Egyptian women decry abuse by soldiers

December 20, 2011

Thousands of women, enraged by images of female protesters being dragged through the streets by soldiers during weekend protests, marched Tuesday in central Cairo to decry the Egyptian military’s recent use of force against demonstrators.

The rare public outpouring by women, young and old, religious and secular, appeared to turn up the pressure on the country’s ruling military council. The generals, who had shown no remorse for the recent violence, quickly issued a statement Tuesday evening offering “sincerest apologies to the great women of Egypt for what happened” and promising that those responsible would be reprimanded.

Egypt’s conservative society has been shaken by nearly a week of deadly protests and by powerful images of women being stripped and beaten by soldiers in riot gear. Many in Tuesday’s crowd carried a widely circulated photo of a woman being dragged by soldiers, her scarf and abaya ripped from her body to expose her blue bra.

“Egypt was stripped,” their posters read.

The military leadership has tried to paint demonstrators as paid thugs and conspirators intent on destabilizing Egypt.

But as the women chanted for an end to military rule and waved to bystanders to join them, they seemed to signal renewed solidarity among Egyptians. In recent days, activists and politicians have increasingly called for presidential elections no later than the end of January to remove the military council from power.

The protest appeared to be the largest march by women since demonstrations began here 11 months ago. A group of men, including newly elected members of parliament, formed a shield around them.

“Egyptian girls are a red line,” they chanted hours after another predawn raid on Tahrir Square by soldiers and military police. At least 13 people have been killed, including nine by gunfire, and nearly 1,000 wounded since violence began on Friday when military police tried to break up a sit-in outside the cabinet building.

“Even those not sympathetic to protesters can’t deny the power of an image of a defenseless woman being attacked,” said Heba Morayef, an Egypt researcher at Human Rights Watch. But, she acknowledged, images of young men hurling stones and setting fire to buildings also have had a powerful effect.

The march followed a news conference Monday by Maj. Gen. Adel Emara, a member of the ruling military council, who called soldiers who shot and beat protesters heroes and praised them for their “restraint.”

Journalists and other witnesses said that in recent days they had seen soldiers rushing to Tahrir Square with guns in their hands and using truncheons to beat fleeing protesters, scenes that were captured on video. The sounds of gunfire also were heard.

“Despite the pain it caused, it was a slap in the face to the military council, it weakened its power and showed its true face to the world,” said Ghada Ibrahim, who was beaten and detained Friday.

Special correspondent Ingy Hassieb contributed to this report.

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