x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Journalists targeted by pro-Mubarak forces in Egypt

All through the day came steadily increasing reports of journalists being harassed, detained, and assaulted by pro-Mubarak crowds. Ashraf Khalil, foreign correspondent, reports: 'I had my own serious scare with an angry mob.'

CAIRO // On Wednesday, protesters occupying Tahrir Square and demanding the immediate ouster of Hosni Mubarak were besieged for hours by waves of pro-Mubarak demonstrators.

On Thursday, it was the journalists' turn to feel the terror of mob violence.

Leila Fadel, the Cairo bureau chief for The Washington Post, was "among two dozen journalists arrested this morning by the Egyptian interior ministry. We understand that they are safe but in custody," the newspaper's website reported yesterday.

At least three reporters from Al Jazeera's English channel were apparently arrested by the army, according to Jazeera staffers. A Greek journalist was stabbed in the leg. Andrew Lee Butters, a reporter for Time magazine, was detained and roughed up by civilians, whom he said were taking orders from uniformed police officers on the scene.

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THE NATIONAL'S PHOTOGRAPHER ATTACKED IN CAIRO

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The prominent local blogger known as Sandmonkey was arrested while attempting to bring in medical supplies to help the wounded in Tahrir. He later tweeted: "I am OK. I got out. I was ambushed & beaten by the police, my phone confiscated, my car ripped apart & supplies taken."

CNN's Anderson Cooper, along with a producer and cameraman, were attacked by crowds who punched them and attempted to break their cameras.

ABC's Christiane Amanpour was chased while giving an interview. When she and her crew returned to their car, they were surrounded by men, who banged on the sides of the vehicle and broke the windscreen with a rock. They escaped without injury.

The sheer scope of the number of incidents in one day should immediately discredit any government argument that these were isolated or spontaneous events. A strongly worded statement from the White House condemned the targeting of journalists by pro-government supporters in Egypt as "totally" unacceptable.

Many of these attacks were taking place at the same time that the new prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, was apologising for the previous day's violence and promising an investigation.

I had my own serious scare with an angry mob. I was driving through the middle-class district of Dokki with colleagues from The Times and America's National Public Radio.

We spotted a street-side cart and stopped to ask a few innocuous questions about food supplies and daily life. Were the stores reopening? Were people returning to work?

The situation turned ugly almost immediately. After perhaps four questions, hotheads in the crowd that had gathered began demanding to see our identification and expressing suspicion of our intentions. Suddenly, one man started swinging at me, and half of the crowd immediately turned into a mob. I was struck in the face at least four times.

After about a minute of scuffling, cooler heads in the crowd managed to pull me to relative safety and told me to get out and hurry to our waiting taxi. As I was rushing away, someone came up and touched my shoulder. I wheeled around ready for another fight, but it was a young man bringing me my slightly mangled eyeglasses.

I arrived at the taxi to find an entirely new standoff in progress. My colleagues - an American woman, a Panamanian woman and British man - were inside the taxi, but the car was penned in by another angry mob.

As the only Egyptian in the group, I became the focal point for their anger. I managed to produce my Egyptian passport, as my driver, Gamal, pleaded with the crowd to stop, telling them that he had known me for 10 years and knew most of my family.

The Egyptian passport failed to assuage the crowd, largely because it records clearly that I was born in America. Egypt is rife at the moment with paranoia and xenophobia, so my birthplace was more than enough to make me a target.

In a moment of dark comedy for anyone who is wary of all the security forces here, the crowd started shouting to turn us over to the police or the army. I responded, "Yes please! Find me a soldier. I'll turn myself over."

Finally, an officer from the military police appeared on the scene, and helped bring a little calm to the situation. Despite a few remaining hotheads, the officer managed to get me into the car and escorted us to a walled-in courtyard for our safety. There we found another group of terrified journalists - this time, all native Egyptians working for a local English-language paper. They, too, had been rescued from an angry mob by the army.

In fairness, I can't classify my own personal experience as harassment of journalists by pro-government forces, since I honestly don't think our attackers were plainclothes police or pro-Mubarak provocateurs.

They were just ordinary Egyptian citizens whose nerves had been frayed by 10 days of uncertainty and who have been fed a steady diet of claims on state television, including allegations that shadowy foreign influences have been behind the waves of civil unrest. They have also been told that foreign journalists were hopelessly biased toward the anti-Mubarak protesters and actively helping to bring the regime down.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae