Egypt’s president is considering whether to give the military full control of the restive Suez Canal city of Port Said after days of deadly street clashes stoked by excessive use of force by riot police, officials have set.
Mohamed Morsi met with his security chief and top military officers to discuss pulling police out of Port Said and putting the military in charge of security in the hopes of restoring calm, officials from the military and the president’s office said.
“The presidency is considering this option after relations between the security apparatus and the people of Port Said deteriorated,” one official from the president’s office said on Tuesday.
He added that the idea behind the proposal is that once the army takes control, it would presumably not get into confrontation with protesters.
The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to the media about the president’s deliberations.
The move comes at a time when some in the opposition against Morsi and his ruling Muslim Brotherhood have called on the military to take back power in order to end the unrest that first erupted in November and has spiralled out of control since.
“The presidency is considering this option after relations between the security apparatus and the people of Port Said deteriorated“
– Anonymous official
A handover of the city to the military would be a recognition of the failure of Morsi’s government to bring calm to Port Said, which has been in turmoil since late January over the detention of dozens of people in connection with a soccer riot last year in which more than 70 died.
With protests and strikes that have turned into an outright revolt, residents have been venting their fury at both the president and the security forces.
A third day of clashes erupted on Tuesday as police shot into the air and fired teargas at protesters throwing stones and firebombs at the local headquarters of the National Security Agency, setting part of the building on fire.
The latest round of rioting and violence in Port Said has left at least three civilians and three policemen dead and hundreds injured since Sunday.
Live footage on Al Jazeera’s Egypt channel showed dozens of men running and throwing rocks as black smoke rose in front of a building’s charred facade. Tear gas canisters streaked through the air.
Egypt has been in political turmoil since a popular uprising toppled Hosni Mubarak as president in 2011. His successor, Morsi, has struggled to restore security since his election in June.
Unemployment worsened by an economic crisis, anger at police brutality and fuel price rises have helped heighten the unrest.
About 60 people died during street protests across Egypt between January 25, the anniversary of the 2011 uprising, to February 4. Many of the demonstrators were calling for Morsi’s resignation, accusing him and his Muslim Brotherhood of trying to monopolise power.
In a sign of the broader discontent afflicting the country, dozens of police officers blocked a major road in Cairo to protest about the killing of a colleague by an unknown attacker while he was investigating a bank robbery earlier on Tuesday, the state news agency said.
Al Jazeera’s Anita McNaught, reporting from Port Said, said that Monday’s clashes “raged late into the night” but Tuesday morning’s clashes were “a low-key standoff”, in which the protesters hurled stones at police.
“The security forces are not responding [at] the levels they responded yesterday, which was with massive amounts of teargas and shooting over the heads of the people on the street,” our correspondent said.
She said the clashes were focused around two government buildings and that the city was not on lockdown, adding that she received reports of some police being trapped inside the government building which was previously set ablaze by protesters.
“If these reports are correct the police are saying they are actually surrounded by the protesters. They are too afraid to come out.”
“This seems to be an escalation in the conflict in terms of the leverage the protesters have. It’s quite an interesting triangular situation there because the army is also present in large numbers in Port Said but it is staying back from the fray.”