Female protestor's beating sparks Egypt outrage
Protesters clashed with Egypt's security forces in central Cairo on Sunday after the humiliating police beating of a veiled woman in Tahrir Square triggered widespread outrage in the country's pro-democracy movement.
Egypt's security forces attack a woman in Tahrir Square Photo: REUTERS
At least ten people have been killed in three days of violence as Egypt's generals launched a clumsy and often brutal attempt to end weeks of protests against their rule.
Amid the fresh bloodshed and chaos that turned the centre of the city once more into a familiar scene of mayhem and anger, one incident, captured on film, stoked tensions more than any other.
Footage, widely broadcast on the internet, showed helmeted officers charging towards a veiled woman among the protesters in Tahrir Square earlier in the weekend. Dragging her along the ground, they beat her with their clubs and aimed kick after kick at her limp body.
Pulling her veil over her head to expose her bra, one man stamps on her breasts. Nearby, other security officers jump on the body of a man who had tried to help her as furious protesters throw stones to scare them off. Other footage showed an army officer apparently firing his pistol at the demonstrators.
The Egyptian army, which has faced heavy criticism for the manner in which it has managed the country's transition since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in February, did its best to prevent the footage coming out. Houses around Tahrir Square were raided and cameras seized. A number of reporters had their equipment confiscated.
The weekend's violence began when the army took a decision to end a three-week demonstration in Tahrir Square called to denounce the ruling military council over accusations that it was trying to hijack the democratic process and keep huge powers for itself.
The generals appeared to be banking on the fact that the protesters have become increasingly unpopular, with many ordinary Egyptians seeing them as violent reactionaries preventing the restoration of stability in the country.
Playing on those fears, the military council sought to portray the protesters as "counter-revolutionaries" and members of a foreign-backed "conspiracy".
But many Egyptians who might sympathise with such arguments will also be horrified by the army's brutal response, which has misfired in the past. Footage of riot police casually tossing the corpse of a dead protester onto a rubbish heap last month brought more than 100,000 people into Tahrir Square, turning what had been a small protest into a huge one.
The treatment of the woman, whose identity and condition remains unknown, overshadowed the destruction of a two-century old library, built on Napoleon's orders, that housed one of Egypt's finest book collections.
The building housing the 200,000 books, most of which are thought to have been lost, was gutted by fire allegedly caused by a badly aimed Molotov cocktail thrown by one of the protesters.