CAIRO – Around 10,000 women marched through central Cairo on Tuesday demanding Egypt’s ruling military step down in an unprecedented show of outrage over soldiers who dragged women by the hair and stomped on them, and stripped one half-naked in the street during a fierce crackdown on activists the past week.
The dramatic protest, which grew as the women marched from Tahrir Square through downtown, was fueled by the widely circulated images of abuses of women. Many of the marchers touted the photo of the young woman whose clothes were partially pulled off by troops, as she struggled on the ground.
“Tantawi stripped your women naked, come join us,” the crowd chanted to passers-by, referring to Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of the military council that has ruled Egypt since the Feb. 11 fall of Hosni Mubarak. “The daughters of Egypt are a red line,” they chanted.
Even before the protest was over, the military council issued an unusually strong statement of regret for what it called “violations” against women – a quick turnaround after days of dismissing the significance of the abuse.
The council expressed “deep regret to the great women of Egypt” and affirmed “its respect and total appreciation” for women and their right to protest and take part in political life. It promised it was taking measures to punish those responsible for violations.
In a possibly significant hint of new flexibility, the council also said in its statement Tuesday that it was prepared to discuss any initiatives to help the security of the country. In recent days, a number of political factions have pressed the military to hand over power by February, rather than June, when it promised to hold presidential elections.