Harassing foreigners at Tahrir: a bit late to say sorry

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.

12 responses to “Harassing foreigners at Tahrir: a bit late to say sorry

  1. I wonder why there has not been a single arrest of any of the attackers, and why neither Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, nor Al Ahram, has had a single word published about the brutal attack on this woman. As a Western obvserver who has visited Egypt, it tells me a couple of things, first of all, that the rape and beating of a Western woman, though to be Jewish, is not considered a crime by the Egyptian authorities. Wonderful, I don’t think me or anyone I know, or anyone who happens to be blonde, will be visiting Egypt any time soon. You must know that Egypt is famous around the world as a country where women of all types face non stop sexual harrassment, well apparently rape is also part of the package, and the officals, the army and the police, do NOTHING. And if it is a story that reflects badly on Egypt, the mass media won’t report it, they will pretend it never happened, while they wait for the next fake story about Muslims in the USA being kept waiting to board an airplane or some other trivial thing which in orders of magnitude is like a peanut compared to a giant watermelon, the giant watermelon being the rape of a foreign correspondent. Also interesting is your vile language about Israel , a country you are supposed to be at peace with, I am sure you represent most Egyptians and Muslims with your sickening hatred of Jews. Last but not least, nowhere in the Egyptian press, Egyptian blogs, or the US mass media, has it appeared that the mob that attacked Lara was screaming “Jew Jew Jew” ….presumably their thinking that Lara was Jewish was a good pretext for them to rape her. The true face of your country was on display during this attack.

  2. Thank you for writing about your experiences there, it’s great the way you provide more details about what it was like in Tahrir square around that time. The detail about the men also helping is very important, it makes wonder about the contrast between what you describe compared to what CBS described:

    “She was surrounded and suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers.”

    What’s your take on that description of “sustained sexual assault and beating”?

    Is that also what the Arte channel crew had to deal with?

  3. Rafi, did you read anything? Or you just showed up to shower us with your hate speech?
    First, Egypt is not my country. I’m Mexican.
    Second, what vile language about Israel? There is none.
    Third, the mob was screaming “agent, agent”. They might have thought she was israeli, I don’t know. But the word was “agent”.
    Fourth, want to know about another country famous for sexual harassment? United States of America. Enlighten yourself http://www.stopstreetharassment.com/streetharassment/statistics.htm
    Fifth, don’t come to Egypt. It’s ok. I don’t think they need you here.

    Hi Mike.
    it is impossible to tell what exactly happened. It was all too fast, it was dark and there were too many people in between. I saw Logan when she and them were coming towards where I was standing, for a few seconds, and then the mob surrounded us and I lost visual contact. The men who helped her –apparently it wasn’t only women and soldiers– told me they managed to create a protective barrier and deliver her to the soldiers at their post by the Museum.

    I can not tell about the “sustained sexual assault” (CBS doesn’t say rape in those words, maybe my English is not good enough as to detect some subtleties, but I don’t know if assuming rape is correct), for I could only see what I just described. It was an open space, the most important square of a very conservative country, so I don’t know if someone would risk raping a foreign woman in front of tens of witnesses. But they did attack her in a vicious way, and surely there was an important sexual aggression.

    The Arte crew were three guys and a woman. They pushed her to the ground and ripped off part of her blouse. I don’t think they took it as a sexual aggression, but rather as a vigilante (“agent!”, they screamed too) attack where some tried to take advantage to steal their camera.

  4. I am so troubled by what happened. Will the attackers be brought to justice? I think not. God bless Lara Logan.

  5. Hi Temoris,
    I want to apologize for Rafi’s post, I hadn’t seen it before when I posted and I don’t think he even read what you wrote or is so caught up in some emotional response he isn’t thinking clearly.

    Thank you for providing a little more detail about what you saw, you are correct that “sexual assault” doesn’t neccessarily mean rape, and this was even confirmed by another source (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704409004576146661656309184.html?KEYWORDS=lara+logan ) which also adds that the entire episode took about 20-30 minutes. The language used by CBS is really ambiguous, it’s the words “sustained” and “brutal” mixed with “beating” that make it sound very bad but it is still very open to interpretation which is why I appreciate your efforts to better describe the situation.

  6. Thank you Mike.

    As a Mexican, I’m not used to hot-headed debate on Muslim topics and I’m overwhelmed by the violent debate that’s taken place in the USA, which has become a double attack on Muslims and on women who take on risky tasks as if they had it coming.

    My wonder is: Why was the CBS communiqué so ambiguous about the nature of the attack? And in view that this is being interpreted as rape, why hasn’t it made an effort to clarify what happened?

    I appreciate your comments and your link to this WSJ story, as I was feeling very troubled by the accusations of rape but at the same time, I didn’t have enough elements and I feared somehow hurting an already abused Lara Logan if I made a mistake.

  7. The assault has become very high profile (and exploited by anti-Muslim enfermos) in the U.S. media so your testimony is important, and also very credible.

  8. Pero finalmente ¿no sabemos cual ha sido el verdadero alcance la agresión a Lara Logan?

  9. Pues el comunicado de CBS afirma cosas que no corresponden con lo que pasó y da a entender otras que tampoco son ciertas, a juzgar por los testimonios que he reunido. Estoy tratando de publicar un texto que detalla lo que digo. Cuando salga, avisaré aquí.

  10. Pingback: Lara Logan and CBS don’t care about racism. They’re not helping the women’s cause, either « UBUNTU

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s