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In Tahrir Square, 10,000 Women March After Reported Attacks on Female Protesters

December 21, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JEFFREY BROWN: And now, women take to the streets of Cairo in large numbers, adding a potential new element to Egypt’s political struggles.

Margaret Warner has the story.

MARGARET WARNER: It was this graphic video that outraged many people across Egypt and around the world: a female protester stripped half-naked by Egyptian soldiers beaten, kicked and stomped on.

It happened during weekend clashes in Cairo. Soldiers and security forces used tough new tactics trying to rout demonstrators protesting continued military control. And there have been other reports of attacks on women by security forces in recent days.

But, on Monday, a member of the ruling military council, Major General Adel Emara, insisted the incident had been blown out of proportion. And he defended the use of force by troops.

GEN. ADEL EMARA, Supreme Council of Armed Forces (through translator): It was a unique model of Egyptian people cooperating with their own army since the beginning of the revolution, and this cooperation has bothered forces that have bad intentions for this country. This power aims to topple the state and get Egyptians involved in unrest with their own army.

MARGARET WARNER: The attacks on women and the military’s defense of it brought a stern rebuke from Washington.

On Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it shocking.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonors the revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform, and is not worthy of a great people.

As some Egyptian politicians and commentators have themselves noted, a new democracy cannot be built on the persecution of women, nor can any stable society. MARGARET WARNER: The Egyptian foreign minister rejected her criticism as unwarranted foreign interference.

But yesterday, Egyptian women took matters into their own hands. Nearly 10,000 marched into Tahrir Square in one of the largest women-only protests in Egyptian history. They shouted and waved signs denouncing the attacks, and many demanded that the general step down.

SHAHINAZ ABDEL WAHAB, protester (through translator): The women in Egypt are considered a red line, just like Egyptian men are considered a red line, and they have crossed all of these lines.

WOMAN (through translator): Women were beaten. Women were stripped in the street. This is the army who were supposed to protect us. I am here to say, down, down with the military council.

MARGARET WARNER: Late yesterday, the military issued a statement expressing its utmost sorrow for the great women of Egypt. It pointedly didn’t accept responsibility for any violence.

For some women casting their ballots today in another round of parliamentary election runoffs, it wasn’t enough.

WOMAN (through translator): An apology is not enough. This is a crime that happened, and it’s a crime against all the women of Egypt, especially this woman. And those soldiers should be put on trial.

MARGARET WARNER: In the meantime, small groups of protesters continued gathering in Tahrir Square.