CAIRO — Security forces and Islamist protesters clashed across the country Sunday, leaving 51 killed, as a national holiday celebrating the military turned to mayhem.
Crowds from Egypt's two rival camps — supporters of the ousted Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, and backers of the military that deposed him — poured into the streets and turned on one another.
Several neighborhoods of the capital, Cairo, resembled combat zones after street battles that raged for hours. Morsi supporters fired bird shots and threw firebombs at police who responded with gunshots and tear gas. Streets were left strewn with debris, and the air was thick with tear gas and smoke from burning fires, as gunfire rang out.
Sunday's death toll of 51 was the highest on a single day since Aug. 14 when security forces raided two sit-in protest camps by Morsi supporters, killing hundreds. Even as fighting continued in the streets, the military went ahead with lavish celebrations for the holiday marking the 40th anniversary of the start of the 1973 Mideast war with Israel.
In the evening, a concert was aired live on state TV from a military-run Cairo stadium where pop stars from Egypt, Lebanon and the Persian Gulf sang anthems to the army and dancers twirled on stage before a cheering crowd. Military chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, other top brass and interim President Adly Mansour attended the show.
"There are those who think the military can be broken," el-Sissi said at the concert. "You see the Pyramids? The military is like the pyramids, because the Egyptian people are on its side."
The clashes were the latest chapter in the turmoil roiling the country since the ouster in February 2011 of autocrat Hosni Mubarak. The new violence is certain to set back efforts by the interim, military-backed government to revive the economy and bring order to the streets.
Morsi was Egypt's first freely elected president. But after a year in office, he was faced by massive protests demanding his ouster, accusing his Muslim Brotherhood of taking over power — and on July 3, el-Sissi removed him.