Thousands of Egyptian women joined protests on the streets of central Cairo following international condemnation of violence between security forces and demonstrators that left at least 14 dead.
Crowds rallied in and around Tahrir Square late yesterday after images were shown of soldiers stripping and beating a female demonstrator during the clashes that began Dec. 16. Videos and photographs posted online and broadcast on private television stations showed troops dragging other demonstrators, hitting them with batons and stomping on them. A total of 850 people were injured, state television reported yesterday. Protesters said many of those killed had been shot.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon both condemned the violence, which occurred as troops and police tried on several occasions to disperse protesters demanding an immediate end to army rule. In a statement addressed to the nation’s women late yesterday, the ruling military council expressed “deep regret” for “the transgressions that have taken place during recent events.”
The council, which took power from Hosni Mubarak in February, says it won’t relinquish its authority until there is a new parliament, president and constitution. Lack of clarity over the transition has helped stall the economy’s recovery and sent government borrowing costs to a record high.
“I don’t see a political solution for the crisis right now,” said Hani Sabra, an analyst on Egypt for the New York-based Eurasia Group. “In the short term, we’ll be seeing a lot of tit-for-tat action.”
Smaller groups of protesters gathered this morning in Tahrir, and there were no clashes overnight for the first time since Dec. 16. “They didn’t attack last night after yesterday’s protest, so we didn’t attack either,” said protester Hossam Eddin Mohamed, a 35-year-old plumber.
Egypt is in the middle of parliamentary elections in which the Muslim Brotherhood’s affiliate, the Freedom and Justice party, took an early lead, followed by the Nour party, a conservative religious grouping. Run-offs for the second round are being held today and tomorrow. A third and final round of voting begins in early January, while presidential elections are scheduled to be held by the end of June.
Some Egyptians argue that the election of a representative parliament should diminish the role of street protests.
“The elections are going well,” said Nelly Mohamed, a 50-year-old teacher, outside a polling station in Giza, a Cairo suburb. “There will always be some people unhappy with the results, that’s why we’re seeing the events in Tahrir.”
Others say that the brutal treatment of demonstrators is overshadowing the vote. “A lot of people aren’t paying attention anymore to the elections with the violence taking place in Tahrir,” said 64-year-old doctor Nadia Nashed Atalla after casting her ballot in Giza. “It’s doesn’t matter what they’re demanding, they’re people and they’re dying; it’s unacceptable.”
Turnout in the initial voting of the second phase was 67 percent, according to Abdel Moez Ibrahim, the head of the electoral commission.
The country’s military ruler, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, held talks yesterday with a civilian advisory body to discuss the unrest, “reiterating that all forms of violence must end immediately,” the state-run Middle East News Agency reported. The council said the date for presidential elections will be upheld, Mena said, effectively rejecting calls by activists to hand over power to civilians immediately.
“The military council wants to ensure that any new political player in Egypt does not threaten their privileged position,” said Sabra. “Any state where the military plays such a broad role, as it has in Egypt over the past 60 years, it will be impossible to define that as a democracy.”
Clinton said she was “deeply concerned about the continuing reports of violence in Egypt,” according to an e-mailed statement. Female protesters “being attacked, stripped and beaten in the streets” by security forces “disgraces the state and its uniform,” she said Dec. 19 at Georgetown University in Washington.
The U.S. gives $1.3 billion to Egypt in annual military aid.
Yields on Egypt’s dollar bonds maturing in 2020 were trading at 8.03 percent at 11:15 a.m. local time today, close to yesterday’s record close of 8.04 percent. The benchmark EGX 30 Index rallied 0.8 percent, paring its loss this week to 4.7 percent. The government missed its fundraising target at a domestic debt auction on Dec. 19, selling 3.5 billion pounds ($581 million) out of the 5 billion pounds it had sought.