As Violence Continues, Egyptian General Blames Protesters

Cairo – After four days of street fighting with protesters that has left 13 people dead, Egypt’s military rulers faced calls on Monday from the United States, the United Nations and a newly united front of Islamist and liberal political leaders to stop the violence.

But in a scornful news conference, Gen. Adel Emara of the ruling military council insisted that the military had never used violence against peaceful protesters.

“The armed forces and the police pledged not to use violence against protesters actively or even verbally,” he said. Instead, he said, the protesters had deliberately provoked soldiers into clashes as part of a plot “to destroy the state.”

Egypt will never fall, he declared, “as long as it has heroes from the armed forces.” And rather than apologize for the military’s violence, he threw back the challenge to the Egyptian news media: “Why don’t you talk about the excessive use of violence by the other side?”

His defiant statements came hours after a predawn military assault on Tahrir Square added three more people to the death toll, the latest in a series of military attacks witnessed by journalists, captured on video and broadcast across the Internet and on satellite television. Activists used circles of bricks to mark the bloodstains left on the pavement.

Protest leaders said his remarks were the clearest sign yet of the depth of the military’s determination to hold on to power even after the new Parliament is seated early next year.

“We are definitely now living in a military coup,” said Shady el-Ghazaly Harb, a young liberal organizer. “And the whole world should know.”

Since Sunday, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations; the European Union’s top diplomat, Catherine Ashton; and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have all urged the military to halt the violence, leaving no doubt about the question of responsibility for keeping the peace.

In a statement issued late Sunday from Washington, Mrs. Clinton said she was “deeply concerned” about the violence. “I urge Egyptian security forces to respect and protect the universal rights of all Egyptians, including the rights to peaceful free expression and assembly,” she said. “We call upon the Egyptian authorities to hold accountable those, including security forces, who violate these standards.”

Mrs. Ashton of the European Union warned that the fighting threatened to undermine confidence in Egypt’s parliamentary elections, which are still in progress. “The democratic electoral process should continue in a safe and transparent environment,” she said.

The severity of the military’s crackdown, even as the newly elected Parliament begins to take shape, has restored a degree of unity that had been missing among the civilian political factions, liberal and Islamist, since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in February. Perhaps most significant, Egypt’s powerful mainstream Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, agreed to join hands with liberals in demanding the prompt end of military rule.

Dozens of newly elected members of Parliament, most notably the new liberal icon Amr Hamzawy, sought to capitalize on their new authority as Egypt’s first democratically elected representatives in more than six decades. They were joined Monday afternoon by other candidates and political leaders, including Mohamed Beltagy of the Brotherhood, on the steps of Egypt’s high court to demand that the military turn over power to the lower house of Parliament soon after its election.

They set a deadline of Jan. 25, the first anniversary of the protests that began the revolution. And they called for the election of a president by Feb. 11, one year after Mr. Mubarak left power.

A onetime civilian leader of the military-led transitional government, Essam Sharaf, the former prime minister, added his voice to the calls for the swift end of military rule. “Away from the language of intimidation and mistrust, speeding up the transfer of all powers to a civilian elected presidency is inevitable now,” he said in a statement, noting that the military council has often professed to want to leave power as soon as possible.

Indeed, since helping to usher out Mr. Mubarak, the ruling generals have imposed a relatively gentle martial law with many of the trappings of civilian government. They have let their appointed prime ministers do most of the talking. They have usually responded to major street protests with concessions and ingratiation instead of just bullets.

Most of all, they have sent criminal defendants to civilian judges who cited legal texts as though judicial authority and individual rights had not been suspended along with the Constitution when the generals took over. Most Egyptians seem not to notice that they have lived under martial law for months, with the generals above the courts.

On Monday, General Emara no longer made any pretense of seeking the support of civilian leaders for military policies. While he boasted briefly of the military’s success in delivering a transition to democracy, he made no reference to the military’s recently formed, and almost immediately disbanded, civilian advisory council. The council suspended its activities until the military stopped the violence and apologized; about a third of its roughly 30 members have quit.

The general also dropped the warm, avuncular approach he and others in the council had taken toward the news media, chastising journalists as though they were naughty schoolchildren. “When you want to speak, tell me to stop talking!” he said sarcastically. “I didn’t allow for talking,” he said at another point. “If you talk I’ll kick you out.”

He stopped a journalist before she could open a newspaper carrying the most sensational image of the weekend’s violence: a group of soldiers pulling the abaya off a prone woman to reveal her blue bra as one raises a boot to kick her. The picture, circulated around the world, has become a rallying point of activists opposed to military rule, though cameras captured soldiers pulling the clothes off other women.

“Before you open the newspaper, fold it; I know what I’m talking about,” General Emara said. “Yes, this scene took place and we’re investigating it. But let’s look at the whole picture and see the circumstances the picture was taken in and we will announce the complete truth.”

He continued, without explaining, “Don’t take only this shot, you or any other, and cite it to prove that violence was used.”

Without naming him, the general also mocked the recent comments of the liberal leader Mohamed elBaradei that the military’s indiscriminate violence against protesters was “no way to run a country.”

“It’s strange and unbelievable to talk about the excessive use of force, distort the image of the armed forces of Egypt before the world, give speeches and attempt to steer public opinion by claiming that ‘this is no way to run countries,’ ” General Emara said.

He implied that the public faced a choice between the military’s heavy-handed tactics and the chaos offered by the protesters, including a sit-in that blocked the military-appointed prime minister from his office.

“Are countries run through attempting to stir strife and obstructing state institutions?” he asked. “Is this the way to run countries? What to do then? Do we bring someone from outside to organize our country for us?”

“The military council has always warned against the abuse of freedom,” he said. Excessive freedom, he said, “leads to chaos and the fall of the state, instead of the fall of the regime.”

Mayy el-Sheik and Dawlat Magdy contributed reporting.

This article, “As Violence Continues, Egyptian General Blames Protesters,” originally appeared in The New York Times.