By Témoris Grecko
I witnessed part of the mob attack against CBS’s Lara Logan at Cairo’s Tahrir square on the evening of Friday, February 11th. I was struck when I read CBS’s February 15th communiqué describing the attack as a “brutal and sustained sexual attack”, and attributing her rescue to “a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers.” This account does not fit with what I, and others, witnessed.
The TV network’s communiqué, which came rather late, as noted by Richard Cohen in The Washington Post, was promptly interpreted by many in the international media to mean rape, and in these terms it became a debate that soon adopted racist and sexist overtones. Egyptian and Muslim men are portrayed as wild beasts and Islam as an inherently violent religion. Attractive women, many commentators have said, should avoid taking on risky tasks, and if they insist, then they had it coming.
I was buying tea from a vendor in Tahrir with two friends, Amr Fekry, a 26 year old Egyptian call center agent, and Andi Walden, a San Francisco political science student. Then we heard the noise and saw the mob coming. A blonde woman, neatly dressed with a white coat, was being dragged and pushed. It didn’t seem to me she was panicking, but rather trying to control the situation. They passed us in an moment. They were yelling “agent!, agent!”
I tried to run to intervene, but some Egyptians I didn’t know prevented me from doing it. There was nothing I could do and, as a foreign journalist, I’d surely end up being accused of being an agent too, and attacked. Fekry did go there and dissapeared into the crowd, 50 or 100 people strong.
Later I spoke with two young male activists who helped the person I later learned was Lara Logan (I didn’t know her before, I don’t usually follow US networks). They were Omar El Shennawy, a 21 year old teacher of English, and Abdulrahman Elsayed, a 25 year old teacher of physical education. They said they had formed a human chain with other young men to protect Logan, and then delivered her to the Egyptian Museum military post.
When I read CBS’s story and it’s interpretation by other media outlets, I felt troubled. It seemed misleading. “It didn’t make sense to me”, said Benjamin Starr, from Boston who arrived as a tourist on January 24th, and stayed to witness the uprising. He also saw the mob pass by with Lara Logan. “I want to give her the benefit of the doubt, maybe something happened in another part of the square, but from what I saw, she was being taken by men to the soldiers, and her clothes were not torn off. There were no women, I didn’t see a single woman in the crowd around her.”
Similarly, in hearing the CBS’s communiqué, Amr Fekry wrote on my Facebook wall: “It’s a little bit ridiculous what we hear that she was raped in Tahrir!! We were there! You remember she was about two meters away from us when we were buying tea! Maybe someone harassed her, but she ran and people protected her from being hit! I tried to go and help her but many people pushed me hard to go away as they thought I was trying to hit her. The only thing that some people only thought she was an Israeli spy!”
(Paragraph deleted here, please see note below.)
I went to ask Abdulrahman Elsayed, and he related a similar account. “I was in front of her, one metre away. This was after I saw her running with a man beside her. They stopped, maybe because someone blocked their way. We formed a human chain to protect her. Only young people, 10 or 15, all men. We surrounded her. People behind us were pushing and trying to grab her, someone might have touched her. I saw her top was uneven. There was a women and children’s tent (Tahrir sq. had become a campsite) and we tried to take her there, but we couldn’t because of the pressure. Someone had a taser and he held it high, making electric noises and threatening the attackers. He told them to move away. So we could go to the Museum’s military post and deliver her to the soldiers. Then we stood there blocking the people who tried to follow her. We brought her two doctors, first a young male, then an older female. The doctor and Lara were the only women around.”
The Wall Street Journal established that there had been no rape. But the CBS has so far refused to make any further clarification as to what actually happened, according to their story: “The separation and assault lasted for roughly 20 to 30 minutes, said a person familiar with the matter, who added that it was ‘not a rape.’ A CBS News spokesman declined to comment beyond the statement”.
As of today, three days after the CBS’s communiqué was released, a hot-headed public debate on Egyptians, Muslims and women, rages on sparked by what may or may not have happened to Lara Logan in Tahrir Square. I didn´t witness what happened to Lara Logan before I saw the mob coming, nor did the other witnesses I have spoken with. But this attack raises a lot of questions that need to be answered by CBS, or, better, by Logan herself.
NOTE: The person I was quoting in the deleted paragraph felt “shocked” by the way some people are commenting what this interviewee said. Therefore, this person asked me to erase this testimony because she didn’t want “my words to be used in other ways”.
UPDATE 12 MARCH 2011:
Agnes Rajacic, a Hungarian female journalist who covered the events and spent a lot of time in Tahrir sq., has an original take regarding Logan’s affaire (read her full article here):
“Recent reports about young Egyptians do reveal escalating social problems together with sexual frustration. But the question is whether, without showing evidence, we can suppose that young revolutionaries wanted to satisfy their sexual frustration at the same time as fighting and dying for freedom?
“After three weeks of wondering about this dark episode of the Egyptian revolution, I think that there are many ways to become a victim. We have the option to turn in anger against the whole Egyptian youth. Or — in a perhaps more sophisticated approach — we can disclose the details of our assault, hence assisting the investigation regarding those particular people who committed them. I invite Lara Logan to join me in choosing the second option.”
UPDATE MAY 5TH 2011:
Lara Logan spoke on TV about what happened in Tahrir. Find my stance here.