More reports of violence against protestors in Egypt.
Crowds of pro-government demonstrators attacked opponents of President Hosni Mubarak on Wednesday while police looked on, staining a day of national voting that government leaders had touted as a major step toward democracy.
In some cases, pro-Mubarak protesters dragged unarmed men and women by the hair and beat them with police-style rubber truncheons. In other cases, young men who arrived marching in formation groped female demonstrators and used wood poles bearing cardboard portraits of Mubarak to beat rival demonstrators over the head in plain view of hundreds of uniformed police.
Though voting in most of the capital unfolded quietly, the violence marred what Egyptian leaders had pledged would be a showcase of democratization in the Arab world's largest country.
Ten yards from where Allam was speaking, three rows of uniformed police detained about a dozen anti-regime demonstrators, mostly men and women in their 20s. Minutes later, the police cordon opened, and about 25 pro-government protesters surged in, beating, kicking, pulling hair and groping the detainees.
Asked by a reporter why police permitted it to continue, a plainclothes officer with a walkie-talkie said: "These are our orders."
A few minutes earlier, a crowd of pro-Mubarak demonstrators harassed and knocked to the ground a British employee of the Los Angeles Times and kicked her repeatedly, before she escaped without serious injury.
A few yards away, 36-year-old lawyer Raba Fahmy was set upon by a mob of young men bearing pro-Mubarak placards, who tore open her shirt and skirt. "I need a pin, I need a pin," she pleaded, holding her clothes together, as police escorted her to the side and shooed away reporters.
"Mr. Mubarak, if you are a respectable president, give the Egyptian people their rights," she shouted.
A female reporter from The Associated Press also wrote of being cornered, grabbed and pulled by the hair. Victims said they believed many of the young male pro-regime demonstrators were police in plainclothes. That could not be independently confirmed, though they marched in formation and some carried batons of the kind used by Cairo police.
As citizens turned out to vote on the amendment to Article 76 of the constitution, violent clashes took place between government supporters and opposition groups. Some of the violence that took place, notably towards women, was unprecedented.
Kifaya members left outside the building were attacked and repeatedly beaten by NDP demonstrators, who seemed to focus on attacking women. A number of young women were beaten, groped and had their clothes ripped or removed. Several times, Kifaya members were assaulted directly in front of impassive security forces.
Josh Stacher (see his photo collection here):
One thing I failed to clearly capture were the attacks against females (primarily demonstrators and journalists). I have some pictures of one woman in a group of men but it is impossible to see what is going on (although I cannot even imagine).
That said, I saw many women (including some friends) after they were sexually harassed and, in some cases, beaten by those animals masquerading as humans.
Much more from Josh, including a detailed and frightening narrative, here. Including this:
Hossam al-Hamalawy, a news assistant with the LA Times and long-time friend, went over to security. He spoke to a plain-clothed guy with a walkie-talkie. Hossam said to him, “Hey what is going on? They are going to slaughter them.” The officer coldly replied, “We have our orders.” Amazed and confused Hossam asked, “Do your orders include having people kill each other in the streets?” The officer smirked and said “Yes”.
About this time, the scholar called me. He told me one of the woman beaten and harassed by the thugs was in the al-Ghad HQ (Ayman’s law offices). We quickly made our way there. Sitting there was the victim, who was traumatized and scared. She said she was not an al-Ghad member but she knows Ayman Nor helps people. She did not know where else to go. She explained that she clothes were ripped off her and she was naked in the street. Her co-workers saw her and she was ashamed to go back to work. After re-telling her story, Hossam tried to console her. She wanted nothing of it. She said her frustration was at an all time high and that her only wish was to leave Egypt and never look back. Hossam did his best. He told her, “No, this is our country, not theirs.” With tears in her eyes, she quickly responded, “No this is their country, we are nothing.” After a quiet period she looked up more angry than scared and said, “This was a message today. If you go to the streets, the government will beat and humiliate you.”
Ayman showed up a bit later and took the woman into his office - perhaps to discuss her legal options and cheer her up. The woman was determined to go to the authorities and report her attackers. For her part, this victim wants a public apology from the Egyptian president.
This should be the only story which matters about the referendum for Americans and Arabs actually interested in democracy. So far, I'm glad to see, it has been, with most of the press coverage focusing on the savage repression of the protestors and not buying Mubarak's spin. The New York Times fails to mention it on its front page, but gets a story in with Hassan Fattah reporting (from Beirut!?!?). The Washington Post has a good story and an even better op-ed savaging Laura Bush's disastrous visit to Cairo. Here's the LA Times. Not a word yet from erstwhile Arab democracy promoters at the Weekly Standard, National Review, or Opinion Journal, but I'm sure that's coming.
What about the Bush administration? Here's what Secretary of State Condi Rice had to say yesterday:
MR. MACKLER: In Egypt, we're also having a referendum on the political reforms today. We've had reports on our wire and AFP reporters have seen people, who are opposing this process, are actually being beaten by police and stuff like that. It's anecdotal. I can't say how widespread it is. There have there been complaints that the reforms that are adopted are a step forward, as you've said, but are still not really geared to have a significant challenge to President Mubarak. Do you think -- how do you react to these opposition complaints?
SECRETARY RICE: I've not seen the reports that you're talking about today. We have said to the Egyptians that this process needs to be as open and as forward leaning as possible because political reform is a necessity for Egypt. Now, they are taking steps forward. Not everything moves at the same speed and there are going to be different speeds in the Middle East. But again, if you just step back and ask yourself whether a year ago or two years ago, you would have seen these developments in the Middle East, if you could have predicted that you would have seen these developments in the Middle East, I would think you probably wouldn't have.
So the whole character of the conversation has changed about what needs to be done in the Middle East, about what's possible in the Middle East, about what the expectations are in the Middle East. And having done that, I think we want to continue to encourage governments to be supportive and proactive about reform. Not every step is going to be an ideal one, but if we can keep the forward momentum going, I think you're going to see a lot of changes in many of these places, including in Egypt.
With all due respect to Secretary Rice, that is an absolutely pathetic answer. I deeply and sincerely hope that today, with a chance to review the evidence, the Bush administration can come up with something a little bit better. Heck, since I'm hoping, let's hope for a lot better. And, while I'm at it, a pony.