Egypt on the Brink: Army Chief Warns of Possible State 'Collapse'

As the sixth day of political unrest in Cairo continued well into the night, Egypt's Army Chief warned of the "collapse of the state" if the political crisis is not resolved in coming days.

"The continuation of the conflict between different political forces and their disagreement on running the affairs of the country may lead to the collapse of the state and threatens the future of the coming generations," Gen. Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi said Tuesday.

Al-Sisi, also the Defense Minister, added that the country's social and political challenges represent "a real threat to the security of Egypt and the cohesiveness of the Egyptian state."

More than 50 people have died and hundreds have been injured in recent protests, prompting President Morsi to impose a curfew and declare a state of emergency in three cities along the Suez Canal. Violence erupted in Port Said over the weekend after a court handed down 21 death sentences to those involved in last year's deadly soccer riots that left 74 people dead.

Tuesday night, Port Said protesters defied the 9 p.m. curfew for the second night in a row, challenging the president's decree and threatening to draw the violence into Wednesday.

Morsi's state of emergency suspends standard judicial process and most civil rights, a vestige from the era of ousted leader Hosni Mubarak left in effect by the country's new, bitterly contested constitution. It gives the president and the police extraordinary powers, powers that Morsi's critics had hoped would disappear with Mubarak.

In an angry, late night address on Sunday, President Morsi invited opposition figures to a political "dialogue" to move the fledgling democracy past its present political impasse. A statement from the president's office listed three top political voices from the main opposition group, the National Salvation Front, Nobel peace Laureate Mohammed ElBaradei, former Arab League chief Amr Moussa and Hamdeen Sabahi, among those invited.

The Front's spokesman, Khaled Dawoud, immediately dismissed the invitation, telling the Associated Press, "It is all too little, too late." In a press conference, ElBaradei added, "We will send a message to the Egyptian people and the president of the republic about what we think are the essentials for dialogue. If he agrees to them, we are ready for dialogue."

The president's office has not yet agreed to the coalition's proposed conditions, which included the formation of a national salvation government.

Trying to ease the anger, the president's spokesman, Yasser Ali, hinted that Morsi may reconsider the state of emergency if the situation improved. "The emergency state may be canceled, shortened or limited geographically," Ali said today. But a defensive statement released around midnight Tuesday reaffirmed Morsi's commitment to the decree, calling it "a vital and exceptional action…to maintain the security, safeguard lives of citizens and the safety of the state."

The clashes in the country's capital centered around Tahrir Square and the nearby Garden City Corniche, reaching several of Cairo's five star hotels along the Nile.

(Credit: Al-Masry Al-Youm)

On Monday night, videos showed masked men attacking and looting the luxury Semiramis Intercontinental Hotel.

(Credit: ONtv)

Late Monday night, the hotel sent out a string of increasingly desperate messages on Twitter, pleading for help:

Around 10 p.m. on Tuesday, the hotel's Twitter account again sounded the alarm bells:

But as one Egyptian blogger noted, the hotel approached the situation more calmly tonight:

The hotel confirmed on Twitter that its guests had been evacuated, a worrying sign for Egypt's tourism industry that has been ravaged over the last two years. The state-run Al Ahram newspaper reports that Cairo's hotels are doing critically poor business for the season.

The current crisis is the second major challenge to Morsi's rule since November, when Morsi gave himself nearly unlimited powers, only to rescind them later.

Tomorrow, President Morsi is scheduled to leave the country for Germany to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel and industry groups as he works to attract vital foreign investment. He has cut the trip short and canceled his planned visit to France later this week in order to return sooner to address Egypt's ongoing crisis.