Turmoil in Egypt: TIME Journalist Gets Caught in Cairo’s Latest Day of Rage

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MOSAAB EL SHAMY / EPA

Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood supporters clash with police near Ramses square in Cairo, Aug. 16, 2013.

There was a crackle of gunfire. Birdshot hit the buildings overhead and the crowd of demonstrators on Cairo’s 15 May Bridge took off running from the shots. I felt a dull object hit my back. It was a brake disk from a car. Thrown by whom—it was unclear. Demonstrators shouted that police were shooting from the rooftops. I kept running.

The thousands of demonstrators that filled the bridge were supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi, heeding a call for a Friday of Rage, a day of nationwide demonstrations deploring a crackdown by the interim military-backed government that at least 638 people dead on Wednesday. The initial shock of Wednesday’s killing has now worn off, and given way to bitterness and anger.

(PHOTOS: Clashes Erupt in Egypt As Protesters March Against Earlier Bloodshed)

Many of the protesters knew they could be marching to their deaths. “I saw two people who were shot already, and I’m not afraid,” said Haitham Eisa, 32, a quality manager at an educational company based in Germany. He’s lived in Germany for 11 years, he said, but he flew back for the January 2011 uprising that toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak. He flew back again this week to protest Wednesday’s massacre.

“I’m going because I have to protect my opinion. My opinion is democracy,” he said, jogging alongside me. “We are still fighting for democracy. Democracy should survive. Nothing else. Not military weapons.” Running past, an engineering student name Muhammad Ibrahim Younis, 21, overheard Eisa’s words and shouted, “We’re not going back even if it means death!”

The scene on the bridge was just the beginning of another day of brawling and bloodshed between the military-backed government and backers of Morsi, who include many Islamists. The marchers were heading for Cairo’s Ramses Square, the site of the capital’s main railroad terminal. Fighting between police and protesters in that square and across the country left at least 60 dead, with similar scenes in the cities of Alexandria, Ismailiya and elsewhere. As night fell, the streets of downtown Cairo emptied as a government-imposed curfew went into effect. The mood was grim. Egyptian television showed images of a high-rise building in flames. The sound of buzzing military helicopters and occasional gunshots nearly drowned out the evening call to prayer as the sun set over the Nile.

The day began with tan army tanks blocking the entrances to Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the 2011 revolution that ousted Mubarak as well as the site of mass protests against Morsi’s government earlier this year. The Egyptian military removed Morsi, the elected Muslim Brotherhood-backed president, from power on July 3 and has held him incommunicado since.

Now, with the death toll soaring from a series of bloody crackdowns by the security forces, positions on all sides of the fight have hardened. After Friday’s violence, the Muslim Brotherhood announced a call for more demonstrations, every single day. Meanwhile, state television aired footage of what they said were men firing AK-47s from the demonstration on the 15 May Bridge. Cairo residents organized squads of citizen vigilantes, known as “popular committees” to patrol the borders of each neighborhoods. In pro-military neighborhoods, the patrols were determined to keep pro-Morsi demonstrators out.

And I ran straight into them when I attempted to leave the bridge in order to avoid the chaos in Ramses Square. Photojournalist Cliff Cheney and I descended an off-ramp from the bridge toward the working class neighborhood of Bulaq, looking for a way out of the fight. A group of men, a few wielding sticks, stopped us. No one was allowed through, they said.

Haitham Eisa, the manager living in Germany, reappeared and explained to the men that we were journalists who simply wanted to leave the scene. At first, this strategy appeared to work. We moved through the first layer of men.

But others in the group were apparently not convinced that Cliff and I did not represent a threat. A man grabbed me by the arm, then a whole group seized me. Within seconds I was lifted off the ground while a whole crowd of men ripped my camera from my hands and my medical kit from the strap on my thigh. One man slapped me across the face, knocking my glasses to the pavement.

