Deputy Defence Minister and Supreme Council of the Armed Forces member Adel Emara described soldiers who attacked protesters in downtown Cairo in recent days as “heroes” at a Monday press conference.
At the conference, convened in the aftermath of a violent security crackdown on a three-week-long anti-government sit-in in front of the Cabinet building in downtown Cairo, Emara also spoke of a “systematic plan to ruin Egypt” and “prevent the peaceful transition to a democratic system.” He also described anti-government protesters as “saboteurs.”
Emara pointed the finger at unnamed foreign entities that he claimed were working behind the scenes to aggravate political tensions in Egypt. When asked, Emara did not rule out the possibility that the instigators of the recent violence might be figures associated with the toppled regime of former president Hosni Mubarak.
“History will not forgive those who harm this nation,” he said. “Some are trying to defame the military by spreading false rumours, but this will fail. There’s no evidence that we assaulted protesters… we exercised enviably high levels of self restraint.”
A number of human rights violations committed by military personnel against demonstrators have been documented in video footage and photographs that have been widely circulated on the Internet, prompting local and international condemnation. Among these was an assault by three military policemen on a young veiled woman, who was kicked, beaten with batons, and stripped down to her undergarments before being dragged into the street where she was subject to further abuse.
“This incident did indeed happen and it will soon be investigated,” Emara conceded. “But we must learn all the circumstances before it can be assessed.”
Emara confirmed that military police had not received orders to forcefully disperse the Cabinet sit-in, but nevertheless denounced the ongoing demonstration. “Why do they say they’re peaceful protesters when they’re preventing the prime minister [Kamal El-Ganzouri] from entering the premises?” he asked.
He went on to accuse protesters of torching government buildings in the recent melee. “They’re using Molotov cocktails, bladed weapons and gas cylinders,” he said.
“One soldier nearly lost his leg as a result of an injury sustained during the confrontation… yet we are being criticised for using violence,” Emara added. “There’s a difference between protesters and saboteurs.”
“Cars and several buildings have been burned, including the People’s Assembly [the lower house of Egypt’s parliament] and the scientific compound, which is of invaluable historical significance,” he went on to assert.
By Monday, the death toll had risen to12 protesters. Emara, however, failed to mention these civilian casualties during the lengthy press conference on Monday.
As for protesters who have been detained by authorities, Emara noted: “Eighty have been arrested, but after one decent activist intervened, 60 were released while 20 remain in detention. We have our reasons for believing that the latter were involved in instigating the riots.”
“There won’t be any restrictions on the media, but we ask that all journalists verify their information before disseminating it,” the official urged. “We’re waiting for the prosecutor-general to provide details of what happened – until then, however, we can’t confirm any speculation.”
The press conference concluded with video footage showing a group of young detained protesters apparently confessing to having accepted bribes in exchange for wreaking havoc outside the Cabinet building.