PORT SAID, Egypt -- President Mohammed Morsi declared a state of emergency and a curfew in three major cities Sunday, as escalating violence in the streets threatened his government and Egypt's democracy.
By imposing a one-month state of emergency in Suez, Ismailia and Port Said, where the police have lost all control, Mr. Morsi's declaration chose to use one of the most despised weapons of former President Hosni Mubarak's autocracy. Under Mubarak-era laws left in effect by the country's new constitution, a state of emergency suspends the ordinary judicial process and most civil rights. It gives the president and the police extraordinary powers.
Mr. Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president and a leader of the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, took the step after four days of clashes in Cairo and in cities around the country between the police and protesters denouncing his government. Most of the protests were set off by Friday's second anniversary of the popular revolt that ousted Mubarak.
In Port Said, the trouble started over death sentences a court in Cairo imposed on 21 local soccer fans for their role in a deadly riot. But after 30 people died in clashes Saturday -- most of them shot by the police -- the protesters turned their ire on Mr. Morsi as well the court. Police officers crouching on the roofs of their stations fired tear gas and live ammunition into attacking mobs, and hospital officials said that on Sunday at least seven more people died. Tens of thousands of people marched Sunday through the streets of Port Said demanding independence from the rest of Egypt.
The emergency declaration covers the three cities and their surrounding provinces, all on the economically vital Suez Canal. Mr. Morsi announced the emergency measures in a stern, finger-waving speech on state television Sunday evening. He said he was acting "to stop the bloodbath" and called the violence in the streets "the counter-revolution itself."
"There is no room for hesitation, so that everybody knows the institution of the state is capable of protecting the citizens," he said. "If I see that the homeland and its children are in danger, I will be forced to do more than that. For the sake of Egypt, I will."
Mr. Morsi's resort to the authoritarian measures of his predecessor appeared to reflect mounting doubts about the viability of Egypt's central government. After decades of corruption, cronyism and brutality under Mubarak, Egyptians have struggled to adjust to resolving their differences -- whether over matters of political ideology or crime and punishment -- through peaceful democratic channels.
Mr. Morsi's speech did nothing to stop the violence in the streets. In Cairo, fighting between protesters and the police and security forces escalated into the night along the banks of the Nile near Tahrir Square. On a stage set up in the square, liberal and leftist speakers demanded the repeal of the Islamist-backed constitution, which won approval in a referendum last month.
In Suez, a group calling itself the city's youth coalition said it would hold nightly protests against the curfew at the time it begins, 9 p.m. The death sentences handed down Saturday to the 21 Port Said soccer fans stemmed from a brawl with fans of a visiting Cairo team last year that left 74 people dead. At a funeral Sunday for at least a dozen civilians killed in clashes with police Saturday, angry Port Said residents called the sentences a capitulation to the threats of violence from hard-core soccer fans in Cairo if the Port Said defendants were acquitted. The mourners vowed to escalate their own violence in response.