Raucous crowd confronts Egypt military leaders
Leaders of Egypt’s transitional military government, at times faced with angry shouting and interruptions during a meeting with activists Wednesday night, declined to address controversial issues such as the “virginity tests” female protesters say they were subjected to by security forces, participants said.
The crowd of about 1,200 people at a theater in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis pressed the four generals on issues including the alleged virginity tests, the number of people killed during this year’s popular uprising and whether former President Hosni Mubarak would be tried. Mubarak is scheduled for trial Aug. 3 on charges he approved the killing of protesters during the revolution that drove him from power Feb. 11, according to state television reports Wednesday.
Several members of the crowd shouted, “Why are you lying?” when the generals referred to what the activists considered a low figure for the number of people killed on a given day of the uprising. At least one woman shouted questions at the generals about complaints from protesters that the military had tested female demonstrators for virginity.
The generals attempted to reassure those inside the packed theater that their country was secure, that political prisoners would be released and that parliamentary elections would be held within 60 days without interference from the Interior Ministry. A survey was distributed to gather opinions of the transitional government’s performance, potential presidential candidates and threats to the revolution.
“We are here to have a fruitful dialogue and answer your questions,” said Gen. Mamdouh Shaheen, a member of the country’s ruling military council.
Shaheen started to address the virginity test issue, but when the crowd began shouting, he said, “I’m not going to continue,” according to a recording of the meeting.
Ahmed Bakar, 26, an engineering student, said that at the end of the roughly two-hour meeting the generals promised to hold more gatherings in coming weeks.
“At least people will feel they can talk to them. It’s a start,” Bakar said as he left, passing a crowd of about 100 protesters chanting outside, many with signs decrying virginity tests and demanding an investigation.
More than 20 youth groups boycotted the meeting, saying that military leaders appeared unwilling to address their concerns, chiefly charges of human rights violations.
“We can’t accept this dialogue in light of the military trials of revolutionaries, violations of military police, lack of investigations into those,” and other abuses, the groups said in a statement.
“They’re not allowing for a real discussion,” said Mona Seif, an organizer of the Cairo-based No to Military Trials for Civilians, one of the boycotting groups.
Shaer El Nakeeb, 25, had hoped to attend the meeting but was shut out when the crowd grew too large. He was disappointed that Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the military council, did not attend.
He carried a sign that read, “The revolution does not go backwards.”
He said: “We don’t want what we accomplished to go to waste.”
Dina Fergani, 22, among those outside the theater protesting the alleged virginity tests, dismissed Wednesday’s meeting as less of a dialogue and “more of a lecture about the role of the Egyptian military.”
Some in the crowd found it hard to believe the military would conduct such tests on women.
“The Egyptian military can’t do that,” said Mohamed El Shaikh, 30, an accountant who attended the meeting, adding that the women may have fabricated the claims to cause problems for the military.
But Salwa Hosseini, 20, said she was beaten by soldiers near Tahrir Square on March 9, detained and threatened with a stun gun until she submitted to the examination by a man she is not sure was a doctor. He probed her with two fingers as soldiers looked on, she said during an interview.
She was later given a one-year suspended sentence for protesting and released. She said half a dozen other women were tested with her.
On Tuesday, an Egyptian general who asked not to be identified told CNN that officials had conducted such tests on protesters, but said the examinations were necessary to prevent the women from later claiming they had been raped in custody. He also said the tests showed that the women were not virgins.
Hosseini, a devout Muslim engaged to be married, demanded Wednesday that the military government reverse her sentence and clear her name.
“I don’t want money, I want my rights,” she said. “The military betrayed us.”
Hossam Bahgat, executive director of the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, did not attend the meeting with the generals but said he hoped it would encourage the country’s military leaders to listen to protesters’ demands and start creating a more democratic government.
“What needs to be done now is for a formal and coherent process to be established to look into all crimes of the past as other countries have,” he said, including, “declassifying documents, holding officials accountable, some criminal prosecutions, reparations for victims and guarantees for no recurrence of these practices in the future.”
Osman is a special correspondent.