Residents of Port Said burying their dead from Egypt's wave of political violence vented their fury at Egypt's Islamist president and the Muslim Brotherhood on Tuesday, demanding his ouster and virtually declaring a revolt against his rule, as the head of the military warned Egypt may collapse under the weight of its turmoil.
Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi' strongly worded comments, his first since the crisis began, appeared aimed at pushing both sides in Egypt's political divide to reconcile and find a solution to the rapidly spreading protests and riots across much of the country the past six days.
But his breaking of his silence falls heaviest on President Mohammed Morsi, who has been unable to contain the unrest by trying a tough hand, as protesters defied his declaration of a month-long state of emergency and curfew in Port Said and two neighbouring cities.
At least 60 people have been killed and hundreds injured since Thursday in clashes between police and protesters angry over what they call Islamists' moves to monopolize power and failure to address the country's multiple woes.
In his comments, el-Sissi signalled the military would not move to put down protesters, saying troops are in a "grave predicament," forced to balance between "avoiding confrontation" with citizens and protecting state institutions.
In Cairo on Tuesday, rock-throwing protesters clashed with police firing tear gas for another day in battles that escalated after nightfall near Tahrir Square.
The mayhem forced the nearby U.S. Embassy to suspend public services Tuesday, and the night before masked men tried to rob the neighbouring five-star Semiramis Hotel, a Cairo landmark, trashing the lobby before being forced out.
Suez cities explode in violence
Protesters in many cities around the country have battled police, cut off roads and railway lines and besieged government offices and police stations. But the most dramatic fraying of state control has been in the three cities along the Suez Canal, particularly Port Said, at the canal's Mediterranean end.
Violence exploded in Port Said on Saturday, leaving more than 40 dead since. The provincial governor has gone into hiding. Police are hunkered down. Tanks are in the streets by government buildings, but army troops have balked at enforcing Morsi's curfew order.
Residents in all three cities flouted the restrictions with huge marches in the streets Monday and Tuesday night. Mourners carried images of young men shot to death by police and accused Morsi of ordering the security forces to open fire.
Many said the Islamist president should be put on trial like ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak, who was sentenced to life in prison in connection with the deaths of hundreds of protesters during the 2011 uprising against his rule, though he has been granted a retrial on appeal.
"God wreak vengeance on Morsi, who gave the orders to shoot at the protesters of Port Said, the city that fought three countries," said Ayman Mohammed Abdel-Fatah, holding a picture of a slain 22-year-old relative who he said was shot four times by police during protests outside Port Said's prison.
"As long as the president's hands are stained in blood, he must leave," said Mohammed el-Assfouri, a lawyer, standing outside the Mariam Mosque where mourners prayed for the dead.
Egypt's unrest began Thursday and accelerated the following day when clashes erupted nationwide amid protests by the opposition marking the two-year anniversary of the start of the uprising that toppled Mubarak.
Soccer riot death sentences provoke fury
Port Said's violence was touched off Saturday when a court issued death sentences against 21 people — mostly local soccer fans — over a bloody soccer riot in the city a year ago. Youths infuriated by the verdicts marched in the streets and clashed with police at a police station and the prison.
The verdicts were seen by residents as unfairly targeting Port Said. They also tapped into a vein of resentment in a city of 600,000 that prides itself as a national symbol of resistance after being on the front lines of multiple wars with Israel since 1956.
Many are convinced Morsi and the Brotherhood are trying to sideline the city because of a tradition of defying authority. They were further outraged when Morsi went on TV Sunday night and declared the state of emergency and curfew in Port Said, Suez and Ismailiya. Wagging his finger and shouting, Morsi supported the actions of police in confronting the protesters and warned of stronger measures if calm is not restored.
Mourners on Tuesday spoke of police on rooftops and roving in armoured vehicles firing wildly during the weekend mayhem around the police station and prison in the city's al-Arab district, hitting bystanders blocks away. On Sunday, a funeral of some of those killed came under fire — residents blame police — causing panic as mourners dropped some of the bodies they were carrying on the ground.
Ayman el-Sherbini said his 23-year-old brother Osama was walking in the al-Arab district on the way to buy food when a bullet hit him in the face, killing him. El-Sherbini, who wore the beard of a conservative Muslim, blamed Morsi and said his Islamist leadership had brought shame on religious people. "Now people spit in the face of anyone with a beard because of Morsi," he said.
Women in face veils screamed anti-Morsi slogans in the funeral march. One woman, Faten el-Tahan, a government worker in a conservative Muslim headscarf, said she wished her "hands were cut off" the day she voted for Morsi in last year's presidential election.
"My children told me not to vote for him," she said. "I thought he was a faithful man who knows God. But he turned out to be not faithful and he doesn't know God. I made a big mistake."
The city now feels under siege. Shops are closed. Fearing the violence, trucks have stopped bringing in produce. Drivers refused to bring in oxygen supplies for a private hospital after their truck came under fire by unknown assailants, a worker at the hospital said. The city is awash with weapons and known criminals are seen on motorcycles brandishing automatic weapons.
Seaside hotels are totally empty during a mid-year school holiday when normally they are full of Egyptian tourists. Soot, shattered glass and burnt furniture are scattered outside police and army clubs which are located in front of the cemetery where slain protesters were buried and which were attacked by protesters.
Tuesday evening, Morsi's office issued a statement saying the curfew and state of emergency could be lifted or shortened if the security situation improves, apparently trying to ease the anger