Thousands of woman marched through downtown Cairo on Tuesday evening to call for the end of military rule in an extraordinary expression of anger over images of soldiers beating, stripping and kicking a female demonstrator on the pavement of Tahrir Square.
“Drag me, strip me, my brothers’ blood will cover me!” they chanted. “Where is the field marshal?” they demanded, referring to Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the military council holding onto power here. “The girls of Egypt are here.”
The event may have been the biggest women’s demonstration in Egypt’s history, and the most significant since a 1919 march led by pioneering Egyptian feminist Huda Shaarawi to protest British rule.
The women’s chants were evidently heard at military headquarters as well. On Tuesday evening, the ruling military council offered an abrupt apology.
“The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces expresses its utmost sorrow for the great women of Egypt, for the violations that took place during the recent events,” the council said in a statement. “It stresses its great appreciation for the women of Egypt and for their right to protest and to actively, positively participate in political life on the path of democratic transition.”
Although no one in the military has been publicly investigated or charged in connection with any misconduct, the statement asserted that the council had already taken “all the legal actions to hold whoever is responsible accountable.”
Just two hours before the women massed, a coalition of liberal and human rights groups unveiled a plan to try to break the state media’s grip on public opinion by holding screenings around the country of video capturing recent military abuses.
In the most famous of those, a half dozen soldiers beating a woman with batons rip away her abaya to reveal her blue bra before one plants his boot on her chest.
When a core of activists called for a Tuesday march to protest the military’s treatment of women few could have expected the magnitude of the response.
By 4 in the afternoon, thousands had gathered in Tahrir Square.
“I am here because of our girls who were stripped in the street,” said Sohir Mahmoud, 50, a housewife who said she was demonstrating for the first time. “Men are not going to cover your flesh so we will,” she told a younger woman. “We have to come down and call for our rights nobody is going to call for our rights for us.”