Category: middle east

Peter Schurmann

Lessons from the Hiker Saga

By Peter Schurmann, Sep 22, 2011 10:02 AM

Ed. Note: The following is a brief Q&A conducted with Joel Simon of the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York on the release of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal after two years in an Iranian prison. Bauer had worked as a correspondent for New America Media prior to his detention.

What lessons can we take from the two-year detention of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal in terms of protecting journalists in the future?

The circumstances of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal's arrest and detention are highly unusual. Neither was on assignment when they were arrested, and they were not targeted because of their journalism. It's therefore very difficult to draw any lessons other than the obvious one: The Iranian justice system is cruel and perverse. We should not forget the dozens of Iranian journalists who remain in jail and who are subject to regular abuse.

How do you think Bauer's being a freelance journalist impacted the course of events surrounding the hikers' detention?


I don’t see any impact. My understanding is that they were on a recreational hiking trip in Kurdistan when they accidentally strayed across the border into Iran. We spoke on Bauer's behalf to dispel accusations that he was a spy. Shane was -- and is -- a well-established journalist who was living and working the region.

How would you describe American attitudes toward the case of Bauer and Fatal?

No question that it was a struggle to get Americans to understand their situation. Most Americans do not go hiking in Iraqi Kurdistan. But if you live and work in the region, and Shane did, you know that Kurdistan is a scenic and safe area.

Do you agree with those who say that America's detention of journalists, most notably that of Al Jazeera reporter Sami al Haj, has set a precedent for governments or non-state actors to use members of the media as pawns in international maneuvering?

The unjust detention of Sami Al-Haj at Guantanamo represents a blot on the U.S.'s press freedom record. But I don't think it played any role in Shane and Josh's prolonged detention, which was based primarily on the political calculations of the Iranian government.

In light of Bauer and Fatal's release, what advice would you offer journalists looking to enter into conflict zones or other potentially risky areas?

Again, it's impossible to generalize from Shane and Josh's experience since as far as we know they were not on assignment and were not detained for their journalism. Obviously, journalists need to exercise caution and prudence when covering stories that involve danger. At the same time, we need to recognize that covering certain critical stories requires risk and we need to support journalists who put themselves in harm's way to bring us the news from the frontlines.

Parvez Sharma

"My friend, Mahmoud Maher, a doctor was killed at Tahrir Square"

By Parvez Sharma, Feb 5, 2011 10:47 AM



At 1:15 am Cairo time on Saturday morning I spoke to my friend Ghassen. His friend was killed at Tahrir Square during the 24 hours of horrific violence we all saw on Feb 1st and 2nd. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time someone has been able to put a name and back-story to a person killed by the regime during this unfolding revolution.



English is not Ghassen’s first language so I have taken the liberty of creating complete sentences from our fragmented conversation, partially in Arabic to enable easy reading. I have no way to confirm the details of this death, but I know Ghassen revealed his friend’s name after some hesitation. (With confirmed reports I have from friends now that the regime is “trolling” the internet, I am also changing his name. Ghassen is not his real name)



Me: How are you feeling

G: I am OK but my country NOT OK, Parvez…I hope people are getting this message about Mubarak Dictator. Mubarak is corrupt and his people are corrupt. I am sad.



Me: Did you go to Tahrir today as well like other days?

G: Yes I did. Ofcourse yaani. Today started after salat elgom3a. It was very powerful. Even the sheikh was crying when he were praying. I prayed too. But I am Muslim, but my Islam are free. Many of my friends are Coptic. They not pray but they protect us.



Me: Every time the praying times end, people seem to feel new energy and start chanting again, right?

G: Yes. Parvez-2 million people say this word in Arabic. ارحـــــــل



Me: Erhal, Leave?

G: Yes. I felt so strong when I pray there today. But also very sad because I remember how friends I lost through this revolution.



Me: Wait! One of your friends died?

G: Yes one of my friends-he is doctor. He was in Tahrir. He was treated patients. His name Mahmoud. People from Mubarak system going to our place, where we standing with horses and Jamel..holding weapons…they hit him on his head many times. He died. But we are peaceful revolution. We did not have any weapons. And through that night also they came from Mubarak system…they want to put us out of Square Tahrir…The fuckn bad system. We lost this night I think 10 people and there were 1000 patients, who hurt. It was night of February 2nd. Night was Magzara. It was massacre night. I donn know if u undersatnd me or not maybe have bad english



Me: I understand. Tell me more about Mahmoud please. It is also important to know his full name because he is already gone, what can they do to him anymore. No one has been able to name people who died you know. Did you go to his funeral? I know this is difficult to talk about. Please forgive me. But it is important.



Me: Are you there? Silence…Can you please tell me his full name…this is important Habibi…



G: His name Mahmoud Maher. I was not there at the moment he killed. I was on my way home. My friends called me to tell. Yes I went to his funeral. It is at Masjed Rabba. It was Mubarak people ofcourse that kill him. They are paid a lot of money to kill us that day.



Me: How are you feeling about all this.

G: I am shock Parvez. I just wake up and go Tahrir and I am shock.



Me: You still live near Heliopolis? Near Mubarak palace?

G: Yes I live in Nozha. You know Masr el Gadida. Near Hosni Mubarak home.

Masr el gadida. Why you asking this question?



Me: Because cameras have been so focused on Tahrir. We have seen no images from that area really. That is all, trust me…



G: OK..yes it is clam place. People have good life so you can see nice car. Calm place, not crowded. No police but you know Mubarak live there so they must save by a lot of Egyptian armys.



Me: Its far from Tahrir. How do you get to downtown everyday?

