Egypt's Government Apologizes After a Beating Is Televised

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CAIRO -- Egypt's interior minister offered a rare apology on Saturday after officers under his command were seen on television beating a naked man two blocks from the presidential palace. But under what his family said was police coercion, the victim, Hamada Saber, said in an interview later that the officers had been helping rather than attacking him.

The spectacle of the beating quickly revived fury at Egypt's police force, whose record of brutality helped set off the revolt against Hosni Mubarak, the former president, and served as a reminder that nearly two years later, the new president, Mohamed Morsi, had taken few steps to reform the police.

Mr. Morsi's office issued a statement saying it was "pained by the shocking footage."

More than 50 people have been killed over the last 10 days in fighting in several Egyptian cities, in some of the worst violence since the fall of Mr. Mubarak in 2011. The beating of Mr. Saber has provoked a different kind of outrage, crystallizing for many the collapse of order and civility that has derailed Egypt's transition from its authoritarian past.

In the shifting versions of the attack given on Saturday, it was hard to know exactly what happened.

In video images, a group of riot police officers are heard cursing at Mr. Saber on Friday night as they beat him on the ground and drag him across a street to an armored vehicle. A witness, Mai Sirry, said that when she saw Mr. Saber, his pants were around his knees. In its initial statement, the Interior Ministry said it regretted the beating and called it an "individual attack" that did not reflect police doctrine.

Later, though, in a television interview, Mr. Saber gave an account of the beating from his hospital bed in which he said the officers had come to help as he was running from a group of protesters who had stripped and robbed him. They had apparently thought he was an officer, he said, and left him alone after deciding he was "just an old man."

"I was afraid," he said, adding that as he ran away from the protesters, officers came to help. He ran from them too, but they pulled him back, he said, telling him he would die if he did not let them help him.

A woman who identified herself as Mr. Saber's daughter Randa, speaking Saturday on another Egyptian channel, said her father was being prompted to lie during the interview and was "afraid to talk."

"We were with him" when he was attacked on Friday, she said. "They took his clothes off and started kicking him, beating him," she said, referring to the police. "They dragged him and put him in the car. All this happened. What he says are lies."

Speaking to local news media on Saturday, the interior minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, said that after Mr. Saber was released from the hospital, he would invite him to the ministry's offices to offer his apologies. He repeated Mr. Saber's account, though he still acknowledged that the officers' conduct was "excessive" and said he had ordered an investigation.

The latest violence deepened the sense of crisis in Egypt, and it undermined efforts by the country's quarreling political forces to settle their differences. After the clashes, supporters and opponents of President Morsi blamed each other.

On Saturday, just days after leaders of a secular-leaning opposition coalition sat down at a rare meeting with representatives of Mr. Morsi's Freedom and Justice Party, the opposition group released a statement saying it was "aligned" with those who want "to topple the regime of tyranny, and domination of the Muslim Brotherhood."

In Tahrir Square early on Saturday morning, Mr. Morsi's prime minister, Hesham Qandil, bore the brunt of the antigovernment anger. He was forced to cut short his visit to protest tents in the square after he was heckled, according to state media. His office said Mr. Qandil left to avoid creating a "pretext" for violence.

In a speech later in the day, the prime minister acknowledged the widespread perception that both the government and opposition were losing control. "Let us admit that the government, all the political forces, all the parties failed in containing the youth," he said. "This is something that we all have to work on."

At least one person was killed in the clashes on Friday, which broke up what had been a peaceful afternoon sit-in, when a small group of protesters, some wearing masks, tried to ram the gates of the presidential palace, according to video of the episode.

David D. Kirkpatrick contributed reporting.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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