CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's Interior Minister vowed Saturday to investigate the beating of a naked man by riot police that threatened to further inflame popular anger against security forces, but suggested that initial results absolve the police of direct abuse.
The beating was caught on camera by The Associated Press and the video was broadcast live on Egyptian television late Friday as protests raged in the streets outside the presidential palace. The AP video showed police trying to bundle the naked man into a police van after beating him.
Less than 24 hours after the incident, several thousand anti-government demonstrators marched again on the palace Saturday denouncing the police and Islamist President Mohammed Morsi after a week of violent protests that claimed more than 60 lives nationwide.
Speaking to reporters after Friday's assault, Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim said that initial results from the public prosecutor's investigation show that 48-year-old Hamada Saber was undressed by "rioters" during skirmishes between police and protesters. He was then hit in the foot by a bird shot, the interior minister said, stopping short of saying if the injury was a result of police firing into the crowds.
"The central security forces then found him lying on the ground and tried to put him in an armored vehicle, though the way in which they did that was excessive," said Ibrahim.
In the AP footage from Friday, at least seven black-clad riot police beat Saber, whose pants are down around his ankles, with sticks before dragging him along the muddy pavement and tossing him into a police van.
The beating happened as thousands of protesters chanted against Morsi, throwing firebombs and firing flares at the presidential palace as police pumped volleys of tear gas and bird shot into the crowd, killing one protester and wounding more than 90.
The Interior Ministry said in a rare statement that it "regrets" the beating, and that it too is investigating the incident. But it also sought to distance itself — and the police in general — from the abuse, saying that "what took place was carried out by individuals that do not represent in any way the doctrine of all policemen who direct their efforts to protecting the security and stability of the nation and sacrifice their lives to protect civilians."
A statement by Morsi's office called the incident "shocking", but stressed that violence and vandalism of government property is unacceptable.
Ibrahim said nearly 400 policemen have been wounded this past week, warning that the disintegration of police will lead to even wider-spread chaos in the Arab world's most populous nation.
"The collapse of police will affect Egypt and transform it into a militia state like some neighboring nations," Ibrahim said, eluding to Libya where militias comprise the bulk of security after that nation's uprising.
Already some Islamists have warned they could set up militias to protect their interests, while a group calling itself "Black Bloc" whose followers wear black masks claim to defend protesters opposed to the Islamist president's rule.
Ibrahim is the fifth interior minister to head the security force in the past two years. Distraught police officers heckled him earlier in the week when he showed up for the funeral of two officers killed last weekend, angry over attacks against them and investigations into their use of power after decades of near impunity under ousted leader Hosni Mubarak.
Rights groups have accused Morsi of not taking steps to reform the Interior Ministry, which was long the backbone of Mubarak's regime. Police under Mubarak were notorious for using excessive force against protesters and beating those in custody. The uprising against his rule erupted in early 2011 in large part out of anger against widespread police powers and impunity.