Egyptians protest attack on women activists

Hundreds of Egyptians, many of them women dressed in black, rallied in Cairo May 31 to demand the resignation of Habib al-Adly, the interior minister. Activists said they held the minister responsible for the fact that police stood by last week as supporters of the ruling National Democratic Party assaulted women demonstrators, sexually harassed them and stripped them naked in the street. The attacks took place on the day Egyptians voted on a constitutional amendment to allow the country to hold contested presidential elections for the first time.

Activists from Kefaya, a movement which has been campaigning against a fifth term for President Hosni Mubarak, had congregated in front of the Journalists’ Union to protest against the referendum, which they dismiss as a meaningless ploy to deflect pressure for reform. They were set upon when police lines surrounding them parted to allow in several dozen thugs, some carrying sticks. Men and women were assaulted, but the women were singled out for sexual humiliation. Egyptian human rights groups have called on Mubarak, who is also head of the NDP, to investigate the involvement of party officials in the incident.

Violence against opposition protester has drawn a public condemnation from George Bush, who has been pressing Egypt to adopt political reforms. (FT, June 1) See our last post on the contradictions of Egypt’s supposed democratic transition.