Egypt's ruling military lashes out at protesters
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
CAIRO -- Egypt's ruling military sought to discredit the pro-democracy movement Monday, portraying a detained protester as a woman of questionable morals, accusing a prominent publisher of incitement and alleging the media is trying to sabotage the country.
The verbal attacks by a member of the ruling military council came hours after troops in riot gear swept through Cairo's Tahrir Square before daybreak, opening fire on protesters and lobbing tear gas into the crowds. At least three people were killed, pushing the death toll from four days of street clashes to 14.
Over the past few days, the military has dealt with the protesters much more roughly than at any other time since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising 10 months ago. The military took power after Mubarak stepped down.
"The ruling military council doesn't believe in the revolution," said newly elected lawmaker and activist Mustafa el-Naggar.
The crackdown may reflect the military's fury over the activists' distribution of videos showing soldiers bludgeoning women and other protesters. The weak showing of the pro-democracy movement in the parliamentary elections that began last month may have also emboldened the military.
Maj. Gen. Adel Emara, a member of the ruling council, showed videos at a news conference clearly aimed at discrediting those involved in the protest movement.
One image was designed to raise questions about a female detainee's morals. It showed the woman talking about her husband, then later saying she was not married to her partner. Sex outside marriage is considered gravely immoral in conservative, mostly Muslim Egypt.
Another video showed a young man in detention saying that prominent publisher Mohammed Hashem was using his Cairo office near Tahrir as headquarters for an "incitement ring," distributing free food, helmets and gas masks to protesters.
Hashem is a leftist credited with publishing young novelists and poets whose works have become literary landmarks in Egypt. His Merit publishing house is a gathering place for young, left-leaning intellectuals.
Hashem told an online news service that he plans to sue the military for defamation and that he is proud to offer protesters protection against tear gas and bullets.
In footage Emara said was taken by the military, men appeared to be rejoicing over setting a government building ablaze. Other images showed a male protester romantically embracing a young woman as they sat on a sidewalk.
Emara defended the crackdown, saying security forces have a duty to protect state property.
"What are we supposed to do when protesters break the law? Should we invite people from abroad to govern our nation?" Emara asked.
Emara's hourlong news conference was punctuated by outbursts of temper and rants against the media and the protesters. He said an investigation into the clashes and the media's coverage of them is under way.
"There is a methodical and premeditated plot to topple the state, but Egypt will not fall," he said, cutting journalists short and threatening to throw one out if she interrupted him again.
He added: "The media is helping sabotage the state. This is certain."
Violence has been raging in Cairo since Friday, when military forces guarding the Cabinet building near Tahrir Square racked down on a 3-week-old sit-in by protesters demanding the ruling generals immediately hand power to a civilian authority.
Many Egyptians have grown tired of the turmoil over the past year and are longing for a restoration of security and urgent measures to address the collapsing economy. At the same time, the respect Egyptians traditionally show to their military appears to be eroding fast.
Long treated with reverence as the nation's most powerful institution, the military is now ridiculed by independent newspapers and TV stations over its handling of the transition, its use of force against protesters and its failure to revive the economy and restore security.
Protesters use profanities in their anti-military slogans and taunt the troops as bullies and wife-beaters. Graffiti in Tahrir and nearby streets call the ruling military council the "council of traitors" and "council of conspirators."
Activists have also flooded social networking sites and other media with photos and video of troops beating protesters.
Widely circulated footage showed an army officer firing a pistol at protesters, though it was not clear whether he was using live ammunition. Other images showed soldiers dragging women by the hair and beating, kicking and stomping on protesters cowering on the ground. Another video showed soldiers dragging a woman, stripping her half-naked and stomping on her as she lay on the ground.
The U.N.'s human rights chief, Navi Pillay, called on the ruling generals Monday to arrest and prosecute officials behind the crackdown. Pillay called the graphic images of protesters being smashed on the head and body with clubs long after they stopped resisting "utterly shocking."
Amnesty International issued a statement Monday calling on nations to stop selling small arms and ammunition to Egypt. In the wake of the violence in Cairo, the rights group said it can no longer be considered acceptable to supply the Egyptian army with the types of equipment used to disperse protesters.