Egyptian Women Protest Army Abuses Against Them

Thousands of women marched in the streets of Cairo Tuesday rallying against their treatment by Egyptian security forces. The march came on the heels of video images of soldiers beating and stripping female demonstrators during recent protests in Tahrir Square.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

In Egypt, thousands of women took to the streets last night to protest against Egyptian soldiers' harsh treatment of female demonstrators in recent days. Specifically, the woman is called the Blue Bra Girl - a woman who was stripped and beaten by police during a demonstration over the weekend.

A video of that beating is all over the Internet. It has caused a public outcry by women, over women's rights. Last night's march was meant to pressure the ruling military council, which has sought to create a divide between ordinary Egyptians and protesters.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Cairo. We reach her now for the latest. Soraya, good morning.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Women protesters have been killed; they've been injured and arrested since the first uprising started in January. What was different this time?

NELSON: Well, as you mentioned, that video - and there were also photographs of that particular incident that went viral and certainly, appeared on the front pages of newspapers here and abroad - that was something that did not go over very well, not just with women, but with people in general here. This is a very conservative society and if you have somebody who is wearing Islamic garb - you know, a veil and abaya, in this case - and she's being stripped down and dragged by men, you know, that's not something that went over really well.

And I think the thing that in particular, set people off was a press conference earlier this week where General Adel Emara - he's one of the members of the ruling military council here - he basically acknowledged that this incident happened but dismissed it, and then started questioning the morals of some of the women protesters. And he also refused to apologize to women, even though one of the women journalists in the audience stood up and demanded that.

WERTHEIMER: So what about the reaction from the general public? Do you have a sense that anything has changed for those people, that the ruling military council seems to feel are separate from the protesters, don't react like the protesters do?

NELSON: Well, certainly, the attempt by the military to distance ordinary Egyptians from the protesters - especially in recent days, with this recent crackdown on people demanding an end to military rule - it has worked to a large extent, but it also backfired in this case because the treatment of the women just could not be justified.

And so after this protest last night - which interestingly enough, they did not try to suppress at all, as opposed to the violent crackdown that has occurred in recent days - they came out and offered their sincerest apologies and regrets for what happened and said that they would, in fact, go after the people who are responsible for these sort of violations, as they called them.

WERTHEIMER: Soraya, my understanding is that not very many women have been involved in electoral politics in the first wave of voting after the revolution. Does this demonstration mean that something may be changing for Egyptian women - or did anything change for women in this remarkable year in Egypt?

NELSON: Well certainly, women have not benefited the way some other parties have - the Islamists, who are doing very well at the polls; in fact, run-off elections are being held today, and they're expected to capture more seats in nine governorates. The women have not really had a position, or achieved the sort of parity, that they were looking for. And so this demonstration, while it has sort of put the military rulers on notice, I don't think is necessarily going to make it easier for women to be more involved in politics in the foreseeable future.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Cairo. Soraya, thank you very much.

NELSON: You're welcome, Linda.

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