In a separate statement, the military-backed cabinet said the Nov. 28 parliamentary elections would not be delayed, and it accused anti-military demonstrators of provoking the violence in an attempt to derail the vote.
But the unrest appeared to unnerve at least some senior officials. Culture Minister Emad Abu Ghazi submitted his resignation Sunday, citing the police response to the protests. At least 12 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured over two days, according to the Health Ministry, including at least 80 members of the security forces.
Egypt’s military was applauded nine months ago when the army helped demonstrators push President Hosni Mubarak from office. But the ruling military council, led by Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, who served as defense minister under Mubarak, has increasingly become the focus of criticism, as Egyptians worry that its members have taken advantage of the revolution to protect their own interests.
By late Sunday, protests had spread to the coastal cities of Alexandria and Suez and to other parts of the country. But as military leaders stood their ground, they called on Egyptians to “band together” to help with the slow transition of power. The military might be banking on its continued popularity in much of Egypt at a time when many here have soured on the revolutionaries and see the armed forces as the backbone of a country in the midst of political and financial crises.
“We won’t accept any calls to postpone elections, and we affirm that the armed forces and the police are capable of securing the process and leading Egypt through this ditch we’re stuck in,” Gen. Mohsen el-Fangary, a member of the ruling council, said in a phone call to state television Sunday.
As night fell over Cairo, fires raged in the capital’s iconic Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the 18-day revolt that led to Mubarak’s downfall in February. Policemen set ablaze tents and other items belonging to protesters, as rock-throwing demonstrators battled riot officers on side streets.
Several political groups suspended their campaigns, and questions grew over whether the election would be postponed or marred by violence.
“This benefits the military. They’re going to be saying, ‘There is chaos and instability in the streets of Egypt, and that’s why we need to stay in power — to protect stability, to protect security in the nation,’ ” said Shadi Hamid, an Egypt expert at the Brookings Doha Center. “The last thing we need is more violence one week before the election. We’re going to hear more and more calls for postponement in the coming days. That would be a disaster for Egypt.”