Somehow, cooler heads prevailed. More men joined the group, pulling me out of the crowd and returning my glasses and medical kit. Cliff had managed to secure the camera but two of his own had been stolen.

We hustled down the road, away from the crowd and jumped in a taxi. The driver rolled down the road but stopped after only a few meters. “Don’t worry. I’ve got a pistol in the car,” he said, turning to me and rapping the compartment in between the front seats. Then he stopped the car and walked away.

Not wanting to wait for the driver, Cliff and I exited the car. Two men appeared on a scooter, returning one of Cliff’s cameras.

Yet another group of men hustled us to the side of the road and inside the air-conditioned office of a car repair shop. The manager, a friendly man named Said Muhammad, brought us tea. He said he would drive us home, but that we must wait, owing to the security situation. “We’re your brothers,” he said. “We should take a picture together.”

Over two hours several more men from the neighborhood rotated through the office. One asked me pointedly whether I thought Morsi’s removal had amounted to a coup. Not wanting to upset my hosts, I asked him what he thought. “The Brotherhood are terrorists,” he said. He, like all the local men we interacted with, supported the military. One claimed he was in contact with the army about our presence in the neighborhood.

We began to grow anxious. I repeatedly explained, in Arabic, that we simply wanted to leave and go home or to the government press office. No, the men told us, we must stay for our own safety. Even if we had tried to make a break and leave, since we were obviously not from the area, we would need the local men’s assistance to pass through the citizen checkpoints.

Eventually, a friend called and negotiated in Cairo-accented Arabic with our hosts. They agreed to drive us to the Nile Corniche, but our negotiator explained she was concerned they might deliver us to a nearby police station.

A car was summoned and we boarded, rolling through a checkpoint guarded by teenagers wielding a machete and sticks. The driver asked: should we go to the police station or the corniche? I implored him to go to the corniche and, after navigating another checkpoint, we were eventually free to go.

With demonstrations ongoing on the bridges over the Nile and few cars in sight, getting back over the river from whence we came seemed impossible. The military and security forces were in control of a few public spaces, like Tahrir, but the residential neighborhoods belonged to the citizen committees. There were reports of sustained post-curfew violence between security forces and the remaining pro-Morsi supporters in Ramses Square and a mosque there that has become a temporary field hospital for the dead and wounded.

The presence of the vigilante groups was a throwback to similar “popular committees” set up to protect neighborhoods during the 18 days of the 2011 revolution. The deadly violence of the security forces, too, was reminiscent of the government crackdown during that uprising. History, in its most frightening form, was repeating itself.

27 comments
TheThinker
TheThinker

At the risk of being politically incorrect....it seems to me that most of the trouble in the world today revolves around Islamism.

Most of the leaders of the movement don't give a damn about Islam, they are in it for political power,  or to support their criminal networks.Throughout history these types of "leaders" have manipulated the ignorant into acting in ways that benefit them. Ignorance is a key. That's why the Taliban shoots young girls and bombs schools. That's the reasoning behind the political party called  Boko Haram  (translation Western Education is Sin.) And the passions that surround religion are pretty easily harnessed for destructive purposes. 

It's not just the Islamists who do this. The Christian right has also been put into harness by the machinations of the Republican party which is doing all it can to disempower people. But the most blatant violence surrounds Islam.

Until the vast majority of Muslims clean up their house by standing up and definitively renouncing violent Islamism, it's not illogical to believe that "Islamism" is the problem and must be fought.

SmailBuzzby
SmailBuzzby

Seems like a 'journalist' was really dumb and then a whiny crybaby to me.

pendragon05
pendragon05

Nobody cares if they all kill each other. Better that, than for them to kill westerners.

samirdesouki
samirdesouki

What is happening in Egypt is now an internal matter and we are the people of Egypt Judges commissioned Egypt army and police the elimination of the terrorist group will not allow any State whatever to intervene in this matter Egypt is Her sovereign state

عليالصعيدي
عليالصعيدي

Terrorists??!!
So is the whole Egyptian people terrorists ..
Five and win the elections in which the Muslim Brotherhood ..
Mubarak and state media .. Do not want a strong control of Egypt ...
The Muslim Brotherhood are a group of reform ... And have strong projects ..
You can harness the many journalists who are attacking Morsi supporters ..
They attacked the January 25 revolution ...

