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Egypt considers military control for Port Said

| Tuesday, March 5, 2013, 9:48 p.m.

CAIRO — A security agency headquarters was set on fire as protesters battled police for a third straight day in Port Said on Tuesday, and Egypt's Islamist president considered handing the military full control of the restive Mediterranean coastal city in a sign of the collapse of control there.

A handover to the military would be recognition of the failure of President Mohamed Morsy's government to bring calm to Port Said, which has been in turmoil since late January. Furious at the president and the security forces, residents have been waging campaign of protests and strikes amounting to an outright revolt against the central government.

But Morsy appeared to back down from the idea. Later that evening, his office issued a statement denying Morsy had made such a decision and underlining that the police remain “the main authority in charge of securing the city.” Military spokesman Ahmed Mohammed Ali also denied Morsy had asked the army to take over.

The reluctance to call in the military could reflect the multiple conflicting interests and rivalries in Egypt's halls of power. Morsy likely is loath to hand the generals greater authority.

Amid increasing tensions with Morsy's administration, the military is hesitant to be seen to be acting on his behalf and risk a clash with protesters. And the Interior Ministry, in charge of domestic security forces, may be resisting the humiliation of having security duties in the city taken from its hands — setting a possible precedent for doing so in other parts of Egypt.

But the turmoil deepened the perception of confusion in Egypt's leadership in the face of months of unrest that has been mounting around the country, though the heaviest protests have been in Port Said.

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