Egypt responds to demonstrators.
America responds to demonstrators.
Egypt’s military rulers accused pro-democracy demonstrators of being part of a “systematic plan to destroy” the country as clashes between the security services and angry youths continued for a fourth day on Monday.
At least 12 people, all civilians, have been killed in the violence said to have started on Friday when soldiers savagely beat up an activist in a protest camp blocking a road leading to the prime minister’s office.
Doctors say most of the dead, who include a senior Muslim cleric, suffered gunshot wounds. Video footage of swarms of soldiers clubbing and kicking unarmed protesters cowering on the ground has provoked outrage in the media and among a growing section of public opinion.
But in a televised press conference, General Adel Emara, a member of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, lambasted both the protesters and the media “for seeking to destroy the country”. His soldiers, he said, were “heroes” who used “a high a degree of self-restraint” in dealing with paid vandals armed with Molotov cocktails and intent on burning public buildings to bring down the Egyptian state.
“There is a systematic plan to destroy Egypt,” Gen Emara said. “All those plotting against Egypt forget that it won’t fall as long as it has honourable people and as long as it has those heroes from the armed forces … Egypt won’t fall.”
The general’s televised address was made as protesters and security forces continued to battle in Cairo’s streets and international condemnation grew.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, condemned what he called the “excessive force” used by the army while Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said she was “deeply concerned” by the violence and urged the security forces “to respect and protect the universal rights of all Egyptians”.
The protests have been fed by growing anger at what activists have complained has been a heavy-handed crackdown. One video released on the internet at the weekend showed soldiers dragging a woman, stripping her half-naked and stamping on her as she lay on the ground.
A picture of the woman, wearing a blue brassiere and being dragged and beaten by troops, has quickly become one of the emblematic images of the Egyptian revolution. Footage of the attack has been widely circulated on the internet and it has been displayed prominently in Egyptian newspapers.
In a conservative country where women’s bodies must remain hidden, the pictures may have prompted Gen Emara to convene the press conference.
“All of Egypt watched the soldiers hitting, attacking, urinating on, and shooting protesters,” wrote Ibrahim Eissa, the editor of Tahrir newspaper. “When the council clings to this lying nonsense, it means that either it considers us idiots or it considers itself a council of scarecrows who know nothing about what is happening in the country.”
Gen Emara, who took only a few questions before wrapping up the press conference, admitted that soldiers had indeed beaten up the young woman. But he provided no explanation of how any of the victims had been killed.
Instead he screened footage of injured soldiers and of unidentified young men attacking public buildings. Another video showed detained youths who said they had been paid to attack the army.
The intensity of the campaign by the social media-savvy protesters is apparently fuelling an ever harsher response from the military, both on the ground and on the airwaves.
But the military sought to address a wider audience and the appeal to nationalistic sentiment is certain to resonate in a country fed up with political turmoil over the past 10 months since the popular uprising that overthrew Hosni Mubarak as president.
Many Egyptians have lost patience with the protests and are anxious about a deteriorating economy that has ground to a near halt amid political uncertainty. Gen Emara’s words spoke straight to the worries of the majority who fear that their country is sinking.