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December 18, 2011

Egypt Military: Crackdown on Protesters Justified

A spokesman for Egypt's ruling military told journalists Monday the use of force against protesters was justified, insisting that many were attacking or provoking soldiers, or destroying government property. Fourteen people were killed and more than 300 wounded during the last four days of violence in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

The latest actions against protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square before dawn left many mostly young protesters angry and bitter. However, elsewhere in Cairo and across the country, the moves drew applause from some businessmen and ordinary citizens who say that recent protests were paralyzing the economy.

Witnesses said military police swept through the square around 4 a.m. Monday, firing what sounded like percussion bombs. Other witnesses say police beat protesters who were staying overnight at a mosque bordering the square. Several tents were reportedly burned.

General Adel Amara, a spokesman for Egypt's ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF, defended the actions. He accused protesters of “provoking” soldiers and “destroying government property.” He went a step further, claiming they were trying to destroy the state.

"The protesters are misusing their freedom to create chaos and trying to bring down the entire state, rather than the regime [of former President Hosni Mubarak], which has already fallen. " Amara said.

He insisted that "the nation, is in danger, and the army, which has shown great patience, is under severe pressure."

General Amara said soldiers are “trained to be courageous,” but complained that protesters were “continually harassing them,” hitting them with everything from “knives, to rocks, fire bombs and butagaz [cooking gas] cannisters.”  Protests, he claimed, are no longer peaceful:

"How can the protests be peaceful if the protesters are physically preventing the prime minister from entering his offices? Amara asked. "Soldiers who are guarding those offices, as well as the parliament, continue to be taunted by protesters on a daily basis."

The army recently installed cement blocks and barbed wire to prevent protesters from getting too close to parliament or the prime minister's headquarters. Al Arabiya TV showed protesters hurling stones at police guarding the building,  

At least 14 people have been killed and hundreds wounded in the latest violence, which began Friday when military police broke up a sit-in in front of both parliament and the prime minister's office, and chased protesters from Tahrir Square. An historic library was gutted during the violence.

The army crackdown brought condemnation from many foreign capitals, amid video of police beating protesters and at least several using weapons against them. Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri, however, denied that security forces fired live ammunition at protesters.