Ayman Mohyeldin is an Arab-American journalist based in the Middle East and a correspondent for the English language channel Al Jazeera. He was reporting continuously on the protests from January 26th. On February 6th he was detained by the military for nine hours.
On January 25th I was in Tunisia at the home of Mohammed Bouazizi, the man who had set himself on fire and ignited the protests there. I literally got on the first flight back to Cairo after our protests started.
On Friday 28th I woke up really early and things were very calm. I have covered a lot of big events in my life – Afghanistan, Iraq and Gaza – but for the first time ever, I actually stood in front of the mirror, and with my Blackberry recorded a short will. I felt this was going to be a defining moment in Egypt’s history and no matter what happened I was committed to getting the story, whatever the risk.
When reporting I try to describe things as calmly as possible without exaggeration. I am half Egyptian, I have spent a lot of time in Egypt, a lot of time in America, I have travelled and reported all over the world, and with that experience you become much more capable of comparative analysis. You understand what the protests are about and what’s motivating people. These were protestors from my generation who grew up in Egypt, so they probably experienced a lot of the things I experienced. They probably used a lot of the tools I am using and they probably have a lot of the frustrations that I had as well in Egypt.
We were letting our cameras show the world what was happening as it happened. After all Al Jazeera is the one Arab network that does not have filters; filters to do with respect, loyalty, security, stability, that are beaten into every Arab journalist at a young age. Our duty is to report the truth.
So if that meant the police was using means to suppress the protestors, if the protestors were being peaceful and they were being shot at, or if the protestors were exercising a right that everybody in the world has, we would tell the real story. And on January 28th, this particular force was at times hitting protestors with vans and shooting them with live bullets… and we had to show that to the world. Anybody who is ordering or enabling such acts should be ashamed of themselves. That’s why the government here was in panic mode: how can the world see what we are doing? This is not supposed to be something that the world sees us doing; we are Egypt, we are a country that has millions of tourists. We tell everyone in the world that we are a stable and secure country, we don’t have any problems.
Al Jazeera Arabic soon started getting calls from the Egyptian government demanding that it stop broadcasting. But we were determined. On January 30th Anas El-Fiky of the Egyptian Information Ministry revoked Al Jazeera’s broadcast license and forced the closure of our Cairo bureau. They just came through the doors and physically forced us out of the offices and then turned around and just took us off of Nile Sat, which was unbelievable.
They even started putting pressure on other companies – such as the Associated Press – not to do business with Al Jazeera. We anticipated there was going to be a crack-down on the media and that it was going to be very aggressive towards Al Jazeera. So we moved some of our equipment to an undisclosed location in the city to continue broadcasting live.
At first I was going to Tahrir everyday to report; I also spent a few nights in the Square. On February 6th I was entering Tahrir by myself and the military stopped me and asked me for my ID. I gave the guy my American passport, and I guess he became suspicious. He asked me what I was doing there and I told him I am a journalist. He cordoned me off to one side then came back with two officers and they took me away to this little detention area by the museum.
They blindfolded me, tied my hands behind my back and took away anything that was on me. They sat me down on the pavement, and I ended up being there for nine hours. For five out of the nine hours I was blinfolded. When the blindfold fell they didn’t care. There was some very basic limited interrogation. One man told me they were going to have to transfer me to “intelligence”. I wasn’t really nervous, I was bored and frustrated.
I had it very easy, compared to the people next to me who were being beaten up, harassed and intimidated. I didn’t give the soldiers leeway to be disrespectful to me. I was silent. But the other people were poor, scared and easily exploited. The more they pleaded their innocence, the more violent the soldiers became. They saw it as a sign of weakness. But they weren’t beating them to interrogate them. They were trying to ensure they remained obedient and quiet. A lot of that had to do with how unprofessional some of the soldiers were. It was very pathetic that Egyptians were doing that to other Egyptians. For a solider to leverage his power against someone powerless just because he has a gun is completely inhumane.
Whatever happens in Egypt now, whether the economy or education gets better, whether jobs flourish, or people get more health care, the fundamentals of the relationship between the country and the people hasve changed forever. The people can no longer be treated as the property of the state. The way Mubarak, in his speeches, would refer to the people of Egypt as his children, was very patronising. Everyone should be equal. That’s the most important message of this movement.
There is no single individual right now who has the trust and confidence of the Egyptian people to lead the country. And that’s a good thing because it means whoever wants to run has to earn that trust. They have to prove to Egypt that they deserve the most sacred thing we can give them: our support.