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Egyptians rally to protest treatment of women by security forces

Thousands of Egyptian women marched across Tahrir Square Tuesday, calling on their countrymen to join them and demand an end to the abuse of women demonstrators. NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin reports from Cairo.

AP reports:

Around 10,000 women marched through central Cairo demanding Egypt's ruling military step down Tuesday in an unprecedented show of outrage over soldiers who dragged women by the hair and stomped on them, and stripped one half-naked in the street during a fierce crackdown on activists the past week.

Amr Nabil / AP

Hundreds of Egyptian women march at Cairo streets during a protest as they angered by the recent violence used against them in clashes between police and protesters in Cairo, Egypt Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011. Egypt's ruling generals are coming under mounting criticism at home and abroad for the military's use of excessive force against unarmed protesters, including women, as they try to crush the pro-democracy movement calling for their ouster. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

The dramatic protest, which grew as the women marched from Tahrir Square through downtown, was fueled by the widely circulated images of abuses of women. Many of the marchers touted the photo of the young woman whose clothes were partially pulled off by troops, baring her down to her blue bra, as she struggled on the ground.

"Tantawi stripped your women naked, come join us," the crowd chanted to passers-by, referring to Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of the military council that has ruled Egypt since the Feb. 11 fall of Hosni Mubarak. "The daughters of Egypt are a red line," they chanted.

Khaled Desouki / AFP - Getty Images

An Egyptian woman holds the widespread picture of a woman who was stripped and beaten by riot police during clashes last week as Egyptians gather for a protest in downtown Cairo to denounce the military's attacks on women and to call for an immediate end to the violence against protesters on Tuesday.

Even before the protest was over, the military council issued an unusually strong statement of regret for what it called "violations" against women — a quick turnaround after days of dismissing the significance of the abuse.

The council expressed "deep regret to the great women of Egypt" and affirmed "its respect and total appreciation" for women and their right to protest and take part in political life. It promised it was taking measures to punish those responsible for violations.

The statement suggested the military's fear that attacks on women could wreck its prestige at home and abroad, which has already been heavily eroded by its fierce, five-day-old crackdown on pro-democracy protesters demanding it surrender power. The ruling generals have campaigned to keep the public on its side in the confrontation, depicting the activists as hooligans and themselves as the honorable protectors of the nation, above reproach.

Khaled Desouki / AFP - Getty Images

Egyptians gather for a protest in downtown Cairo to denounce the military's attacks on women and to call for an immediate end to the violence against protesters on Tuesday.

In unusually harsh words, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday accused the Egyptian security forces and extremists of specifically targeting women.

"This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonors the revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform, and is not worthy of a great people," she said.

In a possibly significant hint of new flexibility, the council also said in its statement Tuesday that it was prepared to discuss any initiatives to help the security of the country. In recent days, a number of political factions have pressed the military to hand over power by February, rather than June, when it promised to hold presidential elections.

Thousands of Egyptian women marched in the streets of Cairo, protesting abuse by soldiers who dragged women by the hair, stomped on them and stripped one half naked on the street. NBC's Ayman Moyheldin reports.