Egyptian clashes entered its fifth day in central Cairo as military leaders struggled to contain a new challenge to its rule, which continues to be dogged by images of savage attacks on protesters.
Egyptian health ministry officials announced that 12 people had died and around 500 were injured in the latest round of clashes, which began on Friday when the military — previously seen as custodians of the January revolution — stormed into crowds of demonstrators, swinging clubs and sticks and firing live rounds.
The violence has taken place near government institutions on the outskirts of Tahrir Square, where a month-old protest camp was cleared by troops on Friday. The Institute of Egypt was torched during Monday’s clashes and several nearby government buildings were stormed over the weekend.
Protesters have condemned the appointment of the new prime minister, Kamal el-Ganzouri, and called for an end to military rule.
The Supreme Command of the Armed Forces (Scaf), which took control after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, defended the actions of its soldiers and said outrage was being whipped up by a hostile media and “saboteurs”.
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which again performed strongly in a second round of elections over the weekend, has rebuked Scaf, claiming it incited the violence.
The stance by the brotherhood, a rising power in Egypt, pitches it against an entrenched old guard of Mubarak-era generals which is accused by critics of trying to consolidate its role rather than cede power through democratic process.
The Brotherhood’s political bloc, the Freedom and Justice Party, says it has filed a complaint with Egypt’s prosecutor general accusing military leaders of murdering protesters.
Scaf vehemently denied using excessive force. Major General Adel Emara said many of the demonstrators outside the government buildings on Friday were paid by a third party to ignite violence and “topple Egypt”.
“Using violence against rioters is a fake allegation circulated by the mass media,” he told a press conference.
He said the military police were protecting government buildings housing the Parliament and Cabinet offices from infiltrators’ systematic assault. “There is a methodical and prepared plot to topple the state, but Egypt has not and will never fall.”
Emara showed videos of protesters hurling fireballs and trying to storm government premises, as well as some detained rioters confessing to being paid to attack government buildings.
Scaf’s vehement defence of its officers came as shocking images of a female protester being stripped of her outer clothes, beaten and jumped on by troops, continued to draw fierce condemnation.
Another photograph showed police with clubs raised over a cowering and sobbing elderly woman and a younger girl.
UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon said he was alarmed by images of the latest violence. And in a joint statement, more than 20 Egyptian human rights organisations denounced the violent crackdown, adding that it showed “the continuous oppressive policies” adopted by Mubarak’s regime.
On the streets of central Cairo several Egyptians were sceptical of Scaf’s defence. “The army can show all the videos they want but their brutality was shown to the whole world over the last few days,” said Ahmed Galal, a protester standing near Sheikh Rihan Street.
“In every incident where peaceful protesters get killed, the army blames it on hidden hands and calls us paid thugs and not once did they reveal who those thugs are being sponsored by. Regardless of what any wrong a demonstrator can do, a brutal crackdown like the army’s is never justified.” —