Protesters celebrate the capture of an armoured vehicle from security forces at Tahrir Square, Cairo, on Tuesday. (AP)
Cairo, Jan. 29: Reacting to Egypt’s growing chaos, the head of the army warned today of the “collapse of the state” if political forces in the country did not reconcile, reflecting growing impatience with the crisis from Egypt’s most powerful institution.
“The continuation of the conflict between different political forces and their disagreement on running the affairs of the country may lead to the collapse of the state and threatens the future of the coming generations,” said Gen. Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi, who is also the defence minister.
He added that “the attempt to affect the stability of the state institutions is a dangerous matter that harms Egyptian national security”.
His remarks, quoted on an official army Facebook page, came as violence in Cairo began to escalate. During clashes between riot police and protesters along the Nile Corniche early today, the fighting spilled into one of the city’s luxury hotels, leaving the lobby in ruins.
The worst of the turmoil, which has left at least 45 people dead, has been in Port Said at the northern tip of the Suez Canal. Egypt’s President, Mohamed Mursi, has imposed a month-long state of emergency in the city and two others in the Suez Canal zone, calling on the army to regain control of security.
Gen. Sisi also said the army would protect the “vital” Suez Canal.
In Port Said yesterday, street battles reached a bloody new peak with a death toll over three days of at least 45, with at least five more protesters killed by bullet wounds, hospital officials said.
The state of emergency imposed by President Mursi virtually eliminates due process protections against abuse by the police.
Angry crowds burned tyres and hurled rocks at the police. And the police, with little training and less credibility, hunkered down behind barrages of tear gas, birdshot and occasional bullets.
The sense that the state was unravelling may have been strongest in Port Said, where demonstrators have proclaimed their city an independent nation. But in recent days, the unrest has risen in towns across the country and in Cairo as well.
In the capital yesterday, a mob of protesters managed to steal an armoured police vehicle, drive it to Tahrir Square and make it a bonfire. After two years of torturous transition, Egyptians have watched with growing anxiety as the erosion of the public trust in the government and a persistent security vacuum have fostered a new temptation to resort to violence to resolve disputes, said Michael Hanna, a researcher at the New York-based Century Foundation who is now in Cairo.
“There is a clear political crisis that has eroded the moral authority of the state,” he said. And the spectacular evaporation of the government’s authority here in Port Said has put that crisis on vivid display, most conspicuously in the rejection of Mursi’s declarations of the curfew and state of emergency. As in Suez and Ismailia, tens of thousands of residents of Port Said poured into the streets in defiance just as a 9pm curfew was set to begin. Bursts of gunfire echoed through the city.