By now you might have seen this latest disgrace from Egypt, more brutality that we've come to expect from the the military which still runs Egypt, despite former dictator Mubarak's departure last February. The video below has been viewed a million times at YouTube, and the photo has made frontpages of newspapers around the world. What has shocked Egyptians, even those who still give these thugs the benefit of the doubt, are their attacks on women.
The above photo shows Egyptian army soldiers beating a young woman in Tahrir Square in Cairo on Saturday, the second straight day of clashes with protesters that began on Friday and continued overnight. There's no reason to believe that there was anything special about this woman or even about the way that soldiers treated her. Members of the army, once beloved by Egypt's activists for standing by their side during the revolution in February, have sent hundreds of men and women to the hospital over the last 48 hours and have killed at least 10, some with live ammunition fired into crowds.
But there is something especially barbaric about this photo. The taboo of violence against unarmed women is unusually strong in the Arab world. But to watch three soldiers beat a defenseless woman with batons, their fists, and for one extraordinarily cruel soldier with his boot, is not even the most provocative part. For these men to pull her black abaya above her head and expose her midriff and chest is, for Egypt, a profound and sexually charged humiliation. And there is a certain awful irony of using that abaya, a symbol of modesty and piety, to cover her face and drag her on the street that, though probably not intentional, will not be lost on Egyptian eyes. Here, below, is part of the photo pulled out in detail.
Activists managed to capture a video of the incident. It is difficult to watch. She takes so many blows to her head, and one man stomps on her chest so forcefully, that it's difficult to imagine she required anything less than hospitalization. Though one of the soldiers makes a half-hearted effort to cover her back up (after he is done beating her, of course, on the face and chest with a baton), she appears limp. Three soldiers pick her up from her arms and legs, and then the camera cuts away.