CAIRO — Troops pulled women across the pavement by their hair, knocking off their Muslim headscarves, and slapped a middle-age woman in the face repeatedly Saturday. Young activists were kicked in the head until they lay motionless in Cairo's Tahrir Square.
Egypt's military is using a dramatically heavier hand to crush protests against its rule in nearly 48 hours of continuous fighting in Egypt's capital that has left nine dead, many of them shot to death, and more than 300 injured.
The overt use of force, caught on TV and activist cameras, is likely a sign that the generals who took power after the February ouster of Hosni Mubarak are confident that the Egyptian public is on its side after two rounds of widely acclaimed parliament elections, and that Islamist parties winning the vote will stay out of the fight while prodemocracy protesters become more isolated.
Still, the generals risk turning more Egyptians against them, especially from outrage over the abuse of women. Photos and video posted on the Web showed troops pulling up the shirt of one woman protester in a conservative headscarf, leaving her half-naked as they dragged her in the street.
"No one can approve or accept what is happening here," said Toqa Nosseir, a 19-year-old student who joined the protest despite her parents' objections because she couldn't tolerate the scenes. "The military council wants to silence all criticism. They want to hold on (to) power. … I will not accept this humiliation just for the sake of stability."
Nearby in Tahrir, protesters held up newspapers with the woman's image on the front page to passing cars, shouting sarcastically, "This is the army that is protecting us!"
"Are you not ashamed?" leading reform figure and Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei wrote in a tweet addressed to the ruling military council, referring to the image and others of women being beaten up.
Also, among those shot to death in the crackdown was a cleric from Al-Azhar, Egypt's most respected religious institution. At the funeral Saturday of Sheik Emad Effat, 52, thousands chanted "Retribution, retribution," and some of them marched from the cemetery to Tahrir Square to join the clashes.
The main street between Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the anti-Mubarak protests, and the parliament and Cabinet buildings where the clashes began early the previous morning looked like a war zone Saturday. The battles saw military police on rooftops pelting protesters below with stones and firebombs, and launching truncheon-swinging assaults to drive the crowds back.