Journalists in Egypt – domestic and foreign – are increasingly under siege, with Egyptian authorities detaining reporters and gangs of young men roaming the streets looking for anyone with camera equipment.
Some of the pressure has come from the government: Six Al Jazeera journalists were detained for several hours earlier this week, and while they were eventually released, their equipment remains with the police.
Earlier on Thursday concerns were raised as another three reporters went missing. They have now returned, safe and well, to their hotel.
Two New York Times reporters were reportedly arrested – or “taken into protective custody”, as the government termed it.
‘Israeli spy’ rumours
Spotters stand outside many hotels, watching balconies with high-powered binoculars. When they see balconies with camera equipment or photographers, they use radios to call in the details.
Egyptian police sources say that information from those spotters has been used to conduct several raids on journalists’ hotel rooms in recent days.
And the government has reportedly pressured several hotels not to extend the reservations of foreign journalists.
But most of the intimidation and violence has come from unofficial sources: Young men loiter outside the hotels where many reporters are staying, shouting at (and sometimes attacking) anyone with equipment.
Hotel lobbies are filled with journalists and camera crews wearing bandages, and many have been restricted to watching the events in Tahrir Square from their hotel balconies.
Egyptian state television has actively tried to foment the unrest by reporting that “Israeli spies” have infiltrated the city – which explains why many of the gangs who attack reporters shout “yehudi!” (“Jew!”).
The area around Tahrir Square has become a virtual no-go zone for camera crews, which were assaulted on Wednesday almost as soon as they entered the area controlled by supporters of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
Several of them were mistaken for Al Jazeera crews, and were chased off by young men wielding sticks and chanting, “Jazeera! Jazeera!”.
Al-Jazeera, which has been targeted by Egyptian authorities for its round-the-clock coverage of the events, said pro-Mubarak demonstrators chased away one of its correspondents, calling him “a Jew” and “a dog”.
Mubarak and his government may call us dogs, but last time I looked, he is the one in the doghouse.