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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Details on the Egyptian riot: Embassy breached, journalists brutally attacked

Al Ahram reports that the Egyptian mob did manage to penetrate the Israel embassy and steal sensitive files:
As I could not see exactly what was happening near that entrance because of crowd numbers, I had to rely on reports from those closer to the building to find out what happened then. Most reports confirmed that an army officer or two in charge of the unit did very little to stop the crowds.

I was able to confirm later that 100-200 people occupied the building and that tens managed to break into the embassy.

Suddenly, around 9pm or so, a small unit of Central Security Forces (CSF), the notorious Egyptian riot police, showed up in the area but did not head towards protesters and instead, made its way 50 metres away from the crowd, leaving soldiers in full riot gear to block the entrance of the Saudi Embassy just around the corner.

At this point, hundreds of young people clashed with riot police up and down the Saudi Embassy side street for about half an hour. Protesters most likely set ablaze two CSF trucks, while a couple of trees also caught fire.

Some walked back from the fresh clashes with several "Made in USA" canisters of tear gas that they snatched from soldiers, and displayed them to the larger crowds.

As a firetruck worked to put out the fire on the Saudi street, CSF soldiers disappeared from the scene and things seemed to calm down in that part of the arena.

Suddenly, at around 10pm or 10:30pm, the skies filled up to a saturation point with thousands of 8” by 11” sheets of paper coming down from the top of the embassy building.

As the papers made their way down slowly onto the pavement, the crowd and I included were first under the impression that the revolutionaries were sending us a photocopied political statement of some sort.

We caught the papers and examined them. It took hundreds of people a few minutes of sorting through them before we realised that we were looking at Israeli Embassy records in Arabic, Hebrew and English.

It began to slowly dawn on us that the people upstairs in the building managed to actually break into the embassy. At this moment the crowd went wild and started pushing and shoving to catch whatever papers were coming down from the heavens.

Those who could not catch fallen documents gathered in hundreds of small groups to read what others caught, and took pictures with mobile phones. I walked from one group of “examiners” to the other trying to look at as many documents as possible.

There were records of phone deals between major Egyptian private and public telecommunications firms and Israel. I also saw documents that listed names of business transactions between the embassy and all sorts of Egyptian authorities, from customs officials to CEOs of tourism firms, bringing Israeli travelers to Egypt, and on and on.

Much of the confetti that was dropping on us dated back to the 1990s and even the 1980s, as its typeset indicated.

The revolutionaries upstairs sent at least six or seven separate sets of documents on us every 10 minutes or so for a whole hour. TV cameras hustled to interview dozens of people with documents that they believed showed the depth of the embassy’s penetration into the economic and political scene in Egypt.

... At this point I lucked out as a “journalist”, you could say. A man in his early 20s, wearing a sleevless T-shirt, and drowned in sweat asked me for a cigarette. He listened to the conversation people were having about the documents and announced to us in a matter of fact manner that he had just come down from the 22nd floor.

He said that it took over two hours for a group made up of dozens of revolutionaries using hammers to demolish the walls and steel entrances to the embassy floor. I asked him to describe to me what the embassy looked like on the inside as a way of vetting the authenticity of his story. Instead, he pulled out a stack of 10 or so plastic-laminated Israeli embassy employee identification cards, with what appeared to be pictures and names of locals who worked in the compound, and said: “See this. That proves I was one of those who stormed the enemy’s house."

Around midnight or so, as thousands were still poring over the documents, battles erupted in a few seconds between a group of protesters and CSF units around the Giza Security Directorate headquarters yards away.

In less than 10 minutes, smoke from tens of tear gas bombs and sounds of bullets filled the air and ended the festive atmosphere. Egypt’s Berlin Wall moment did not last more than a few hours.

Long standing hatred between Egypt’s still intact and widely despised CSF and Cairo’s revolutionaries and poor ushered into one long bloody night of street fighting.

The night of 9 September will go down as the bloodiest few hours that Egypt witnessed since Mubarak’s police rained hell on peaceful protesters on 28 January, three days after the outbreak of this unfinished revolution.
And CNN tells a harrowing story of what happened afterwards:
An angry crowd lingering near the Israeli embassy in Cairo after an attack on the building a day earlier turned on journalists reporting the incident Saturday, accusing at least one of being an Israeli spy.

As a CNN crew filmed the embassy from across the street, another crew from American public television -- led by Egyptian television producer Dina Amer -- approached the building. The crew's Russian cameraman was preparing to film the embassy when a woman in the crowd began hurling insults at the TV team, Amer said.

"There was this older lady who decided to follow me and rally people against me," Amer recalled. "She said 'you're a spy working with the Americans.' Then they swarmed me and I was a target." A growing crowd surrounded Amer and her colleagues, as they tried to leave the scene.

Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, a producer working for CNN, rushed to help escort Amer through the angry crowd. But suddenly the two reporters were pinned against the railing of an overpass by young men who were accusing Amer of being an Israeli spy.

Yelling "I'm Egyptian," Fahmy managed to pull Amer another 10 meters down the road, until the pressure from the mob overwhelmed the pair.

Amer screamed as she and Fahmy were knocked to the ground and the crowd started to trample them. Other CNN journalists tried to reach in to help, but were pushed back by a wall of angry men. Fahmy lay on top of Amer, shielding her with his body.

"I was thinking, how powerless I was because there was no police to save us," Fahmy said. "I was worried that they were going to rape her."

At that moment, a student bystander named Mohammed el Banna called out to the journalists and pointed out a nearby car.

Somehow, Fahmy managed to carry Amer to the open door of the public television crew's car, where two of her female colleagues were waiting just a few feet away.

The mob pounded on the windows and tried to reach into the vehicle as the panicked reporters fumbled and struggled to get behind the steering wheel.

When Margaret Warner, a correspondent with the PBS program "Newshour" managed to get the vehicle moving away from the crowd, men threw stones at the departing vehicle.

Amer had few words to describe the terrifying ordeal.

"They were animals," she said.

Other Egyptian journalists told CNN they were also attacked Saturday while trying to report near the Israeli embassy.

Ahmed Aleiba, a correspondent with Egyptian state television, said he was pursued by civilians and soldiers.

"I had to run because obviously they were targeting journalists," Aleiba said in a phone call with CNN. "They attacked two other TV crews."

"I was in the car getting ready to film. A soldier knocked on the window with his stick and said 'if you don't leave by midnight your car will be destroyed,"" said Farah Saafan, a video journalist with the English-language newspaper Daily News Egypt.
Nothing about journalists being attacked is being reported at The Daily News Egypt, or anywhere else as far as I can tell. (h/t Muqata)