CAIRO — Several thousand Egyptians rallied in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square Friday to denounce violence against protesters, especially outraged by images of women protesters dragged by their hair, beaten and kicked by troops.
The rally marked a week after deadly clashes erupted near Tahrir Square between protesters and the military, which took power after longtime President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising in February. Seventeen protesters were killed over the past week.
Last week’s violence erupted when military forces guarding the Cabinet building near the square tried to forcibly disperse a 3-week-old sit-in demanding that the ruling generals hand over power to a civilian authority.
During the clashes over the past week, both sides threw firebombs, and several buildings were burned. A research center set up by Napoleon Bonaparte during France’s invasion in the late 18th century was badly damaged.
At least 100 people have been killed in such confrontations and in sectarian violence since the military took power.
Friday’s protest, named “Regaining honor and defending the revolution,” was backed by more than two dozen groups, among them newly formed political parties born out of the uprising.
An unidentified cleric giving the Friday sermon in Tahrir Square blamed the military for divisions and called on the generals to give up power as the only solution to ending “dictatorship.”
Taking a more conciliatory tone in his sermon at Cairo’s main Al-Azhar mosque, Sheik Nasr Farid Wasil said “Islam’s forgiveness calls for peace between security (forces) and the people.”
After the Friday prayers, worshippers began a march to Tahrir Square to join the rally. Among the dead in last week’s violence was 52-year-old Sheik Emad Effat from the Al-Azhar mosque.
Egypt’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood stayed away from the demonstration at the square. The Brotherhood is so far the biggest winner in Egypt’s parliamentary elections and has distanced itself from the protesters’ demand for an immediate handover of power. The military’s timetable is to transfer power after a new president is elected by the end of June 2012.
Some pro-democracy activists are calling for presidential elections as early as February. Activists do not trust the military and its leader Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who served as Mubarak’s defense minister.
But a wide spectrum of Egyptians remain supportive of the military and want to stick to its timetable for transferring power.
A competing rally of several hundred people gathered in support of the military in another part of Cairo on Friday. They believe an end to the demonstrations will restore stability, attract tourists and boost the country’s sagging economy.
Many Egyptians who back the military were outraged over pictures of soldiers stripping a woman half-naked while dragging her in the street during the crackdown this past week.
UNICEF has called on Egyptian authorities to protect children caught up in the protests, saying that at least two children were killed, dozens injured, and 69 put in detention this week.
“Such disregard for children’s rights and safety must be condemned and must cease immediately,” UNICEF said Thursday in a statement.
Egypt’s military-appointed prime minister on Thursday called for national dialogue to resolve the country’s political crisis and pleaded for a two-month calm to restore security.