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Media Crackdown: Democracy Now!’s Sharif Abdel Kouddous Reports from Tahrir Square on the Systematic Targeting of Journalists in Egypt

StoryFebruary 07, 2011
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Reporting on the Egyptian uprising has been not only difficult, but even dangerous for many domestic and foreign journalists. Tactics used against media workers include cutting phone lines, repeated arrests and detention, harassment, the seizure of equipment and intimidation. The first fatality of a journalist was also reported last week. Democracy Now! senior producer Sharif Abdel Kouddous speaks with journalists in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. He also visits a media tent set up by activists to collect reports from people on the streets. [includes rush transcript]

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StoryFeb 02, 2011Voices of the Egyptian Revolution: Democracy Now!’s Sharif Abdel Kouddous Speaks with Demonstrators in Tahrir Square at “March of Millions”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Uprising in Egypt, it’s day 14. Let’s turn now to a report from Sharif Abdel Kouddous on the crackdown on journalists in Egypt over the last two weeks. He spoke with reporters in Tahrir Square about their experience on the ground.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: It’s Sunday in Tahrir. Last night, people camped out here in the rain, in defiance yet again of a military curfew. An army general took to the stage for the first time and asked the people to leave Tahrir. They yelled back in defiance, “We’re not leaving until he leaves.” And that certainly seems the case today. There are more tents here than I have ever seen in Tahrir. More elaborate shelters have been built, and there’s more creative street art that’s happening on the ground. Someone had painted a face of Mubarak on the floor. Someone had spelled out “Leave” in Arabic, spelled out in cups, and “Go” in English. One protester stopped me as I was walking by and explained why the longer they wait, the stronger they become.

DR. ALI EL MASHAD: The more delay or the more late his decision to go away is, the more creative and more beautiful is the revolution. So, I want him to give us some more time to do or to make a more beautiful revolution.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: There’s been a crackdown on journalists over the past few days here in Egypt. Several journalists have been detained. Some have been beaten. One has even been killed. Reporters have been stopped, their footage taken and scanned. It’s been harder and harder to get into Tahrir with a camera. We spoke to several journalists here in the square and asked them about this crackdown.

DANA SMILLIE: My name is Dana Smillie. I’m a still photographer, videographer, I guess multimedia journalist-type person. I’ve lived in Cairo for 15 years. And the last 12 days have been the most exhilarating and the most terrifying 12 days of my life. I live about a 10-minute walk from here, but I can’t get their right now from here.


DANA SMILLIE: It’s the pro-Mubarak people kind of block the way. They’re not nice to run into. So, it’s just been weird walking around. Like, you wake up in the morning and you’re really just not sure what it’s going to be like out on the square. Is it going to be safe? Is it going to be dangerous? Wednesday afternoon, I was in Talaat Harb, where — or I was near where I live, you know, 10 minutes away from the square, when all hell broke loose down here. I was editing a package for Finnish television. I was on deadline, so we didn’t go out. And people kept calling me. They were like, “Do not come out. Do not come out. Do not come out.” My house guest, who’s a photographer from outside, a guy who was staying with me, got trapped down here for two days.

STEFFEN JENSEN: Yeah, my name is Steffen Jensen. I work for TV2 Denmark. On the first day of where the violence started, it started sort of in the afternoon. I was attacked over on the bridge here behind the museum by a group of Mubarak supporters. And I was beaten, but was rescued by soldiers at the foot of that same bridge.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And have you felt threatened as a journalist since Wednesday?

STEFFEN JENSEN: Yeah. Not today. Today is the first day I feel that it’s much more relaxed. But the other days since Wednesday, I have been threatened, I mean actually threatened every single day. Not in here, not in the square. In here, we are welcomed very much by people. But outside, when you meet the Mubarak supporters, they are very upset with us, I imagine — I imagine, because the state television have said that we are spies and we are the reason for this, so we are seen as a party. It’s very unpleasant, because normally, as a journalist, you are able to cover both sides, and they accept you as not a part of the conflict; now we’ve become a part, which is unpleasant, because I also would like to talk to the Mubarak supporters, because I think they have a legitimate point of view that I would like to cover. But right now they threaten me, and they do not allow me to actually get their voice.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: How do they threaten you?

STEFFEN JENSEN: Well, the first day, they beat me. The first day, they beat me. The other days, you know, every time they find out you’re a journalist, they will pursue you. I have started to say that I’m something else, you know? And today is the first day I walk with a camera. The other days I’ve just been reporting on the telephone, out of fear of being attacked again.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Have you ever considered leaving because of these threats?

