(REUTERS March 16) Hundreds of Egyptians protested outside of the country’s high court today to express their anger about a military court’s acquittal of an army doctor, who was charged with forcing a virginity test on a pro-democracy protester.
The case of Samira Ibrahim, who defied taboos in the conservative Muslim country to challenge the military over her treatment in detention, was seen as a test by activists of the army‘s pledge to investigate abuses and prosecute culprits.
Controversy over the virginity tests gathered pace after a general was quoted by CNN, saying tests were carried out to prove the women were not virgins when they were detained, so that they could not claim they were raped in detention.
Ibrahim said on Friday that she would seek justice in international courts, although she did not specify in exactly which forum.
“After the Egyptian judiciary let me down, despite the fact that this was a crime against women, that was witnessed by the whole world. So it is now my right to turn to international courts, because I have exhausted civilian and military courts,” she said.
The military council was welcomed by the public when it took control after Mubarak was ousted last year, but has since drawn increasingly fierce flak for its handling of protests and the slow pace of reforms.
Instead of responding to the street during the political transition, activists say the army has been busy protecting its broad business interests and shielding soldiers from justice as it prepares to hand power to civilians by the 1st of July.
Ibrahim said that the judiciary had disappointed the Egyptian people.
“The Egyptian court has not only let me down, they have let everyone down. They have let down the martyrs whom were killed by police officers. They have let everyone down. So, enough. We are all now united in order to take our rights from the military, who can be considered assassins. They kill, they take land. They do everything, even the crimes they are responsible for on Mohamed Mahmoud Street,” she said, referring to the street where dozens of protesters were killed.
For activists, the ruling casts a cloud over prospects for convicting soldiers accused of abuses ranging from driving over demonstrators in army vehicles in the Maspero district of Cairo in October to beating protesters on the street.
In one notable case, a woman was filmed being dragged and kicked by soldiers during a protest, exposing her underwear.
One protester said the military had humiliated all Egyptian women.
“As an Egyptian woman I feel as if I were humiliated. All Egyptian girls have been humiliated. It is not just Samira Ibrahim that was severely humiliated or stripped or otherwise. We have all been stripped naked. This oppressive regime has to leave, by all means. Whether we are talking about the military or the judiciary, all of the corrupt institutions must be gotten rid of,” said Rasha Elwan.
While the doctor who allegedly carried out the ‘virginity test’ was acquitted, Ibrahim, who was detained in March during a protest in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, was sentenced by a military court to a one-year suspended prison term for insulting authorities, joining an illegal assembly and breaking a curfew.
Protester Hana Abu Al-Ghar wanted the military to step aside in order for real democracy to take root in the country.
“This is a fight for all Egyptians. It’s not only about virginity tests. It’s about the military rule of the country. We didn’t go through this revolution so that they would take over the country. We went through this revolution and people died, because we want our country to be secular. We want freedom for everybody, and we want justice for everybody,” she said.
The latest ruling comes at a sensitive time as the military council prepares to hand power to civilians, but analysts say it will continue to wield influence from behind the scenes and not submit to civilian rulers.
The army‘s focus in recent weeks appears to have shifted from dousing public anger on the street to dealing with a newly elected parliament, as it prepares an exit strategy that will secure its interests and immunity, analysts and diplomats say.