,000 protesters chanted against the Egyptian president and the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group from which he hails.
Unrest sparked after soccer riot death sentences
The unrest in Port Said 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 soccer fans from Port Said, deepening a sense of persecution that Port Said's residents have felt since the stadium disaster, the worst soccer violence ever in Egypt.
At least another 11, most of them in Suez, died in clashes Friday elsewhere in the country 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.
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 Prize laureate Mohammed ElBaradei and other leaders of the National Salvation Front, an umbrella group of opposition parties.
ElBaradei urges change beyond dialogue
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.