STEFFEN JENSEN: Yes, I have. I have. But then — yesterday I didn’t go out at all. Yesterday I just sat in the hotel, which is not my job. My job is to be here, to see what happens. My job is also to be over there with them, although they hate me, because no matter if I agree or disagree, no matter if they agree with me, my job is to report what they say, what they think.

MOHAMED ALASSOUTI: My name is Mohamed Alassouti. I’m an independent filmmaker.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: You’re carrying your camera. Has it been harder for you to carry a camera around and to film and to take pictures since Wednesday?

MOHAMED ALASSOUTI: No, I am lucky because basically I have my friends and colleagues. They live downtown. So they kept — I can keep the camera here. I can keep the camera in Tahrir. But I have friends who have been stopped outside by police forces in plainclothes even until, you know, like two days ago and so forth. They would stop people. They would search them. They would search their mobile phones. They would search the laptops. This is at a time when the new prime minister and the vice president are promising that they are not preventing the protests and they’re not arresting people. So they were actually stopping people and still arresting them.

Every time that there are signs of protests or demonstrations and so forth, there are like a crackdown on journalists. But this time, they added to it cutting down the internet for almost a week, cutting down SMS messages until today, cutting down the phone lines, the cell phone lines, starting Friday the 28th, and also preventing the satellite channels, you know, like from airing — you know, like on 9-SAT, like Al Jazeera, they removed it from 9-SAT. They attacked journalists like Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, and their offices. All the time, you get journalists attacked by thugs or government thugs. Also, they target them. They target foreign-looking people. And what I understand is also that they prevent the foreign-looking people from — or Western-looking people from entering here. And this, they still continue doing it until this very minute, because they want to give the impression to the media, to you guys, that the people who are carrying out this revolution are jihadists, are fundamentalists, which is not the case. So they want to scare away as many of the Western-looking or the liberal-looking people away from Tahrir Square as much as possible.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: The protest encampment here in Tahrir is becoming more and more elaborate, more of a living space, more of a protest space. And one of the things that has been set up in the middle of Tahrir to archive what’s been happening with the shutdown of the internet and so forth has been a media center in a tent in the middle of Tahrir Square.

AMR GHARBEIA: My name is Amr Gharbeia. I’ve been sitting here in this spot for the past nine days now. And with a number of people, we have set up an operation that would collect all the video, pictures about the oppression of the police during the days when there were the clashes on the 25th and 28th and on the following days. That was the time when the internet was not — people could not upload things to the internet, so we thought that maybe we would collect, consolidate all that material and actually hand it out on a CD or on a flash disk to television and journalists so that word can get out about the amount of oppression that took place.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: So how does it work? People come to you with their footage, and you copy it?

AMR GHARBEIA: Yeah. We have a sign. We have a laptop and a converter for a number of flash memory chips. And people would come in. They dump their footage. Actually, we have no time to sift through it and look at it. We have compiled a huge amount of footage and pictures, and gradually we are filtering those and uploading them to the internet.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And are you staying here, until when?

AMR GHARBEIA: Well, the consensus in the square is that we stay until he goes. And I think this is showing more — people are showing more resilience. And I’ve been away for less than 24 hours, and I came back to find this place looking more like a permanent camp. So, there are more tents. There are more shelters. And people seem to be enjoying themselves.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: It’s clear the people of Tahrir are not going anywhere. They have made this place their home, their hope for a new Egypt that they are continuing to fight for. They have set up an encampment here that looks very permanent. They say they won’t leave until Hosni Mubarak leaves. There’s even going to be a wedding held here tonight. And despite the crackdown, despite the brutality that was launched against them, they continue to want to speak out, to have their voices heard, to have their faces seen to the world. They want the world to know that they’re standing up for their rights and that they are going to continue to fight for them.

I’m Sharif Abdel Kouddous, with Hany Massoud, for Democracy Now!

AMY GOODMAN: Journalists in Tahrir over the weekend. We hope to be joined by Shahira Amin later this week about why she resigned from state-run Nile TV. Unfortunately, she couldn’t make it to our Cairo studio today. But that’s where Sharif is.

Sharif Abdel Kouddous, last words?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Amy, just a brief update. The latest word that I’ve gotten, unconfirmed so far, but that all journalists now entering Tahrir have to have permission from the Ministry of Interior. They have to go to the Ministry of Interior, register with their photos, and wait to get permission before they can enter Tahrir. I’m going to go find that out right now, but that’s the latest news I’ve heard.

AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, thanks so much for being with us. We’ll continue with Sharif tomorrow on Democracy Now! in our special “Uprising in Egypt.” And you can read his blog posts and his tweets, as well as Anjali Kamat’s, at

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Voices of the Egyptian Revolution: Democracy Now!’s Sharif Abdel Kouddous Speaks with Demonstrators in Tahrir Square at “March of Millions”

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