Egypt: ‘the man staring at me made a throat-slitting gesture’
The conventional wisdom goes, when it’s too dangerous to film on the streets, you can always do an interview with someone inside a building.
Not in Alexandria you can’t. Not today.
We had arranged to interview a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood in his apartment, but the neighbours – sitting by the door on the street, snarled like guard dogs when we arrived. They didn’t want foreigners inside their building, they said, and saw us off.
We retreated down the street to our car. A group of young men approached, armed with baseball bats, sticks and machetes. They were the neighbourhood Popular Committee.
For the past few days, these groups have been smiling and friendly to us but this lot started shouting and banging on the roof of our car. They demanded to see our passports.
I think I know why. Last night and today, Egyptian state TV had been broadcasting of Israeli spies disguised as western journalists roaming the country.
It’s a wicked rumour to spread because it puts any westerner – or any Egyptian working with westerners – at risk of a beating or worse. It’s cynical to say the least.
This government did a deal with Israel, but it still stirs up anti-Zionist feelings when it suits and that’s one reason so many journalists have been attacked in Cairo today.
Yesterday, our mob experience was worse. We were trying to get a shot from the window of our car as we passed the military headquarters where families were queuing to get news of relatives who had been arrested during the demonstrations.
Someone spotted us and didn’t like it – whereupon a screaming crowd of about sixty descended upon us. Banging on the car, trying to drag us out and reaching through the open windows of the front to hit our driver and cameraman.
I clamped my left hand on the old fashioned stick lock on the back door and dug the nails of my right hand into the arms reaching around trying to force it open.
I looked at the baying mob through the window and the man staring at me made a throat-slitting gesture.
We were grateful to be arrested by the military who managed to calm the crowd after about 10 minutes.
And this is nothing to what colleagues have witnessed and experienced in Cairo. Why are passions so volatile here? Partly because political expression has been repressed for so long, I suppose, and because people are frustrated with the lack of freedom in their lives.
Also, because conspiracy theories are so widely circulated and believed. When you have a government that’s as un-transparent and hypocritical as this one, no wonder people don’t know what to believe.
The result is that anti-government protestors give credence to government propaganda that journalists are all spies out to destroy Egypt.
There were protests in Alexandria today, but we didn’t film them – for obvious reasons. There haven’t been any major clashes as it seems that pro-government supporters haven’t been able to attack the anti-government groups in the same way they have in Cairo.
We are holed up in a safe place where we can see the place where people are expected to gather for more protests tomorrow. But we’re unlikely to venture out to see if they still think we’re Israeli spies.