Egypt Army chief warns state could "collapse"

A masked Egyptian protester flashes the victory sign during clashes with riot police, background, near Tahrir Square, Cairo, Jan. 28, 2013.

CAIRO Egypt's army chief warned Tuesday of "the collapse of the state" if the political crisis roiling the nation for nearly a week continues.

The warning by Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, also the defense minister, comes as the country sinks deeper into chaos and lawlessness. Attempts by the Muslim Brotherhood-backed president to stem a wave of political violence appear to have made no headway.

Some 60 people have been killed in the unrest that began last Thursday.

El-Sissi's warning came in an address to military academy cadets. His comments were posted on the armed forces' official Facebook page.

"The continuation of the conflict between the different political forces and their differences over how the country should be run could lead to the collapse of the state and threaten future generations," he said.

President Mohammed Morsi, right, meets Lt. Abdul Fattah El-Sissi
President Mohammed Morsi, right, meets Lt. Abdul Fattah El-Sissi, Minister of Defense at the presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 13, 2012.

It is unclear whether el-Sissi, the former head of military intelligence, meant to try and coax anti-government protesters off the streets with his dire warning, or whether he was himself questioning President Mohammed Morsi's ability to quell the unrest.

Protesters battled police for hours in Cairo on Monday and thousands marched through Egypt's three Suez Canal cities in direct defiance of a night-time curfew and state of emergency, handing a blow to the Morsi's attempts to contain five days of spiraling political violence.

Nearly 60 people have been killed in the wave of unrest, clashes, rioting and protests that have touched cities across the country but have hit the hardest in the canal cities, where residents have virtually risen up in outright revolt.

The latest death came on Monday in Cairo, where a protester died of gunshot wounds as youths hurling stones battled all day and into the night with police firing tear gas near Qasr el-Nil Bridge, a landmark over the Nile next to major hotels. In nearby Tahrir Square, protesters set fire to a police armored personnel carrier, celebrating as it burned in scenes reminiscent of the 2011 revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak.

CBS News' Alex Ortiz reports that the lobby and shops in the ground floor of Cairo's sprawling Intercontinental Hotel were smashed up and looted by a gang of people during the melee on Monday. It was unclear whether the looters were part of the opposition protest, or simply criminal elements taking advantage of the lack of security in the area. Nobody was injured at the hotel, which is frequented by Westerners.

"I will be coming back here every day until the blood of our martyrs is avenged," said 19-year-old carpenter Islam Nasser, who wore a Guy Fawkes mask as he battled police near Tahrir square.

Angry and at times screaming and wagging his finger, Morsi on Sunday declared a 30-day state of emergency and a nighttime curfew on the three Suez Canal cities of Suez, Ismailiya and Port Said and their provinces of the same names. He said he had instructed the police to deal "firmly and forcefully" with the unrest and threatened to do more if security was not restored.

But when the 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew began Monday evening, crowds marched through the streets of Port Said, beating drums and chanting, "Erhal, erhal," or "Leave, leave" — a chant that first rang out during the 18-day uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011 but is now directed at Morsi.

"We completely reject Morsi's measures. How can we have a curfew in a city whose livelihood depends on commerce and tourism?" said Ahmed Nabil, a schoolteacher in the Mediterranean coastal city.

In Suez and Ismailiya, thousands in the streets after curfew chanted against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group from which he hails. In Suez, residents let off fireworks that lit the night sky.

"Oh Morsi, Suez has real men," they chanted.

In Ismailiya, residents organized street games of soccer to emphasize their contempt for the curfew and state of emergency.

On Morsi's orders over the weekend, army troops backed with tanks and armored vehicles have deployed in Port Said and Suez — the two cities worst hit by the violence — to restore security, but they did not intervene to enforce the curfew on Monday night.

The commander of the Third Field Army in charge of Suez, Maj. Gen. Osama Askar, said his troops would not use force to ensure compliance. Army troops in Port Said also stood by and watched as residents ignored the curfew.

Adding to Morsi's woes nearly seven months into his turbulent presidency, the main political opposition coalition on Monday rejected his invitation for a dialogue to resolve the crisis, one of the worst and deadliest to hit Egypt in the two years since Mubarak's ouster.