CAIRO // Egypt's interior ministry vowed yesterday to investigate the beating of a naked protester by riot police as they tried to bundle him into a police van after the incident was caught on camera and broadcast live on television.
The video of the beating, which took place late on Friday as protests raged in the streets outside the presidential palace, could further inflame popular anger with security forces just as anti-government demonstrators marched on the palace again yesterday. Egyptians were outraged last year when military police were caught on camera dragging a veiled woman through the streets during a protest, pulling her conservative black robe over her head and revealing her blue bra.
In the footage from Friday, at least seven, black-clad riot police beat 48-year-old Hamada Saber - whose trousers were down around his ankles - with sticks before dragging him along the muddy pavement and tossing him into a police van. It was not clear how his clothes, shirt and trousers were removed.
The beating happened as thousands of protesters chanted slogans against the Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, throwing firebombs and firing flares at the presidential palace as police pumped volleys of tear gas and bird shot into the crowd, killing one protester and wounding more than 90.
The interior ministry said in a statement that it regretted the beating, and that it was investigating the incident. But it also sought to distance itself - and the police in general - from the abuse, saying that "what took place was carried out by individuals that do not represent in any way the doctrine of all policemen who direct their efforts to protecting the security and stability of the nation and sacrifice their lives to protect civilians".
A statement by Mr Morsi's office called the incident shocking, but stressed that violence and vandalism of government property was unacceptable.
Rights groups have accused Mr Morsi of not taking steps to reform the interior ministry, which was long the backbone of ousted leader Hosni Mubarak's regime. Police under Mubarak were notorious for using excessive force against protesters and beating those in custody. The uprising against his rule erupted in early 2011 in large part out of anger against widespread police powers and their tendency to act with impunity.
Protesters and rights groups have most recently accused police of using excessive force this past week during a wave of mass demonstrations in cities around the country called by opposition politicians, trying to wrest concessions from Mr Morsi.
But many protesters go further, saying Mr Morsi must be removed from office, accusing his Muslim Brotherhood of monopolising power and failing to deal with the country's mounting woes.
Health officials say more than 60 have been killed nationwide in just seven days. The chaos prompted Mr Morsi to order a limited curfew in three provinces and the deployment of the military on the streets.
The main opposition National Salvation Front said yesterday that the "gruesome images" of Mr Saber's beating requires the dismissal of the newly-appointed interior minister.
The prime minister, Hisham Kandil, said he had visited Cairo's Tahrir Square and the area of the presidential palace yesterday, which were largely quiet after Friday's protests. He said those who were camped out there were neither protesters nor revolutionaries.
"Protesters do not torch, attack hotels, rape women, steal shops, they do not burn the presidential palace. These are not revolutionaries," he said.
In an impassioned speech yesterday carried live on Egyptian state TV, Mr Kandil said the street violence and political unrest that has engulfed the country for more than a week is threatening the nation's already ailing economy.
"The Egyptian economy is bleeding," he said. "It is holding itself, but if this situation persists it will be dangerous, extremely dangerous. No government can govern a nation with this chaotic situation."
Mr Kandil called on the opposition to back away from any more protests or marches.
"The world is watching to see how we will deal [with this]," he said. "It is upon all political parties to pull their peaceful protesters from the streets now."
Also yesterday, Mr Mubarak's former interior minister, Habib Al Adly, was found guilty of abusing his position and forcing police conscripts to work on his mansion and land on the outskirts of Cairo. Both he and former riot police chief, Hassan Abdel-Hamid, were sentenced to three years in prison and fined about US$340,000 (Dh1.2 million). Both men appealed, and will be given a retrial.