Tue, Dec 20, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Egypt’s military, activists compete for public support

AP, CAIRO

A protester holds a sketch in Tahrir Square in Cairo yesterday that reads, “[Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein] Tantawi, get your dogs off me,” and depicts a widespread picture of a woman whose clothes were ripped and was beaten by soldiers last week.

Photo: AFP

Egypt’s ruling military and the revolutionaries who demand they immediately step down battled for a third day in the streets on Sunday — and competed fiercely for the support of a broader public that has grown tired of turmoil since the fall of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak 10 months ago.

The generals appear to be winning the fight for the public, despite a heavy-handed crackdown on protesters around Cairo’s Tahrir Square using a roughness that rivaled even that of Mubarak’s widely hated police force.

Before dawn yesterday, security forces mounted a charge and cleared hundreds of protesters away from the area, according to videos posted on the Internet. Earlier, a man died in custody, a lawyer said.

The protesters have tried to drum up Egyptians’ anger at the military by spreading videos and photos of military police savagely beating young men and women to the ground with sticks and truncheons — and the resonant scene of a woman in a headdress being stripped half naked by soldiers who stomp on her chest.

However, so far their efforts to win public sympathy don’t seem to be gaining traction in the face of the military’s campaign to depict the crowds of hundreds in the streets as hooligans and vandals, not the idealistic activists who succeeded in bringing down Mubarak. At least 10 protesters have been killed and 441 others wounded in the three days of violence, according to the Egyptian health ministry.

“The military has failed in everything except for its stunning success in making people hate the revolution, its history and its revolutionaries,” prominent columnist Ibrahim Eissa wrote in an editorial in the independent pro-revolution newspaper, al-Tahrir.

Led by a general who served for 20 years as Mubarak’s defense minister, the military has been methodically seeking to discredit the revolutionaries, accusing them of illegally receiving foreign funds and being part of a plot hatched abroad to destabilize Egypt.

Seeking to depict the protesters as hooligans — and apparently to counter the widely published images of protesters being beaten or dragged on the ground — it also posted on the page footage of young men throwing rocks at a basement window of the parliament building and of at least one man trying to set the place ablaze.

The generals’ campaign plays on Egyptians’ frustration with continued instability and economic woes since Mubarak’s fall. Many are now more focused on the multistage parliamentary elections that began last month. Islamist parties have so far overwhelmingly dominated the vote, with liberals and secular parties far behind.

That trend continued with the announcement on Sunday of results from the second of three rounds of voting, held last week. Out of about 160 seats up for grabs in the second round, the Muslim Brotherhood won 29 and another more conservative party, al-Nour, won 23. Two liberal groups — the New Wafd Party and the Egyptian Bloc — won nine and seven seats, respectively.

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