We should not overlook what happened, not just because Human Rights Watch says it was “illegal brutality” on the part of the Egyptian government, or because Amnesty International criticized the government for using violence against youth who were expressing themselves peacefully.

We should not overlook it, not just because US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said his government is deeply concerned over arrests that take place in Egypt under the Emergency Law, and that the Egyptian government should allow all citizens to practice their freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

And we should not overlook it, not just because the Egyptian Foreign Ministry rejected the American remarks as interference in Egypt’s internal affairs, pointing out that the police soon released the arrested protesters.

We should not overlook the incident because, most importantly, because it revealed the authoritarian nature of the Egyptian regime and the limits it places which the people must not cross, lest they be arrested–although the law, the Constitution and all international conventions give them the right to express themselves freely.

Ironically, the Ministry of Interior said that what it did on that day had nothing to do with constraining freedom of expression–because it allows peaceful demonstrations, as long as they do not threaten public order.

The ministry was referring to recent vigils and protests by certain social classes whose poverty has driven them to sleeping on the pavement in front of the parliament building, in a petition for better living standards.

The ministry, in other words, said that it allows protests for social and economic reasons, but political demands for constitutional amendments and the like are strictly forbidden–a justification for why the security forces, with all those soldiers and generals, had the right to block the protesters.

It is not important that the protesters were released two days after their arrest, in an attempt to make it look like what happened was normal legal procedure. The calamity is in the humiliation of those young men and women, and the lesson taught them which they, and anyone else thinking of participating in similar actions, will never forget.

It is a shame by all means.

We cannot agree with the interior ministry that it has the right to allow a demonstration here and prohibit another there, depending on the reason behind the demonstration. I cannot imagine the police in the US, Britain or France behaving as our police did. Not even in countries like India, Malaysia or Lebanon can this happen.

Details of what happened on that day were printed in the papers–the independent ones, that is. But I would like to highlight a few points of great significance here:

Is it not shameful that the interior ministry instructed Ain Shams University professors, who should be encouraging their students to involve themselves in national issues, to hold a concert on campus that day so as to divert students’ attention from the protest?

Is it not shameful to detain the protesters in a garage in front of the parliament building before taking them to a detention camp on the Cairo-Ismailia road, and to ask one of them to take off his pants to search him? When another detained young woman objected, the police told her to look the other way.

Is it not shameful that they asked another detained woman to remove her underwear to search for her mobile sim card?

Is it not shameful that two other detained women had to sit for two hours in a police station, as if they were prostitutes, because there was no place for them in special detention facilities for women that day?

And when the police didn’t know what to do with them, they kept them in a police car and parked it in front of a cafeteria, waiting for further instructions. The two women wrote anti-government slogans on pieces of paper and held them out of the windows. Hours later a state security officer called Adham came to them, and insulted them and threatened to strip them of their clothes and leave them on the street. Later, he took them to an isolated place in the desert and threw them out of the car. Then he proudly reported to his bosses how successful he was in protecting public order.

The two women were picked up by another car and given a ride to the nearest bus terminal. The car driver didn’t mention his name to them for fear that he would be persecuted by the police.

It is a shame, indeed.