Hundreds of women have taken to the streets of Cairo to protest against military rule and the brutal treatment of female protesters by Egypt’s security services.
The women rallied outside a government office complex in Tahrir Square, the scene of violent clashes earlier on Tuesday in which at least four demonstrators were shot dead by military police.
Dozens of men joined the demonstration out of sympathy with the women. They acted as a protective cordon and chanted: “Egyptian women are a red line.”
The protest came after soldiers made another violent attempt to evict demonstrators camped in the square, during the fifth day of bloody confrontation between the military and opponents of army rule.
It also followed condemnation of the treatment of female activists in Egypt by Hillary Clinton. The US secretary of state said she was appalled by the treatment being meted out to female protesters – particularly by a photo showing a young woman, stripped to her bra and jeans, being kicked and dragged along the ground by two police officers.
“This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonours the revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform and is not worthy of a great people,” Clinton said. She added: “Women are being beaten and humiliated in the same streets where they risked their lives for the revolution only a few short months ago.”
Soldiers fired live rounds and used batons to disperse demonstrators . The four protesters killed during a dawn raid included a 19-year-old. All were shot. A 15-year-old protester, Ahmed Saad, was also said to be in a critical condition from a gunshot wound.
Doctors working in makeshift field hospitals said at least 13 people had been killed and hundreds wounded since the latest unrest in Tahrir began last Friday. Protesters demanding an immediate end to army rule have gathered in the square, and in nearby streets leading to parliament and the cabinet office. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, has called the tactics used by the Egyptian authorities “excessive”.
During Tuesday’s demonstration, female activists handed out flyers depicting a hand – emerging from a military uniform – stretching out to grope a frowning woman. The writing over the flyer read: “Liars, stop the violence.” Samea Saleh, a woman wearing the niqab (veil), said that the military was attempting to take away the Egyptian people’s dignity.
Referring to the images of the young woman lying half-naked on the street – her cloak ripped in two – Saleh said such images showed nothing had improved under military rule.
“What they did to that woman was the ultimate insult. Why do they think we wear these clothes? To have them stripped off us on the street? I’m here as part of the revolution, which did not end in February,” she said.
General Adel Emara, a prominent member of Egypt’s ruling military council, promised to investigate the incident.
But speaking earlier in the day he struck an uncompromising tone. Emara denied giving orders to clear the square but said there were “evil forces” in Egypt hellbent on chaos and insurrection. “What is happening does not belong with the revolution and its pure youth, who never wanted to bring down this nation,” he said, praising what he called the “self-restraint” shown by the security forces.
The latest ugly clashes have overshadowed Egypt’s parliamentary election, which started on 28 November and continues until 11 January.
Results so far indicate that the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups will dominate Egypt’s post-revolutionary lower house of parliament – assuming the military makes good on its promise to make way for a civilian government. Two opposition parties called on Tuesday for the army to be replaced by a new president at the end of next month.
Eyewitnesses said the latest violence took place when protesters attempted to rip down a brick wall erected by police and blocking access to parliament.” Hundreds of state security forces and the army entered the square and began firing heavily. They chased protesters and burned anything in their way, including medical supplies and blankets,” one protester who gave his name only as Ismail said, according to Reuters. “Some of those who fell had gunshot wounds to the legs,” he added, speaking by telephone from Tahrir.
But one analyst suggested, that the current bloody impasse in Egypt was the fault not just of the country’s generals but of its protesters too. Writing in the influential US magazine Foreign Policy, Steven A Cook said the goals of the country’s revolution at the start of this year – which saw the toppling of the Hosni Mubarak – had turned into “squalid politics and the normalisation of violence”.
Cook said Tahrir Square was now a “warped, demented, bizarre version” of its original revolutionary self. He wrote: “It is easy to blame the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, as so many have, but the generals have also had a lot of help. Each of Egypt’s primary political actors – the military, revolutionary groups, Islamists, and liberals – have contributed mightily to the country’s current political impasse and economic collapse through a combination of incompetence, narcissism, and treachery. This has left a society on the edge, one in which minor traffic accidents become near riots, soldiers beat women with reckless abandon, and protesters burn the building containing some of Egypt’s historical and cultural treasures.”
Over the weekend the Institute of Egypt in Cairo caught fire, leading to the destruction of numerous rare manuscripts. Sheikh Sultan bin Mohamed al-Qasimi, governor of the UAE’s emirate of Sharjah, said he would donate original manuscripts from his own collection. “All the original documents in my private library I am giving as a gift to the Egyptian Scientific Complex,” he said in a phone interview from Paris with the independent Egyptian satellite Channel Dream TV.
Qasimi added that he asked for a complete list of all the books that were damaged or lost during the fire and that he would do his best to look for other original copies and give them to the library, known for its collection of priceless books, maps, and manuscripts.