Egypt’s Government Apologizes After A Beating Is Televised

by
staff
Egypt’s Interior Ministry issued a rare apology on Saturday, a day after a group of its officers were seen beating a naked man two blocks from the palace of President Mohamed Morsi, an episode captured by television cameras and broadcast live during clashes between protesters and riot police officers.

CAIRO — Egypt’s Interior Ministry issued a rare apology on Saturday, a day after a group of its officers were seen beating a naked man two blocks from the palace of President Mohamed Morsi, an episode captured by television cameras and broadcast live during clashes between protesters and riot police officers.

In a statement, the ministry said it regretted the beating and called it an “individual attack” that did not reflect police doctrine. The police were performing their duties “with a new spirit” of Egypt’s revolution, the ministry said, adding that the beating would be investigated with “objectivity and transparency.”

Mr. Morsi’s office also issued a statement saying it was “pained by the shocking footage.”

More than 50 people have been killed over the last 10 days during fighting in several Egyptian cities in some of the worst violence since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak almost two years ago. That uprising was set off in part by widespread anger with the ministry’s long record of police brutality.

The beating, though, provoked a different kind of outrage, crystallizing for many the collapse of order and civility that has derailed Egypt’s transition from its authoritarian past. And even if most Egyptians could agree that the beating was vile, they could agree on little else.

Beneath the official pronouncements of regret, supporters and opponents of Mr. Morsi continued to blame one another for the clashes on Saturday, each citing the unrest as evidence to support their political complaints.

By Saturday evening, even the essential details of the attack were in dispute as the victim, Hamada Saber, gave an interview on state television asserting that the policemen who beat him had actually been trying to help him.

Speaking from his hospital bed, he said that the riot officers had come to his aid as he was running from protesters who stripped and robbed him. He said the attack started after he felt what might have been a bullet or birdshot that struck him in the leg, which came, he said, from the “side of the protesters.”

“I was afraid,” he said, adding that as he ran, officers came to his aid. “They tried to help me,” he said.

His account contradicted the reports of witnesses, as well as the video, raising the question of whether he was intimidated or coerced by security officials.

The graphic images of the beating showed Mr. Saber naked and being dragged and beaten by riot police officers with his pants pulled down around his ankles. A witness, Mai Sirry, said she and others watching the protests from her apartment saw officers beat Mr. Saber and strip him of some of his clothes. Officers were cursing at him as they dragged him on the street, his pants around his knees, she said.

Later Saturday, the interior minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, repeated Mr. Saber’s account, though he still acknowledged that the officers’ conduct was “excessive,” and said he had ordered an investigation.

The violence on Friday also appeared to undermine an effort by Egypt’s quarreling political forces to settle their differences, adding to the sense of chaos.

So did the abrupt change of plans by Egypt’s prime minister, Hesham Qandil, on Saturday. Mr. Qandil was forced to cut short a morning visit to protest tents in Tahrir Square when he was heckled in the square, according to the state media. His office said Mr. Qandil left to avoid creating a “pretext” for further violence.

In a speech later in the day, the prime minister acknowledged the widespread perception that both the government and its political opposition were losing control. “As a government, let us admit that the government, all the political forces, all the parties failed in containing the youth,” he said. “This is something that we all have to work on.”

At least one person was killed in the clashes on Friday, which broke up what had been a peaceful afternoon sit-in, when a small group of protesters, some wearing masks, tried to ram the gates of the presidential palace with what appeared to be a bench, according to video of the episode. Someone in the crowd threw a gas bomb over the gate, setting a fire that the guards inside can be seen trying to extinguish, first with a piece of clothing and then with water.

As some in the crowd chanted the name of an activist killed during protests in November, several other gas bombs were thrown over the gate. The police responded by firing tear gas and later birdshot at the demonstrators. Officers also set fire to an encampment set up by protesters across the street from the palace.