Thousands of Egyptians in three cities under emergency decree defied the curfew and marched, protesting the rule of President Mohammed Morsi.
Egypt's army chief warned Tuesday that the state could collapse if the latest political crisis roiling the nation drags on but also defended the right of people to protest.
Troops deployed in the two riot-torn Suez Canal cities of Port Said and Suez stood by and watched Monday night as thousands took to the streets in direct defiance of a night curfew and a state of emergency declared by the president a day earlier. Residents of those two cities and Ismailiya, a third city also the emergency, marched through the streets just as the curfew came into force at 9 p.m.
The display of contempt for the president's decision was tantamount to an outright rebellion that many worried could spread to other parts of the country. Already, protesters across much of Egypt are battling police, cutting off roads and railway lines, and besieging government offices and police stations as part of a growing revolt against the rule of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood group.
At least 60 people have been killed since Friday.
Morsi's opponents protest that Islamists have monopolized power and not lived up to the ideals of the pro-democracy uprising that ousted authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak nearly two years ago.
"The continuation of the conflict between the different political forces and their differences over how the country should be run could lead to the collapse of the state and threaten future generations," said the army chief, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who is both head of the military and defense minister.
The warning was the military's first public comment since the latest crisis erupted last week around the second anniversary of the uprising. El-Sissi was speaking to military academy cadets and the comments were posted on the armed forces' official Facebook page.
The army is of no mind to stage a coup. They are content to sit on the sidelines and watch the Muslim Brotherhood self-destruct, hoping that more pliable, secular politicians will be elected in upcoming parliamentary contests later this spring.
But opposition parties are still disunited and disorganized. The Brotherhood and their Salifis allies will almost certainly still hold a majority - although a much reduced majority - after the election. This means the drive to Islamicize Egyptian society will continue, which will probably lead to more protests.
With the economy near collapse, this prospect doesn't hold much promise for President Morsi's regime.