REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- Thousands of angry Egyptian women joined a fifth day of protests in downtown Cairo to voice outrage over what they said was the military’s abuse and mistreatment of female demonstrators.
“Egyptian girls are a red line,” the women chanted during a peaceful march from Tahrir Square through the center of the Egyptian capital as male protesters formed a protective line around them. “Down with military rule!”
Some carried posters and pictures of women they said had been beaten and stripped by the military in recent days, including one woman who was captured on video as military police ripped off some of her clothing, exposing her bra, and then appeared to stomp on her body.
That footage has circulated widely on social media sites, fueling a growing public anger toward the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has been ruling the country since the overthrow in February of President Hosni Mubarak.
“That girl who was stripped by army officers didn’t just reveal her body, but she revealed the brutality and atrocities carried out by the army,” said one female protester who did not want to be identified. “We don’t trust them anymore. They should cede power immediately.”
Sensing the public frustration, the military council quickly issued an apology Tuesday and vowed to punish those responsible for the mistreatment of women. The statement expressed “deep regret to the great women of Egypt” and reaffirmed their right to protest and participate in the democratic transition.
The military’s expression of regret was a stark reversal to its denials in recent days that soldiers had used excessive force against demonstrators.
On Monday, Gen. Adel Emara, a member of the military council, blamed the violence on protesters themselves, whom the army has tried to paint as criminals and vandals.
At least 13 protesters have died in clashes since Friday and an additional 800 people have been injured, some from gunfire.
In some of the harshest American criticism yet of Egypt’s military leaders, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed shock Monday at the treatment of female protesters.
“Women protesters have been rounded up and subjected to horrific abuse,” Clinton said in a speech at Georgetown University in Washington. “This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonors the revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform and is not worthy of a great people.”
She noted that Egyptian women played a key role in the protests that swept Mubarak from power.
The army tried once again Tuesday to clear out the encampment of several hundred protesters in Tahrir Square during a early-morning raid, but the day's clashes were less intense than in recent days.
“They were beating us with their clubs and shields and firing live gun shots at us,” protester Ahmed Ibrahim Ismail said, pointing to bloodstains on the ground. “I saw a couple of demonstrators covered in blood from gun wounds.”
No new deaths were reported Tuesday by the Egyptian Ministry of Health. The Interior Ministry said 120 of its officers were injured in Tuesday's clashes, the state news agency, MENA, reported.
Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, called upon Egyptian military leaders to act swiftly to end human-rights abuses or risk future prosecution.
“Egyptian authorities have to show a real commitment to human rights, including through the full eradication of ill-treatment ... and the respect of the rule of law and fundamental freedoms, particularly freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association,” Pillay said.
-- Amro Hassan
Photo: Egyptian women shout slogans in Cairo on Tuesday during a protest to condemn the army's use of violence against female protesters. Credit: Mohamed Omar / EPA