A chaotic Friday in Cairo

10/08/2018 Posted by admin

by Barry Acton

After the fun of Wednesday, Global National correspondent Jas Johal and I kept pretty close to the hotel on Thursday. He didn’t sleep much due to all the shooting going on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. I did sleep well. Not sure why, but did.

Friday, things had calmed down a bit and the rock throwing had abated, so it was time to venture out again. The hotel was taking cameras as people were coming back in. I wasn’t in the mood for another confrontation, so I went armed with an iPhone instead.

Just outside the hotel we headed right, toward the back of Tahrir Square. We were turned around by military, so then we headed left. Well that didn’t work either. We were stopped and taken over to two officers and we were quickly joined by two more people in plain clothes. They asked to see our passports and cell phones. “What are you doing? Where are you going?” We said that we were tourists, stuck in the hotel and wanted to get some water and food. I doubt they bought it. They looked at our cameras and we had to delete every photo and video on the spot going back to my last picture of China. Once they were satisfied, they then said we couldn’t go anywhere and said to return to the hotel.

We walked the 100 metres or so back, turned the corner and bumped into a CNN crew who live here. A little discussion and trade of information took place, as we are all one big family in this kind of thing. They went their way and we went ours. Our decision was to try a cab and see if we could get out of our secure area. A little too secure for my liking. Three more passport inspections and 150 Turkish pounds and we were finally able to get near the square. By the way, the distance was about 500 metres.

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As soon as we were in the crowd, the sense of safety returned. The anti-government demonstrators welcomed us and we felt secure that we could engage in doing our job and talk to people openly and frankly. We gathered material on both of our iPhones, and after a couple of hours, we thought it would be wise to start heading back to the hotel. Military checkpoints that we had attempted to cross seemed like wrong ways to go, so we got a cab and headed toward the back of the hotel in a roundabout way. Over the river, South, a few hundred meters then back over the river behind the hotel. This is where things went a little nutty.

As we crossed the bridge, traffic slowed and we were being checkED out by club wielding kids. Through the yelling, we deciphered that they wanted to know who we were and what we were doing in their country. Clearly, they were edgy and fired up. They checked the trunk and some guy jumped in and we drove down under the bridge and were surrounded by more people who gave off the appearance of being less than friendly and very unwelcoming. We stopped at a barricade and were escorted through some yelling to the police. Once on the inside of the barricade, I was physically patted down by a gentleman in his 40s who was obviously allowed to be there, but wouldn’t tell me what his authority was. My guess would be plain-clothed police. After a short walk, we were passed to a different set off military officers who spoke some French and English.

They inspected our passports and asked us where we were going. We explained again that we were trying to get to the hotel, which he could see was about 600 metres away. We left out the part about being journalists, but did thank him for getting us away from the mob. He returned our passports after several questions, and said to go ahead. We thanked him and off we went, glad we wouldn’t be going back through the less than welcoming crowd.

Not 70 meters away, we went to squeeze by the tanks when again, we were stopped by military and asked for our passports. We produced them and pointed at the officer who had granted us permission to pass. This guy didn’t seem to care and said that we couldn’t go any further and needed to go back and turn right and try our luck with the crowd. This was less than appealing and we continued to try to negotiate our way past. Explaining that we had concerns for our safety if we went back the way we came was met with a shrug.

As time passed, Jas and I agreed that going anywhere near that crowd was not going to end well, so we returned to the officer who gave us permission to pass and he asked why we had returned? While explaining the situation, Jas spotted more foreigners coming through the crowd. Turns out it was folks from the CBC: Glen Kugelstadt (a friend and former Beijing bureau camera for the CBC); his colleague, reporter Nahlah Ayed; reporter Margaret Evans; and their producer and local hire. They too had just had an encounter that was less then pleasant, and were now concerned about how to safely get to the Hilton.

Thanks to Nahlah, their producer and fixer and some endless minutes of discussion, we were finally escorted past the troublesome military checkpoint and given passage to our hotel. Seems that they were two different militaries and both had different ideas of what would be our best direction. One way was along the river straight to the hotel with the military spaced about every 100 yards, the other was back through Mubarak supporters with clubs and bats.

I’m glad we were finally allowed option two.

Barry is Global National’s photojournalist, based in Beijing. He and correspondent Jas Johal are covering the unrest in Cairo. You can follow Barry on Twitter: @BActonGlobal.

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