PORT SAID, Egypt -- Egypt descended into chaos Monday as fresh clashes between protesters and security forces rocked cities around the country, with few people honoring a 9 p.m. curfew that had been ordered in three provinces as demonstrators took to the streets to curse Egypt’s first democratically elected president.
The military that President Mohammed Morsi had ordered into the streets Sunday to restore calm did little to confront the mayhem, though it was unclear whether the troops were defying orders or simply incapable of confronting the crowds. Protesters climbed onto tanks in some cities, while in the city of Port Said at the northern end of the Suez Canal, witnesses said soldiers fled when shots rang out near a police station at around 10 p.m.
At least one civilian was fatally shot near the police station, and another 11 were wounded, state television reported. At least 60 people have died in protests since Saturday.
The bedlam seemed eerily similar to that of two years ago, when then-President Hosni Mubarak was unable to end protests that led to his resignation 18 days after they began.
On Sunday, Morsi, who took office just seven months ago promising reforms, had issued a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew in a fiery speech in which he scolded Egyptians for the protests. But festive defiance greeted the arrival of the curfew Monday night, as women and men danced and sang.
“Oh, it’s 9 o’clock!!” they yelled as the appointed hour arrived. Then they shouted, “The curfew’s gone, son of whore,” referring to Morsi.
Perhaps the most common chant of the day was “Leave!”
On news channels, screens were split to show the places around the country that were engulfed in protests and clashes with security forces: Port Said, Suez, Cairo and Alexandria. In Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square, where the 2011 anti-Mubarak uprising began, a stolen police armored personnel carrier sat charred and abandoned. Around the capital, protesters attempted to storm government buildings. In cities that weren’t under curfew, residents held 9 p.m. protests in solidarity.
Morsi called Prime Minister Hesham Kandil on Monday night to discuss the protests, though the outcome of that conversation wasn’t made public. He gave the army the authority to arrest civilians in all 27 provinces – an irony, coming two years to the day that Morsi escaped from prison after he’d been arrested during the anti-Mubarak uprising.
To be sure, for all those who took to the streets Monday, there were just as many who stayed home, thinking that Morsi hasn’t had a chance to solve Egypt’s intractable corruption and economic problems. They think that protesters should honor the June election results that elevated Morsi to the presidency and speak at the ballot box in upcoming parliamentary and eventually presidential elections.
But Monday’s clashes continued the disturbing trend of violent protest that began two months ago. No one could say where the demonstrations might lead. While some protesters said they wanted Morsi to step down, none could say who should replace him.
The main opposition grouping, the National Salvation Front, which is fractured among many smaller parties, said Monday that it wouldn’t hold national reconciliation talks with Morsi, a position, some protesters said, that made the opposition seem as tone deaf as the president.