Lolly
Lolly

Strange that the journalist didn't notice the guns in the MB ' hands. He must have been blind not to see the man with the bread shooting at the houses randomly in zamalek. Probably he must have been well paid

ThorfaSchren
ThorfaSchren

“Globalization makes it impossible for modern societies to collapse in isolation, as did Easter Island and the Greenland Norse in the past. Any society in turmoil today, no matter how remote ... can cause trouble for prosperous societies on other continents and is also subject to their influence (whether helpful or destabilizing). For the first time in history, we face the risk of a global decline. But we also are the first to enjoy the opportunity of learning quickly from developments in societies anywhere else in the world today, and from what has unfolded in societies at any time in the past. That's why I wrote this book.”― Jared DiamondCollapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

RamonRoman
RamonRoman

Everything has been distorted absolutely. Hatred permeates even those who believe that their intelligence allows them to judge with impartiality. They forgot that history shows us that the cradle of civilization rests precisely where those people are having trouble now. Many years ago the investigation of the sciences and of mathematics were advanced in those places, until the ugly theist  face made its apparition and all came to a stop. Men as a specie, never has stopped violence to achieve the majority of its goals. The fight mainly has been for possession of the means to get the food to survive. Nobody through history can proclaim that everything that they possess as nations has been acquire without bloodshed. The history of mankind has been that, the bloodshed of men by men for power, and this means the means to survive as nations.

  But here, in this instance, the ignorance and hatred of people considered inferior because of their culture and their unnatural beliefs, imply that this culture, the Christian one is superior because they don't apparently share an odious religion that turn human beings into fanatics. Never the western culture and its Christian culture have live in peace, because they, as the eastern counterpart, they too has to fight for power so they can supply their people with wherewithal for their existence. The economic system of the master of the planet is the one ruling this poor planet and all its troubles.

  Religion is only a sluice from where the lords of the planet try to possess the means to keep on going having this orgy that is living the planet devoid of the means for the subsistence of the Billions of people that this bloody system needs to survive.

  Humanity is almost at its peak in its development, but inevitable and unavoidably, will have to decline. Technology will be at its peak in about 200 years, this means that the creation of advance machines will be so immense that this creation is going to replace everywhere the human labor. What is the system going to do with idle hands? Kill them all? 

  The human specie took about 100 000 years to appear in this poor planet, and it will take only about 10 000 years to become extinct, like every other species in the planet.

TutAnkhAmon
TutAnkhAmon

-

For three years, 5 Wahhabi TV Channels owned by Kuwaiti and Qatari Sheikh incited hate, violence and division among Egyptians while justifying every single violation by Morsi as Islamic.

The incitement also covered Jews, Christians, Buddist, Hindu, Shiia, US, EU, Israel, Gays, etc.

Guess what, NONE of these Sheikh or Clerics had any formal theological education, they were a witchcraft apprentice as all Islamist.

Politics and religion don't mix

-

MohamedT.ElGendi
MohamedT.ElGendi

@TheThinker Exactly, I agree with you, except for the part that most trouble in the world revolves around Islamism

Please don't call it "Islamism", it doesn't relate to Islam at all, what you're talking about is called "Terrorism" and "Barbaric movements".

MohamedT.ElGendi
MohamedT.ElGendi

@pendragon05 And you call them senseless/barbaric?
I'm against them, but they are still Arabs.

Look in the mirror before you talk about other people ...

"Human Rights"
That, what you're doing, is called hypocrisy.

