I was a witness when CBS reporter Lara Logan and her crew were assaulted by a huge mob in Tahrir square. I had never seen her before, I don’t follow US networks. But I saw her being pushed and pulled towards the military post by the Egyptian Museum. I thought she was a TV presenter because of her neat appearance. It was victory night (what a way of celebrating victory) and, as the State TV had switched sides after telling so many lies, I thought she might be well-known and rejected in her attempt to suddenly appear as a revolution supporter. Then Egyptians told me people were yelling at her “agent! agent!”
It made sense. The protest camp in Tahrir square was a nest of suspicions about foreigners. Everyday, we had a dozen people taking photos and videos of us and questioning us about why we were there. Everyone felt they had the right to check our passports. Even then, they’d accuse us of horrible crimes, like being Israelis. We had to smile and appease them, for we knew that, once they started shouting, the mob would congregate around us and any chance of defending ourselves would be lost. I saw it several times: furious mobs beating up or chasing away someone most people didn’t know anything about.
What happened to Lara Logan and her crew was not an exception. That happened on Feb 11. On the evening of Feb 13, an Arte channel team of four was also attacked in Tahrir, same story. A female journalist was pushed to the ground and her male colleague fell over her. The assaulters broke part of their equipment and tried to steal their camera. The journalists finally reached the military post, where the soldiers put them in a tank until the mob dispersed. Then an officer and four men escorted them to a safer place. I’ve heard of other similar incidents.
I was prevented to help Lara Logan by Egyptian people who were near us, buying tea as we were, for they knew I couldn’t do anything and I’d surely be assaulted too. The CBS communiqué says Logan was saved by women and soldiers. I personally know at least three Egyptian men who helped to form a protection chain around her until she could be delivered to soldiers. I’d also like to say that, in the brief instant I could see her, she behaved bravely: she wasn’t panicking at all, but rather trying to control the situation.
All this has created a debate among Egyptian activists. They feel embarrassed and want to make the point that these mobs aren’t representative of the movement. That is true: for every suspicious person –self-appointed spy- and israeli- hunters–, there were five more who’d approach us to welcome us and thank us for informing about their struggle. Egyptians are of a kind nature and that was really comforting.
But they let this happen. They need to acknowledge that this was not an exception. The victim is a celebrity and her channel has international weight, so the case became mainstream news. But I don’t think the leading organisers in Tahrir did anything to dispel the rumours spread by State TV, about foreigners and journalists plotting against Egypt and to manipulate the Revolution. People would laugh and make jokes about other lies (200 euros and a KFC lunch daily given to every demonstrator for participating, for instance), but they’d blindly believe the ones on foreigners.
We were being persecuted outside of Tahrir by government thugs, police and military. Reaching Tahrir was no salvation. On the accesses to Tahrir, the volunteers manning the security controls delivered me in three different occasions to the soldiers, on suspicion I’d been a visitor to Israel. Same thing occurred to others.
Individual protesters did a lot to help us when we were harassed by these paranoid vigilantes. They stepped forward to defend us several times, and even got some people to understand and apologise (only because we could prove we weren’t Israelis, otherwise it’d have been nasty). But there was no organised effort to explain the situation to the people in the square and make it safer for foreigners. The fact that some of the best known faces of the movement made a point of not talking to Western media perhaps made sense in a political way, but it added up to the irrational feeling that we were dangerous.
These attacks could have been prevented by providing adequate information and pointing at lies. Now it looks a bit late to say sorry to Lara Logan. And there are others who should receive apologies for what they went through, but their names aren’t so well-known.
Lara Logan just before she was assaulted. Reuters photo.