Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Photos & an account of police detention

Protests against hereditary presidential succession [from Mubarak Sr. to Mubarak Jr.] were staged on Tuesday afternoon outside Abdeen Palace and in Tahrir Street in downtown Cairo. An estimated 300 activists protested against this potential succession scenario; while others are said to have conducted similar protests in Alexandria. Over 50 arrests were reported in both cities.

I can only speak of one protest which I witnessed firsthand, just around the corner of Abdeen Palace - on Hassan Alakbar Street. Arriving at 5:20 from Al-Gomhoriya Street, I noticed that police had sealed and blocked-off the entirety of Abdeen Square - where the protest was initially planned.

Police were (legally) obstructing all traffic into and out of the spacious Abdeen Square. Nobody was allowed in or out of this square except the police and those being arrested and dumped into blue prisoner-transport trucks parked within.

Upon arrival I saw plain clothed policemen/pigs tugging at three activists, beating them along the way, and taking them to the trucks parked inside the square.

Just around the corner, on Hassan Alakbar Street, a small group of activists from the April 6th Youth Movement - only around a dozen - were being tightly cordoned by over 50 black-clad riot police (conscripts.) The activists were sealed in for more than three hours with just enough space between them to stand up shoulder-to-shoulder.

Despite these pressing conditions the youth activists had enough courage to spay-paint an anti-Mubarak slogan - La lel tawreeth (No to hereditary succession) - on the wall behind them.

I only had enough time to take five photos. I was taking a photo of a small group of protesters, primarily young women who were walking towards the square while chanting anti-Mubarak slogans. It was then that a plain-clothed pig wearing (bad-ass) sunglasses pulled me by the elbow and shouted "photography is not allowed!"

I told him I was a journalist - but to no avail in this police-state. He directed me to his commanding officer, a pot-bellied uniformed brigadier general. The general asked asked me where I worked. He demanded to see my press card. While pulling it out of my bag the officer noticed my passport and asked to see it. The pot-bellied pig took my card and passport and glanced through them.

He asked me for "my film;" I told him "I don't use film, I use a card." He replied: "give me your camera." I told him "Sorry, I can't do that." The officer threateningly informed me that he'll take me and my camera to Qasr el-Nile Police Station.

I replied to the big pig "I'm here to take photos, if you're here to arrest people go ahead. But I can't give you my camera." He then ordered his subordinate pig to hold me at the street corner until he made his calls to the bigger pigs.

Some ten minutes later another plain-clothed police officer approached me on the street corner and demanded my memory card and camera. I told him "sorry, I can't give you my camera or my card because I need them for work." He insisted that I hand over the camera, I insisted otherwise.

Surprisingly he didn't make an attempt to tug at the camera dangling around my neck. He just walked off and left me there - waiting for my personal IDs. I waited on the sidewalk for nearly three hours until the dozen protesters on the opposite sidewalk were released one by one.

Although they were kettled-in for over three hours, these protesters intermittently chanted slogans against the ruling regime and its oppression of the Egyptian populace. Sometimes they would climb onto each other's shoulders as they chanted and waved the flag of Egypt and the black flag of the April 6th Youth Movement.

A street cleaner was brought in to paint over their graffiti. He covered the graffiti while the activists were still within the tight cordon.

A handful of activists attempted to throw water-bottles over the cordon to their comrades within but were immediately shoved away by plain clothed pigs. Only two small bottles landed inside the kettle.

Curious bystanders were brushed away by plain clothed policemen, while two photographers and a camera crew were harassed and threatened with arrest. One of the photographers was violently shoved-away from the protest site.

I spent the course of these nearly three hours, sending text messages, smoking, and overhearing the conversations of senior pigs seated nearby. One pig told the other that he didn't understand why these kids were protesting.

"Gamal Mubarak is ideal for the presidency. He's already got his belly full, so he doesn't need to steal from the government or the people." I felt like vomiting.

At the end of this experience with Egypt's finest pigs - as the activists were gradually being released from their kettle - I managed to retrieve my passport and press card. Nothing was confiscated, no photos were erased.

While sending me off, a junior officer told me that he was sorry to keep me waiting all this time; but "we have orders, that today no photography is allowed in this area."

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