Hamada Saber, a middle-aged man, remained in a police hospital on Saturday, the morning after he was shown on television, dragged over naked tarmac and beaten by half a dozen policemen who had pulled him to an armoured vehicle near the presidential palace.
President Mohamed Morsi’s office promised an investigation into the incident, which followed the deadliest wave of bloodshed of his seven-month rule. His opponents say it proves that he has chosen to order a brutal crackdown like that carried out by Hosni Mubarak against the uprising that toppled him in 2011.
Another protester was shot dead on Friday and more than 100 were injured, many seriously, after running battles between police and demonstrators who attacked the palace with petrol bombs.
That unrest followed eight days of violence that saw dozens of protesters killed in the Suez Canal city of Port Said and Morsi respond by declaring a curfew and state of emergency there and in two other cities.
“Stripping naked and dragging an Egyptian is a crime that shows the excessive violence of the security forces and the continuation of its repressive practices – a crime for which the president and his interior minister are responsible,” the liberal politician Amr Hamzawy said on Twitter.
The incident recalled the beating of a woman by riot police on Tahrir Square in December 2011. Images of her being dragged and stomped on – her black abaya cloak torn open to reveal her naked torso and blue bra – became a rallying symbol for the revolution and undermined the interim military rulers who held power between Mubarak’s fall and Morsi’s rise.
Morsi has had little opportunity to reform the police and security forces he inherited from Mubarak and the military.
But the police action against protests this time has been far deadlier than it was even a few months ago, when bigger crowds demonstrated against a new constitution. That suggests to opponents that Morsi has ordered a tougher response.
Khaled Daoud, a spokesman for the opposition National Front said: “The instructions of the interior minister to use excessive violence in confronting protesters does not seem like surprising behaviour given the clear incitement by prominent figures in the presidency, and leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood to which the president belongs, and other parties in solidarity with them.”
Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood accuse the opposition of stoking unrest to further their demands for a national unity government as a way to retake the power they lost at the ballot box.
In announcing an investigation into the beating of Saber, Morsi’s office made clear he was still pointing the blame at the political opponents who have encouraged protests.
“What has transpired over the past day is not political expression, but rather acts of criminality. The presidency will not tolerate vandalism or attacks on individuals and property. The police have responded to these actions in a restrained manner,” Morsi’s office said.
“Doubtless, in the heat of the violence, there can be violations of civil liberties, and the presidency equally will not tolerate such abuses. In one incident, an individual was seen to be dragged and beaten by police. The minister of interior has, appropriately, announced an investigation.”
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