CAIRO - Egypt's ruling generals are coming under mounting criticism at home and abroad for the military's use of excessive force against unarmed protesters, including women, as they try to crush the pro-democracy movement calling for their ouster.
At least 14 people have been killed in five days of clashes as troops used guns, tear gas and batons to try to break up protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square and around it, where a number of important government buildings are located. Troops and riot police raided Tahrir again early Tuesday in their latest attempt to evict protesters, a field hospital doctor who witnessed the crackdown said.
Social-media-savvy protesters have widely circulated some of the most brutal images of the crackdown. In one, soldiers drag a young woman on the ground, stripped half naked and stomp on her.
Those images drew the ire of the U.N. rights chief and unusually harsh words from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Addressing students at Georgetown University on Monday, Clinton said the events in Egypt in recent days were shocking and accused the Egyptian security forces and extremists of specifically targeting women.
"And now, women are being attacked, stripped, and beaten in the streets," she said. "This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonors the revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform, and is not worthy of a great people."
On Tuesday, hundreds of angry women marched in central Cairo to denounce the attacks on protesters and call on the ruling generals to step down. Their anger was mostly focused on the case of the woman stripped half naked and beaten.
"Ali Baba and the 19 thieves!" said one protester, alluding to military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and the other generals sitting on the ruling military council he heads.
"We pay for the armed forces, and we put uniforms on them so they protect us, not attack us," said Nawarah Negm, a prominent activist.
The military took power after an 18-day uprising forced longtime leader Hosni Mubarak to step down 10 months ago. At first, they were welcomed by the protesters for helping to push Mubarak out, but relations have deteriorated sharply since February as the democracy activists accused the generals of mismanaging the transition period, obstructing reforms, committing human rights abuses and failing to revive the ailing economy or restore security.
Over the past few days, the military has dealt with the protesters much more roughly than at any other time since Mubarak stepped down. The crackdown may reflect the military's fury over the activists' distribution of videos showing soldiers bludgeoning women and other protesters. The weak showing of the pro-democracy movement in the parliamentary elections that began last month may have also emboldened the military.
A member of the military council on Monday sought to discredit the revolutionaries behind Mubarak's ouster and the ongoing round of protests, questioning their motives and morals and speaking of a conspiracy to "topple the state" by parties he did not identify. He also lashed out at the media, saying it was fomenting sedition.
Maj. Gen. Adel Emara also defended the use of force by troops, saying they had a duty to defend the state's institutions. He declined to offer an apology for the brutality shown by troops toward female protesters, posted by activists on social networking sites and splashed on the front pages of independent newspapers.
He did not dispute the authenticity of the image of the woman being dragged by soldiers, but said Egyptians should not see it without considering the circumstances surrounding the incident.
The Tuesday edition of the independent Al-Tahrir newspaper put on its front page a composite picture of Emara addressing the news conference Monday with the photo of the soldiers stomping on and beating the half-naked woman projected on the wall behind him.
Mocking the generals' repeated use of the patriotic card in defense of their actions, the words "Egypt always comes first" were written below the image.
Fueling the outrage over the troops' rough handling of protesters, a retired army general known to be linked to the ruling military council told a newspaper interviewer this week that the protesters should be thrown into "Hitler's ovens," a reference to the Nazi gas chambers used during the Holocaust.
Tuesday's pre-dawn raid was the second in two days on Tahrir, the center of the uprising that ousted Mubarak. A 15-year-old protester was in critical condition after suffering a gunshot wound, said Dr. Ahmed Saad, a volunteer at the field hospital in Tahrir Square.
The troops and police initially succeeded in chasing the protesters out of the square, but they returned a short time later using a different route. The security forces pulled out of the square following clashes in which each side pelted the other with rocks.
In a separate development, Egypt's Justice Ministry referred a Mubarak-era prime minister to trial on charges of illegally amassing wealth of more than $10 million.
Ahmed Nazif, prime minister from 2004 until shortly before Mubarak's Feb. 11 ouster, has "exploited powers of his position" to acquire wealth for himself and his family members, said Essam el-Gohari, an official in the prosecutor's office.
Nazif, who is already facing corruption charges in a separate trial, has also failed to provide evidence for the source of an estimated $1 million, el-Gohari said. He spent 10 months investigating Nazif's sources of wealth.
Some two dozen members of Mubarak's regime and government are facing trials over corruption and the killings of protesters during the uprising.