Despite a continued curfew and thousands of troops and scores of tanks in Cairo's streets, sporadic shooting went on into the afternoon today, centered near the barracks on the outskirts of the city where a widespread mutiny of security police began on Tuesday.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, his regime clearly shocked by the uprising that took at least 36 lives, meanwhile sought to preserve an air of calm and control as the government appeared slowly to be bringing the violence under control late in the day.
One of Mubarak's aides described the mutiny as "limited incidents within police camps" and declared: "It is not a mass uprising; 99 percent of the Egyptian people oppose this violence because it does not represent their views or aspirations."
Yet according to government statements, more than 2,000 security police -- members of the force charged with maintaining Egypt's internal order -- have been arrested. Several hundred civilian rioters also have been detained, officials said.
Mubarak met this morning with key members of his Cabinet and representatives of the officially recognized opposition parties in an effort to present a united front against the violence.
Ibrahim Shukri of the left-wing Labor Party, echoing a sentiment commonly heard on the street, demanded the resignation of Interior Minister Ahmed Rushdi. Other opposition figures called on Mubarak to form a coalition government including members of their parties. But none pressed the issue forcefully. Mubarak ruled out a Cabinet shuffle for the moment, and all condemned the uprising.
Members of the government as well as the opposition have expressed fears that the mutiny and riots could destroy the limited democratic openings Mubarak has tried to create.
Mohammed Sid Ahmed, managing editor of the left-wing newspaper Al Ahali, suggested in an interview that Mubarak's "democratic game, which looked like an asset, might now seem a liability. It was a safety valve but might now appear the opposite."
A top Mubarak aide told reporters that the Egyptian state is "very safe, secure and solid," and sought to minimize the impact of the three days of violence, the worst Egypt has seen since Mubarak's predecessor, Anwar Sadat, was murdered in 1981 by Islamic fundamentalist members of the Army.
Osama Baz, Mubarak's director for political affairs, said today that "if any mistakes were made" in handling the violence "we are willing to accept responsibility." But he added, "What matters is to overcome it without turning the country into a dictatorship or a police state."
The government, in contrast to the way it dealt with crises last year, allowed extensive coverage of the events by the foreign and domestic press, including Egyptian television. Except for areas where serious fighting was said to be continuing, reporters were allowed to travel freely despite the curfew.
Baz said 36 persons have been killed so far, 32 of them members of the rebellious security forces. Diplomatic sources said they believe that the number of dead may be much higher. No foreigners are among those killed, Baz said, but four of the 352 injured were tourists.
Diplomats said the tourists were hurt trying to escape the mobs and burning hotels near the Pyramids early in the rioting.
But despite the government's cool tone, the extent of the crisis was evident to a stunned population throughout a capital that turned overnight from a bustling center of commerce to a barren land of roadblocks and empty streets.
Ahmed suggested that the speed with which the curfew was imposed yesterday afternoon might have contributed to a sense of panic, as traffic backed up for miles, with people trying to hurry home.
"There is only one meaning," he speculated. "The government had information that something very serious was happening, that there were cells all over," as the mutiny seemed to spread in security police barracks throughout Cairo and in several smaller cities. "Wherever there were barracks, things were happening."
So far, the government has been careful not to point the finger at any single group, although suspicion of conspiracy was common in the streets and Information Minister Safwat Sharif said that many of those arrested, curiously, had exactly 50 Egyptian pounds -- about $30 -- in their pockets.
Some rioters said the reason for the outbreak was that they had heard that their mandatory three-year conscription at a salary of $4 a month was to be extended by a year. The government has dismissed this extension as unfounded rumor, but, privately, some opposition figures still contend that the rumor was the truth until after the trouble started.
An attack by rioters and the freeing of convicts, reportedly including Islamic fundamentalists, from a prison near Maadi, an affluent southern suburb, has led to speculation about the role of religious zealots in the violence, but the government has not confirmed any such role.
Mubarak's decision to modify the 24-hour curfew Friday to allow residents to go out from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. suggests that the fundamentalists are not considered a major concern. Noon prayers on Friday, the Moslem sabbath, traditionally have been a time for mobilization by Islamic extremists.
Information Minister Sharif said today that after the Army moved into the streets and curfew was imposed at 4 p.m. yesterday, the violence continued as three more hotels were burned near the Giza Pyramids west of Cairo.
Sharif reported that deserters and mutineers were rounded up in a cemetery near Old Cairo last night and that 15 rioters attacked cars in the the Shubra district, including the car of an unidentified government minister. Sporadic gunshots were reported in Maadi last night, Sharif said.
Today, reporters and diplomats seeking to visit the barracks near the Pyramids where the mutiny began were barred in the early afternoon, and Army officers at the scene warned them that fighting was still going on.
"They told us that there were battles ahead of us. They said it was very, very dangerous, a lot of fighting," said one western diplomat who had driven to the scene at about 1 p.m. today. "Then we heard automatic weapons fire."
He said he saw captured rioters being processed at the shooting club nearby, some of them in uniform. He said 500 to 600 were being questioned, and many were then loaded onto trucks and taken to an undisclosed location. Two tanks and jeeps mounted with machine guns were stationed at the four corners of the courtyard, the diplomat said.