CAIRO — Egyptian security forces on Sunday openly beat demonstrators sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, without any provocation, in a sign of how the once powerful group has become the target of official suppression.
The police reaction to the Brotherhood march stood in stark contrast to the scene blocks away, where pro-military crowds, summoned to celebrate Egypt's war with Israel 40 years ago, hoisted soldiers and police on their shoulders and offered cheers.
The difference was apparent to two McClatchy reporters who left the pro-military demonstration to cover the Brotherhood gathering. As they witnessed police beatings, the two reporters were pounced on by security officers, who stole their cell phones and cameras and threatened to haul one away. The abuse ended only after the reporters proved they'd been at the other rally by pulling out posters of Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah El Sissi, the head of the military who engineered the toppling of President Mohammed Morsi in July.
At previous demonstrations, Egyptian security forces have said the Brotherhood, the secretive organization through which Morsi ascended to office, instigated the clashes, some of which left hundreds dead.
But on Sunday, there was no sign of Brotherhood provocation. The beatings took place well away from the huge crowds that were celebrating the military. Residents nearby also played a role, refusing to give Brotherhood sympathizers shelter as they sought to flee the security forces' onslaught.
McClatchy reporters witnessed police officers throwing rocks at the protesters. Some protesters jumped into the Nile River to take refuge.
A police officer struck a male McClatchy reporter in the back of his neck and stole his phone from his pocket. He then stole the phone and camera of a second correspondent.
Screw your mother, the officer told the reporters.
The beatings apparently had the approval of higher ups. Near Tahrir Square, two officers appeared with broken night sticks. Their commander asked what happened.
We beat Brotherhood, the officers responded.
To stop the officers from arresting the male reporter, the female McClatchy correspondent told them her colleague was her brother and she could not leave him behind. They let him go.
The scene was very different just blocks away, where thousands gathered to celebrate the military. Security forces had erected electronic checkpoints leading to Tahrir Square, the iconic plaza where pro-democracy demonstrations nearly three years ago drove Hosni Mubarak from the presidency.
Thousands passed through them to demonstrate their support for the military, whose toppling of Morsi ended the administration of Egypt's first democratically elected president. If the crowd found the location ironic, that didn't dampen their enthusiasm, as the ululating trills of women and the boisterous cheers of men celebrated the return of military rule.