At Least 40 People Dead In Egypt As Violent Protests Continue

Amid continuing turmoil and violence in Egypt, the main opposition alliance has rejected dialogue with the government of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. Over the weekend, Morsi announced a state of emergency in the three main cities along the Suez Canal. One of those, Port Said, was the scene of major violence and there was more on Monday with police battling protesters.

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The political crisis in Egypt is deepening. Today, as violence flared in multiple cities, the main opposition coalition rejected President Mohammed Morsi's call for dialogue. The worst clashes have been in Port Said, on the Mediterranean. Over the past three days, at least 43 people have been killed there. The rioting was sparked by death sentences handed down against 21 local soccer fans. They were convicted of murder, for dozens of deaths in a post-game brawl last year.

But the anger is not only directed at that court ruling. Two years after Egypt's revolution, Port Said is becoming a symbol of Egyptians' loss of faith in state institutions. NPR's Leila Fadel traveled there today.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTER)

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Helicopters buzzed overhead as residents of Port Said buried seven more people, killed in violence here.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS CHANTING)

FADEL: With our blood, with our soul, we'll sacrifice for you, Port Said, men yelled; waving their fists in the air, outside the cemetery.

The city is one of three that embattled President Mohammed Morsi placed under emergency rule for 30 days. That means that anyone can be arrested at any time, for any reason, with no due process. It is a move Morsi said he was forced to take because of what he called counter-revolutionaries using violence to undermine the state. Residents in Port Said vowed to defy that curfew.

MOHAMMED AL SABA: We didn't want Mohammed Morsi anymore. We hate him. We want to be independent city. We will not go home.

FADEL: Mohammed al Saba watched Morsi's speech Sunday night, and took it as a threat of collective punishment for Port Said. He and others say that the police are committing a massacre, while the state paints demonstrators as armed thugs. Rage against the government runs deep here.

FATMA AHMED: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: Fatma Ahmed weeps near Mariam Mosque, where the dead are washed and prepared for burial. The mourners pray, and then crowds of young men carry the coffins to the cemetery. These are innocents, cries Fatma Ahmed. A crowd gathers around her, and the message is uniform.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: Morsi must go, for the bloodshed to end, says one man. Morsi should be tried for murder, says another. Some call for his execution; others demand a foreign force to protect them from the police.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER, SIREN)

FADEL: The roads in central Port Said are covered in shattered glass and burned tires, evidence of the violence over the past three days. Most shops and restaurants in the city center are closed, the word "mourning" written on the storefronts. Verses of the Quran are played for the dead, over loudspeakers.

HESHAM MOHAMMED: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: Nothing will calm us down, Hesham Mohammed says. He holds out his hands and says: I wish I could cut it off. It is the hand I used to vote for Morsi.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS CHANTING)

FADEL: People here feel the state has abandoned them. The police, they say, are as brutal as ever. The corrupt bureaucratic institutions are the same, and unemployment is rising. They ridicule Morsi for asking them to respect the judiciary when only two months ago, he briefly put himself above judicial oversight because, he claimed, the top courts were corrupt.

MOHAMMED WAHDA: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: In the Port Said cemetery, Mohammed Wahda points to the latest grave. In two days, he has helped bury 43 people. Morsi must find a solution quickly, he says, because the people are growing more angry by the minute. Clashes resumed in the city on Monday night, and Wahda will likely bury more people tomorrow.

Leila Fadel, NPR News.

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