Thousands of people filled the streets of the Egyptian capital on Tuesday in protest against the beating of female protesters by the ruling military during clashes in and around Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
The well-documented violence against women since the crackdown began on Friday prompted US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to make a rare public condemnation, saying it “disgraces” Egypt.
Egypt’s foreign ministry responded on Wednesday, saying the country would not accept any interference in its internal affairs.
“Matters like that are not taken lightly,” Mohamed Kamel Amr, the foreign minister, was quoted as saying by the state news agency, in response to a question about Clinton’s remarks.
Female activists had called for Tuesday’s demonstration to denounce the attacks on women and call for an immediate end to violence against protesters.
The rally came hours after Egyptian security forces clashed with demonstrators in the capital on the fifth day of fighting that has left 14 people dead and more than 900 others injured since Friday.
|The image of a woman stripped and stomped on by soldiers shocked Egyptians, and the world [Reuters]|
The clashes sparked condemnation against the military among many people in Egypt, particularly after one incident in which two Egyptian soldiers were filmed dragging a woman protester on the ground by her shirt, exposing her underwear, then clubbing and stomping on her body.
One of the women at Tuesday’s protest said the country’s military council only cared about holding on to power.
“The reason for the protest is the picture and the video that was published by news services around the world, and it showed us to what extent the military council has no qualms about trampling on the women of Egypt and the girls of Egypt, and has no qualms about beating them up and stripping them naked,” Islama Thabet told the Reuters news agency.
General Adel Emara, a member of Egypt’s army council that took over after Mubarak was overthrown in February, said on Monday the attack on the woman protester was an isolated incident that was under investigation.
But there was outrage amongst the women who marched through Tahrir square and downtown Cairo on Tuesday, with the protesters chanting that Egypt’s head of the military, Field Marshall Tantawi, was a coward, and that the women of Egypt would not be humiliated.
While the images of the as yet unidentified woman who was stripped and beaten have caused the most outrage, numerous other incidents of women protesters being beaten or dragged by their hair have shocked Egyptians.
Many women who have been arrested by the army have also said that they were molested while in custody and beaten while captive.
In what appeared to be a response to the protest, Egypt’s military issued a statement in which they expressed “deep sorrow” over the abuses of women’s rights that took place on the weekend, saying that those responsible have had legal measures taken against them, Sherine Tadros reported.
In what has been some of the strongest criticism of Egypt’s military rulers by US officials, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state spoke out against the treatment of Egyptian women in recent months.
|Jamal Elshayyal reports on the latest from Cairo|
“Women are being beaten and humiliated in the same streets where they risked their lives for the revolution only a few short months ago,” Clinton said in a speech at Washington’s Georgetown University on Monday.
The US, which saw Egypt as a staunch ally in the era of deposed leader Hosni Mubarak, gives Cairo $3bn a year in military aid, and has been criticised by activists for not speaking out more strongly against the violence, and for continuing to export small arms even as those weapons are being wielded against protesters.
Clinton said women had been mostly shut out of decision-making by Egypt’s ruling military and by big political parties.
“Women protesters have been rounded up and subjected to horrific abuse. Journalists have been sexually assaulted. And now, women are being attacked, stripped, and beaten in the streets,” she added.
“This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonours the revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform and is not worthy of a great people.”
Army generals and their advisers have condemned the pro-democracy protesters, sometimes in extraordinarily harsh terms.
“What is your feeling when you see Egypt and its history burn in front of you?” retired general Abdel Moneim Kato, an army adviser, told al-Shorouk daily, referring to a government archive building set alight during clashes.
“Yet you worry about a vagrant who should be burnt in Hitler’s incinerators.”
Presidential hopeful and former UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei said such statements showed “a deranged and criminal state of mind”.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information denounced Kato’s comments, saying they “incite hatred and justify violence against citizens”.
The violent crackdown has alarmed rights groups. Amnesty International urged arms suppliers to stop sending small arms and ammunition to Egypt’s military and security forces.
Reporters Without Borders complained of the army’s “systematic use of violence against media personnel”.