PORT SAID, Egypt — On Jan. 28, thousands of Port Said residents broke the first night of President Mohamed Morsy's curfew with a raucous march that wound past the faded grandeur of the seafront's old buildings.
Families watched from balconies above the rain-soaked streets. They tossed bananas and lowered buckets of water by rope. Soldiers watched idly and chatted with protesters beside their armored personnel carriers. Marchers directed their chants at Morsy: "The curfew -- up your mother's!"
What began as a soccer rivalry between Cairo and this city of 600,000 at the mouth of the Suez Canal sparked a tragic stadium riot in February 2012 and has now grown into a miniature insurrection. After a court's decision to hand down 21 death sentences against Port Said soccer supporters for their role in the riot, outraged men allegedly rushed toward the prison and tried to shoot the inmates out, resulting in deaths on both sides.
The violent reaction has become the most critical test of Morsy's ability to steer the nation since his election last June, and the president declared a curfew and state of emergency along the entire Suez Canal in an effort to contain the unrest. But Morsy's attempt to restore order only highlighted his precarious control over Egypt and its institutions, and the canal cities reacted with outright defiance.
Mahmoud Kandil, a bespectacled accountant, filmed the protests on his phone.
"This is how Egyptians do a curfew," he shouted gleefully.
The celebration did not last. As the tail end of the march passed the quiet and debris-littered al-Arab police station, its interior unlit and its walls blackened by soot where angry mobs had thrown Molotov cocktails earlier in the day, rifle cracks echoed from its direction. Immediately, the louder, booming response of homemade pistols shattered the night. In a warren of shadowed market alleys crowded with awnings, fences, and covered merchandise stands, young men scurried in groups of three and four, trying to approach the source of gunfire.
The men gathered at the intersection of two alleys and peered around the corner. Several dozen feet away stood the station. Kandil sprinted across, then others followed. More shots rang out, and a man came careening back around the corner.
He clutched his head, his eyes wide: "Someone died! We have to help him! There's someone dead!"
Young men bunched at the opposite corner, trying to see. One clutched a pistol with two hands, held it by his thigh, leaned into the alley, and fired a blast at the station.
Osama Sherbini, a 21-year-old commerce student, had been shot through the neck. Mohammed Assi, one of the protesters who had rushed across the intersection, said he saw a man hiding behind a metal kiosk fall to the ground, ricocheting bullets sparking around his body. He was dead before he reached one of the city's hospitals.
Sherbini was not the only casualty that night. Another man reportedly died while being taken to receive better care in the city of Zagazig, along the ill-maintained highway, and a third was fatally shot in the pelvis. The three days of fighting claimed at least 45 lives.
The crisis began with what could have been mistaken for a provincial dispute: Families were outraged after a court sentenced their local soccer fans to death on Jan. 26. But it also pulled back the curtain on a state that seemed suddenly and stunningly absent.