In Cairo, Women Protest Recent Crackdowns

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has condemned the Egyptian army's use of force against protesters, especially women. Clinton's remarks, in a speech at Georgetown University Monday night, were the strongest criticism yet of the Egyptian military, which has been ruling the country since ousted president Hosni Mubarak stepped down last February.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Today in Cairo, thousands of women took to the streets. They demanded an end to the crackdown on protesters, a crackdown which has targeted women. Those protesters have a vocal advocate here in Washington in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Yesterday, in a speech about women's issues, Clinton harshly criticized Egypt's transitional military rulers for what she called particularly shocking incidents of violence against women.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Secretary Clinton's comments at Georgetown University were her toughest to date, signaling a growing frustration in Washington with the military council that has been leading Egypt's transition in the post-Hosni Mubarak era.

SECRETARY HILLARY CLINTON: Women are being beaten and humiliated in the same streets where they risked their lives for the revolution only a few short months ago. And this is part of a deeply troubling pattern.

KELEMEN: Clinton says Egyptian women have been shut out of decision making. She calls that an unacceptable waste of talent. And she says women have been targeted by security forces. That was captured in images of a young woman dressed only in her jeans and blue bra being dragged through the streets of Cairo.

CLINTON: Women protesters have been rounded up and subjected to horrific abuse. Journalists have been sexually assaulted. And now, women are being attacked, stripped and beaten in the streets. This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonors the revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform, and is not worthy of a great people.

KELEMEN: The U.S. gives Egypt's military about $1.3 billion a year. Congress is taking steps to place tough new conditions on that aid. Secretary Clinton would have to certify that Egypt is abiding by the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, and that it is committed to free, fair elections.

And it's not what the Obama administration wanted though, according to Michele Dunne who runs the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council.

DR. MICHELE DUNNE: Initially they made some statements saying they were against conditions on the assistance. And a lot of people, myself included, told them that they were now sending very mixed messages to the Egyptian military.

KELEMEN: Dunne welcomed Clinton's tough new words and says conditions on aid can be used as leverage with the ruling military council. She just thinks Obama administration officials need to be more consistent.

They want to remain in touch with the military council to have a constructive relationship. And yet, it's increasingly clear that the military conduct of the transitional period in Egypt is a disaster.

The State Department is calling on Egyptian authorities once again to exercise restraint and allow peaceful protesters to demonstrate.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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