In Cairo, white clouds of tear gas hung over Qasr el-Nil Bridge from early Monday morning and through the evening, wafting into nearby districts. The fighting was reminiscent of scenes two years ago to the day, when police and protesters battered each other on the same bridge in the most violent day of the 2011 uprising.
‘‘People died to gain their freedom, social justice, bread. Now after 29 years of the despotic Mubarak, we’re ruled by a worse regime: religious fascist, more dangerous,’’ said Mohammed Saber, a 65-year old engineer who came to watch the clashes with his wife and children.
The clashes intensified in Monday evening. A group of protesters, including black masked youth, flashed the V-for-victory signs as they jubilantly milled around the burning police vehicle in Tahrir.
Outside Cairo, protesters marched, pelted police with rocks or cut off roads and railway lines in nearly a half dozen cities, including the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, the country’s second largest.
The geographical spread of the unrest and the tenacity of the protesters have showcased the depth of opposition to Morsi’s rule outside the ranks of the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups.
However, it will take the mostly liberal and secular opposition time and effort to translate this popular resentment of the Islamists into electoral power and seriously challenge them at the ballot box. The Islamists have dominated elections for both houses of parliament late in 2011 and early 2012. Morsi narrowly won the presidency with under 52 percent of the vote.
The major opposition parties grouped in the National Salvation Front, led by reform leader and Nobel Peace Laureate Mohamed ElBardei, are seeking to leverage the turmoil roiling the country to break the Islamists’ hold on power and force Morsi to make concessions.
ElBardei and other front leaders said they would only accept his invitation to join a national dialogue to resolve the crisis if he agreed first to form a national unity government and a commission to rewrite what they see as contentious parts of an Islamist-backed constitution adopted in a referendum last month.
The rejection of Morsi’s offer is likely to lend more weight to ElBaradei and his colleagues in the Salvation Front at a time when protesters on the streets are increasingly showing their independence from politicians, voicing a wide range of non-political grievances.
The Front has painted the explosion of unrest as a backlash against attempts by Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists to monopolize power in Egypt. It says the instability is proof that Morsi doesn’t have enough legitimacy to bring security or achieve reforms alone.
‘‘We support any dialogue if it has a clear agenda that can shepherd the nation to the shores of safety,’’ said ElBaradei, flanked by former Arab league chief Amr Moussa and leftist Hamdeen Sabahi.
The Front later issued a statement in which it said failure by Morsi to meet its conditions should be cause for early presidential elections, now scheduled for 2016.
It also called for mass, nationwide protests on Friday.
Associated Press writer Amir Makar contributed to this report.