MohamedT.ElGendi
MohamedT.ElGendi

@عليالصعيدي Get your info straight before you talk

33M went to protest.

That's more than the amount of people who voted! (25M-26M)

And yes, terrorists, and you support them.

The black cape is gone, you're all exposed

The people waited to much, it's time to explode

The people are protesting, out in every road

The last thing we need is a whining terrorist sounding like a toad ;)

falcon269
falcon269

@عليالصعيدي "a group of reform" for what reform? Are you saying that reform is an Islamic government with limited rights for females and non-muslims?

RamonRoman
RamonRoman

@ThorfaSchren Possibly, you wrote your book looking and experiencing the movements of the actual or presently societies, but you can not disregard history and the movements that have carried this societies and its problems to the present moment. And if you take into account the present moment of the technological advances and the problems that this is causing in the modes of production, you can easily predict appealing to the actual reserves of the areas of production of food, and putting them against the explosion of the human population, you will see that your optimism has to do only the rapid mode of communication ot the present societies. If you take into account the economic system by which the world is being rule, you will notice that in the no far future, that the technological advances are going to be a blessing for the advance of the men of science, but a curse for the majority of human kind. I am not a philosopher but is not difficult to see the decline of the human species, no matter what.

falcon269
falcon269

@RamonRoman The archeology at Atapuerca indicates that humans lived in Spain about 1 million years ago. Agriculture seems to be 100,000 years old. Islam is much younger than either.

RamonRoman
RamonRoman

I am sorry, I should have written, "leaving" instead of "living".

I should have written, "use", instead of "try".

lk312
lk312

@TutAnkhAmon I wouldn't equate Islam with witchcraft, but agree 100% with the rest of your comment. 

You can't have real democracy without separation of religions and the state.  That separation can only exist though when people decide to give more authority to the state than to religious leaders for civil and legal matters. That is the real struggle and the basis of everything that we are seeing in Egypt and in the other "Arab Spring" countries. 

RamonRoman
RamonRoman

@ThorfaSchren I forgot mr Schren, not every society in the can become prosperous because it goes against the philosophy of the present economic system, if you know what I mean. You can see the result of what I expose in the way the most prosperous workers in the history of mankind, the americans, are breaking apart, and this the cause of the laws of capitalism. The car industry will never be as prosperous in the USA because the free competition with other nations, that can produce cheaper products due the low salaries that these nations pay to its workers. Only the technological advances can save the American system, but with the deep decline of the American dream.

formerlyjames
formerlyjames

@lk312 @TutAnkhAmon  Every time I see the word "democracy" tossed into the discussion,  it give me pause.  Its meaning has become very unclear.

pendragon05
pendragon05

@lk312 @TutAnkhAmon  I would not equate Islam with witchcraft, or paganism, for that matter, either. Even pagan tribes were never bloodthirsty, prior to the advent of monotheism. Monotheism carries special problems of its own, namely, either convert or die by the sword. But as the famous saying goes: "Christians want to convert you. Muslims want to kill you." holds much truth to it. We should just let these Islamic monsters all kill off each other. Then maybe there will be some semblance of peace on this planet.

TutAnkhAmon
TutAnkhAmon

@lk312 These people who spouted hate everyday for 3 years didn't have any theological education so they twisted Islam into Islamism leading us to this disaster.

Morsi and the MB used them very well to divide the society 

RamonRoman
RamonRoman

@ThorfaSchren I am sorry I omitted one word in one of my ideas, it should read, " Not every society in the WORLD" can..."

lk312
lk312

@TutAnkhAmon @lk312 Like I said, I agree with the rest of your 1st comment, including that massive amounts of hate propaganda was being fed to the Egyptian public.  I also agree on the education aspect and that Morsi, the MB and others have distorted Islam.  They're intent was to make a religion into a political movement and tool for those manipulating it.  Looks like they've succeeded, even though Morsi is gone.