Foreign journalists targeted in Egypt rage: An inside look
The friendly Cairo familiar to Monitor correspondent Kristen Chick has transformed into a hostile environment where journalists are targets of suspicion, abuse, and detention.
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I had never experienced this kind of hostility in Cairo before. Stunned, I decided to extricate myself from the crowd and try again elsewhere. Again, as soon as I asked a shop owner a question, angry people surrounded me, yelling in my face, some calling me a Jew. Now fearful of my physical safety, I pulled out my press card to try to dispel suspicion. They tried to rip it out of my hands, but it satisfied the crowd enough that I was able to get out, only to find our photographer, Ann, also surrounded by angry people.Skip to next paragraph
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As we left the neighborhood, unable to continue our reporting, I could hardly believe what had just happened.
Never, in my three years in Cairo, had I experienced anything like it. But it was nothing compared to what happened when we joined the protests at Tahrir Square.
Violence had broken out suddenly, as thugs and Mubarak supporters attacked the peaceful crowd. We ran to cover the action from the side of the safer, pro-democracy, anti-Mubarak crowd. But when Ann raised her camera to photograph the men throwing rocks, she was an instant magnet for abuse.
Men hit her camera, pushed her, and roughed her up. “No photos!” they shouted threateningly. We tried to leave the men behind, but more like them were everywhere.
When one man grabbed her and tried to drag her off, we struggled with him and Ann's shirt was torn. We were under siege; everywhere we turned, people were threatening us. We saw that other foreign journalists around us, particularly photographers, were also under attack. Some were arrested.
It's one thing to keep an eye out for incoming rocks or tear gas canisters, as I did last week, with a friendly crowd around me, when police fought the protesters. It's another to try to dodge flying chunks of concrete and angry aggressive men at the same time.
We couldn’t tell who the attackers were; we were on the pro-democracy, anti-Mubarak side of the battle line, but there appeared to be at least some government thugs who had infiltrated the crowd.
At least two men shadowed us before starting to feed me pro-Mubarak opinions.
That evening, by the time anti-Mubarak protesters had secured their hold on the square, the atmosphere had changed entirely. Protesters thanked us for being there to document the violence their government had unleashed against them. They encouraged us to take photos. The night-and-day contrast led us to believe that the people who had earlier attacked us were not part of the same crowd.
At an Army checkpoint on the way home in the early hours of the morning, we were stopped and detained for half an hour, without our passports. Our driver was forced to remain behind for extensive questioning about us while the officer in charge forced us to ride the remainder of the way with a man who appeared to be a military police officer. He later returned to my home and questioned my doorman about my work and habits.
Today (Thursday) the situation only worsened: dozens of foreign journalists – along with bloggers, rights activists, and lawyers – have been arrested, beaten, and attacked by police, thugs, and the Army. Egypt’s new vice president, in a televised address, accused foreign elements of infiltrating the protests.
Thursday's incredible crackdown raises the question of what the government has planned for Friday, Islam's holy day and the traditional day for Muslims to gather for prayer – and protests.