Egypt's opposition rejects offer of talks with president

Mon, Feb 4, 2013, 00:00

Egypt’s opposition National Salvation Front has rejected an offer of talks with President Mohamed Morsi due to what it calls “unjustified violence” by security forces against protesters.

In weekend clashes in Cairo, two protesters died and at least 113 were injured, including a man who was stripped naked and beaten by riot police.

Film of the ordeal of Hamada Saber (50), a house painter, as he was being dragged across the pavement and kicked by black-suited police, went viral, causing widespread outrage.

As he was being treated in a police hospital, Mr Saber initially attempted to implicate protesters, but yesterday he changed his story. Most Egyptians argue he had been intimidated.

Dire consequences

Prominent human rights campaigner Nasser Amin said the fact that Mr Saber had been “forced to amend his testimony before the public prosecutor” amounted to “tyranny” and would have “dire consequences for justice”.

The case prompted the Salvation Front, led by Nobel laureate Mohamed El-Baradei, to urge the public to continue peaceful demonstrations.

The Front also reiterated its call for the ouster of “the regime of tyranny”, for an end to “the domination of the Muslim Brotherhood” and for “the president, his interior minister and all his partners in crime” to be held accountable for the bloodletting that has left more than 60 dead over the past 10 days.

Hundreds of protesters have been wounded in clashes and at least 25 women have been assaulted in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the cradle of the uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak two years ago.

These incidents take place when the square is crowded, permitting groups of men to surround, grope, strip, rape and even mutilate victims.

Vicious attacks

Engy Ghozlan, the spokeswoman for Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment, said perpetrators are organised groups who have taken harassment to a vicious level.

Last November, individuals and non-governmental organisations formed this group to try to rescue women while they are under attack. At least 200 volunteers wearing T-shirts that identify them are deployed in teams of 10 or more in the square during events.

Intervention “is risky” because the attackers are often armed with knives. Last Friday they rescued four women; on January 25th, they rescued 19.

Liberal analyst and activist Mona Anis blamed these attacks and growing lawlessness on the collapse of the police force in January 2011. Since then the police have not assumed their responsibilities and neither the army, which ruled for 17 months, nor the Brotherhood, in charge for seven, has restructured or reformed the force, which was responsible for massive human rights abuses during the Mubarak era.

“Anything can happen,” she said. “We are going downhill. I don’t see things improving in the near future. We will have more violence. It is not in full swing yet.”

She and other commentators predict that the army will have to intervene to halt the downward slide in security and prevent total economic and social collapse.