Daughter of Hamada Saber says her father was coerced into changing his testimony regarding the events leading to him being detained. Bradley Hope reports from Cairo
'Egyptian police did not beat me,' says victim, changing story
CAIRO // Egyptians were fired to a new level of outrage when live television on Friday showed a demonstrator stripped naked, dragged across the ground and beaten with truncheons by helmeted riot police.
But the anger was compounded with disbelief on Saturday when the prosecutor’s office released a statement saying Hamada Saber, 47, had exonerated the police and denied they had assaulted him. He said his clothes had inadvertently come off while police were shielding him from protesters.
While his daughter told a television station that her father was coerced into changing his testimony, the contradictions illustrate the confused atmosphere in Egypt more than a week into a political crisis in which lawlessness has prevailed and more than 50 people have been killed.
“This shows that state institutions are collapsing, as is the rule of law. We are living in chaos,” said lawyer Achraf Shazly, 35.
“Next thing you know, the martyr killed yesterday will rise from the dead and say he wasn’t shot.”
Late yesterday, Mr Saber again changed his account when prosecutors showed him the video footage, the official Mena news agency reported.
The office of the president, Mohammed Morsi, promised an investigation into the incident, which followed the deadliest wave of bloodshed of his seven-month rule. His opponents say it proves he has chosen to order a brutal crackdown like that carried out by Hosni Mubarak against the uprising that toppled him in 2011.
“Morsi has been stripped bare and has lost his legitimacy. Done,” tweeted Ahmed Maher, founder of the April 6 youth movement that helped launch the anti-Mubarak protests.
Yesterday, a sense of calm prevailed across Egypt with no reports of major protests or clashes with the police. But the damage to the country’s political fabric has already been done and there is no sign yet of whether Mr Morsi will be able to regain his footing in the weeks ahead.
The umbrella opposition movement, the National Salvation Front, has vowed to boycott parliamentary elections scheduled for April unless the president appoints a “unity” government and amends the newly ratified constitution. Mr Morsi, on the other hand, has said he would agree to a national dialogue with the opposition only if there were no “preconditions”.
The violence over the weekend proved that neither political parties nor the government could prevent groups of young men from attacking government buildings and police.
The fighting in front of the presidential palace, where one was killed amid firebombs, tear gas and rock throwing, came a day after a broad spectrum of parties, religious leaders and officials agreed to renounce violence in a special meeting convened by Sheikh Ahmed Al Tayyeb, the head of Al Azhar – the 1,000-year-old mosque and university.
Opposition leaders have maintained that they condone only peaceful protests, but members of the Muslim Brotherhood have increasingly blamed them for instigating violent protests.
“As demonstrations lost their peaceful nature in form and substance, it is no longer sufficient for opposition leaders to watch and condemn,” the Brotherhood said on Friday, after the fighting near the walls of the presidential palace. “It is time they took practical action on the ground and stopped giving political cover for acts of violence and lawlessness that we all renounce.”
Friday’s events were captured by Egyptian TV stations, which zoomed in on details of the fighting as the night progressed. The footage showed a small group of young men throw Molotov cocktails and shoot fireworks over the walls of the presidential palace. They managed to set a small fire next to a tree. In the background, a phalanx of police moved slowly down the road and began firing tear gas. A fire lorry inside the presidential palace walls shot water at the protesters and doused the flames they had ignited.
Echoing the dark tones of a military statement warning of the collapse of the state last week, Mohammed Ibrahim, the minister of the interior, said in a news conference yesterday that, if the police collapsed, Egypt would become a “militia state”.
* Additional reporting by Reuters