CAIRO — Egypt’s interior ministry on Saturday issued a rare apology a day after a group of its officers stripped and beat a man two blocks from the palace of President Mohammed Morsi, an episode captured by television cameras and broadcast live during clashes between protesters and riot police officers.
In a statement, the ministry said it regretted the beating and called it an “individual attack” that did not reflect police doctrine. The police were performing their duties “with a new spirit” of Egypt’s revolution, the ministry said, adding that the beating would be investigated with “objectivity and transparency.”
The apology contrasted sharply with the denials the ministry usually offers in response to allegations of abuse. Widespread anger with the ministry’s long record of brutality helped set off Egypt’s uprising two years ago.
Morsi’s office also issued a statement saying it was “pained by the shocking footage.”
More than 50 people have been killed over the last 10 days during fighting in several Egyptian cities in some of the worst violence since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak almost two years ago. The beating, though, 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.
The violence on Friday appeared to undermine a fledgling effort by Egypt’s quarreling political forces to settle their differences, adding to the sense of chaos. Beneath the official pronouncements of regret, supporters and opponents of Morsi continued to blame one another for the clashes on Saturday.
The clashes on Friday 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 with what appeared to be a bench, according to video of the episode. Several other gas bombs were thrown over the gate. The police responded by firing tear gas and later birdshot.
Officials on Saturday seemed shaken by the graphic images of the beating, which showed the victim, Hamada Saber, being dragged and beaten by riot police officers with his pants pulled down around his ankles.
The apologies came amid bizarre turns in Saber’s story. State media reported on Saturday that he had given testimony to prosecutors denying the events that witnesses and everyone watching on television had seen. He was quoted as saying that the police had actually been trying to save him from protesters who had stripped him of his clothes.
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