Small groups of protesters clashed with security forces in Cairo early today, raising the prospect of further bloodshed after 32 people were killed in fighting in Port Said and authorities warned that a state of emergency may be declared in the country.
The unrest in the Egyptian capital built on two days of violence surrounding the second anniversary of the start of the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak from power, and highlighted increasing tensions in the nation since Mohamed Mursi’s election as president in June.
Mursi, who was fielded for office by the Muslim Brotherhood after the vote, faces mounting criticism from secularists and youth activists who contend he has put the Islamist group’s interests ahead of the country’s and failed to fulfill any of his pledges or revive an economy that, since the revolution, has grown at the slowest pace for two decades.
Dissatisfaction with Mursi’s handling of the crisis also comes from his supporters, with Mohamed El-Beltagy, secretary- general of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, asking: “What more are you waiting for to happen until intervening with all strength and decisiveness to prevent the killing of civilians, torching of state installations and the blocking of roads and bridges?
‘‘Your responsibility is the immediate intervention to combat this thuggery with all legal means afforded under the constitution and the law,’’ El-Beltagy wrote on his Facebook page in an unusually direct message for Mursi, his prime minister, Hisham Qandil, and the defense and interior ministers. ‘‘God, history and the people will judge you’’ if a strong stand is not taken.
The military was deployed in Port Said yesterday to quell fighting triggered by a court’s announcement earlier in the day of death sentences for 21 people for their roles in the nation’s worst-ever soccer-related rioting. The violence at a Port Said stadium left more than 70 fans dead during a game Feb. 1 between the city’s al-Masri team and Cairo’s al-Ahly.
A final verdict in the soccer case is scheduled for March 9. It will come after a review by the Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, Egypt’s highest religious authority, the court in Cairo said.
Families and supporters of the defendants tried to storm a prison where they were being held, triggering clashes that left 32 people dead and another 322 injured, according to Abdel- Rahman Farag, head of Port Said hospitals.
A day earlier, at least nine others were killed and 534 hurt in anniversary-related violence across the country, most in the port city of Suez, where protesters also stormed four police stations, according to the Interior Ministry.
Meeting yesterday for the first time, Egypt’s National Defense Council, which is headed by Mursi and includes the interior and defense ministers, said it may declare a state of emergency and a curfew. It also called for national dialogue to resolve differences and ensure stability in the Arab world’s most populous nation.
The NDC is constantly meeting to monitor the crisis, the Cabinet said today in an e-mailed statement.
Tension in the country has alternated between simmering and boiling over for the past two years, though rifts between Islamists and secularists have widened since Mursi’s election.
His critics have pointed to his issuing of decrees that temporarily expanded his powers and pushing through ratification of an Islamist-drafted constitution as evidence that he has abandoned the goals of the revolution and reneged on promises to be a president for all Egyptians.
At the same time, the government is struggling to revive the economy while trying to defend the pound, which has plunged almost 7 percent in the past month. The central bank has spent about 60 percent of its foreign reserves since the start of 2011. The budget deficit exceeded 11 percent of economic output last year, according to the International Monetary Fund.
The National Salvation Front, the main opposition bloc, called yesterday for another round of protests against Mursi on Feb. 1 unless its demands for a new government and constitutional amendments are met. The NSF also threatened to boycott parliamentary elections later this year if the government doesn’t comply with the demands.
‘‘The current crisis could lead up to a civil war,” Ayman Nour, head of the opposition El-Ghad El-Thawra party, said yesterday in televised comments.
To contact the reporters on this story: Tarek El-Tablawy in Cairo at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at email@example.com