The police fired indiscriminately into the streets outside their besieged station, a group of protesters arrived with a crate of gasoline bombs, and others cheered a masked man on a motorcycle who arrived with a Kalashnikov.
Egyptians in Port Said mourned on Monday for people killed in clashes with the police a day earlier.
The growing chaos along the vital canal zone showed little sign of abating on Monday as President Mohamed Morsi called out the army to try to regain control of three cities along the Suez Canal whose growing lawlessness is testing the integrity of the Egyptian state.
In Port Said, 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.
Such violence has flared across Egypt with increasing frequency since President Hosni Mubarak was forced out by the revolution two years ago.
President Morsi had already declared a monthlong state of emergency here and in the other canal towns of Suez and Ismailia, applying a Mubarak-era law that virtually eliminates due process protections against abuse by the police. Angry crowds burned tires 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 unraveling may have been strongest here 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 on Monday, a mob of protesters managed to steal an armored 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 Mr. Morsi's declarations of the curfew and state of emergency.
As in Suez and Ismailia, tens of thousands residents of Port Said poured into the streets in defiance just as a 9 p.m. curfew was set to begin. Bursts of gunfire echoed through the city for the next hours, and between 9 and 11 p.m. hospital officials raised the death count to seven from two.
When two armored personnel carriers approached a funeral Monday morning for some of the seven protesters killed the day before, a stone-throwing mob of thousands quickly chased them away. And within a few hours the demonstrators had resumed their siege of a nearby police station, burning tires to create a smoke screen to hide behind amid tear gas and gunfire.
Many in the city said they saw no alternative but to continue to stay in the streets. They complained that the hated security police remained unchanged and unaccountable even after Mr. Mubarak had been ousted. They saw no recourse in the justice system, which is also unchanged; they dismissed the courts as politicized, especially after the acquittals of all those accused of killing protesters during the revolution. Then came the death sentences handed down Saturday to 21 Port Said soccer fans for their role in a deadly brawl. The death sentences set off the current unrest here.
Nor, they said, did they trust the political process that brought to power Mr. Morsi and his Islamist allies in the Muslim Brotherhood. He had vowed to usher in the rule of law as "a president for all Egyptians." But in November he used a presidential decree to temporarily stifle potential legal objections so that his Islamist allies could rushed out a new Constitution. His authoritarian move kicked off a sharp uptick in street violence leading to this weekend's Port Said clashes.
"Injustice beyond imagination," one man outside the morning funeral said of Mr. Morsi's emergency decree, before he was drowned out a crowd of others echoing the sentiment.
Source: The New York Times | DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK and MAYY EL SHEIKH