G: I take taxi. There are taxi when no curfew is happening. I think Parvez we doing the right thing. The Mubarak system are loses. Mubarak should leave now and then in six months we move our system to another in calm way.



Me: Do u think people will give up fighting? Feel exhausted? Tired?

G: Nooooo! There is a lack of confidence in the system lost its legitimacy and Hosni…we have to save our requests if Mubrak will do that or not we dont know yet



Me: How does your heart feel my friend?

G: I feel Square Tahrer is here if he lie or something happen wrong we will going there again …but for now feel we have to start work



Me: Wait so you are saying you want to go back to work and not protest?

G: No .... Mubarak know our requests ....and he get the lesson…if he lie or bad thing happen we will back again to square…donn know yet really am so confused…mubarak he lost his legitimacy from 25-1…why he donn leave egypt

why he still…no one support him…no one like him…no one want him…

people talk here he want to save his money till going out …but I do want to go to work…I go to work and then I join people in Tahrir…tomorrow…



Me: I know. My other friends say they also want to go back to work but also don’t know if they should leave Tahrir to go back to work. Listen how did Tahrir feel like today?



G: Tahrir? Heart of Egypt. Really, Heart of Egypt.

Me: That is true. You said it in three words my friend ;-)

G: No, it true…Layers of Egypt and Dr. workers, professors, judges, Muslims and Christians adults and children…Imagine 2 million people say leave mubarak at one voice…2 million voice Parvez …I have lived one year in one week…No…I feel I am born again…I donn know why media from all the world donn send our voice



Me: No they are. They are sending everyone’s voice. You have no idea how much they are sending the voice.



G: Anyhow it is late. I am so tired. I will go to work and will back after work to square…My work in Zamalk near Tahrer square…and Parvez so much happening in rest of country too—even women were raped in villages on that night…and from Alex there is 2 million going out too…in Aswan there's like 200000



Me: Go to sleep now…Yalla…shukran Habibi…stay safe ;-))



G: Yes. I go now. Please send me interview when they publish on my email. I want to see and show my friends.



Me: Promise.

Parvez Sharma

On the Phone With an Egyptian in the Middle of It All

By Parvez Sharma, Jan 29, 2011 8:49 PM



My friend Yousry is in his late twenties. He and his wife would be considered affluent because they live in Zamalek. But like so many others, because all barriers of class have fallen away—he has been on the streets for the last 48 hours. He just returned home in Zamalek after patrolling the streets of the neighborhood with his prized Syrian sword that used to just hang up as souvenir in their living room. He had never thought he would have to take it off the wall and actually try to use it to defend his neighbors and his family. He did like to show it off at our late night parties in his apartment.

I have spent the last half an hour with him talking fron his landline at home. This is his powerful account, unedited by me, of each and every moment of the last 48 hours as he experienced it. For a moment I wished that he was live on air on Al-Jazeera or CNN saying all of this—but then I realized that it is better for him to talk to a trusted friend and he perhaps would not say all of this to mainstream news media hungry for sound-bites. I am not going to provide his phone number or his real name to any journalists. He needs to get up in the morning, if he can sleep tonight and go back out.

His wife and he and all his family members have smart phones. They are not tweeting, because they cannot and because no media organization is offering them backing or information on proxy servers to get online.

To me, what he describes is more powerful than anything I have heard on television, with the endless parade of pundits or the unfortunate tendency of even Al-Jazeera (which is doing some great reportage, no doubt) to have their reporters climb up high in tall buildings to show us wide shots of the immensity of the Egyptian revolution.

Yousry is one of those citizens in the middle of the chaos who reporters are not talking to as much as they need to.

Here he is in his own words, unedited and certainly not talking in soundbites. (I have spent some time cleaning up my hurried notes and correcting grammar/punctuation as much as I could.)

His voice sounds very hoarse—I feel guilty but press him on anyway. It sounds like he has inhaled way too much smoke and tear-gas.

Me: Yousry how are you and please if its not asking too much can you just start talking about everything you saw and are feeling. Pretend that you are on my couch or something and that I am some New York shrink.

Y: Ha Ha! That is funny. OK here goes. BTW I am having some Scotch now. I think I need it Yaani. I was in the protest all day yesterday and I started at 6th of October bridge—you remember? You were here so many times—it’s just a short walk from Zamalek?

Me: Of course, I remember, and btw yesterday all day the Al Jazeera reporter had his cameraperson focused on the bridge—so we basically saw it all live. He had a running commentary throughout.

Y: Ha ha! He should have come down and talked to us Yaani. But I am glad that they showed it to the world. I have had no time to watch TV. It’s a luxury—you can either stay at home and get drunk and stare at the TV or you can join everybody out there!I was shocked at how diverse the turnout was. There were so many people from Zamalek and you know how people from Zamalek usually are.

Me: Ha! Like drinking and having all-night parties?


Y: Yes yalla! No one from the Ikhwan was there or any of the organized political parties. It was about 1:30 pm or so I think. Even if any of us picked up a rock to throw at the police everyone yelled Selmya! Selmya [*Selmya means peaceful] and Parvez believe me that till before this bastard gave his speech yesterday that was the word I heard most often on the streets. We were peaceful till 4 or 4:30 I think. Then these police fuckers started shooting these pellets and it suddenly became very difficult to control the injured protesters or their friends. I think the violence must have started around 5 pm—I was not keeping track of time—was not wearing my watch and phone was in my pocket, not working anyway

Me: Were you hit?

Y: Almost, but Inshaallah it just went by me. And then these guys pretty close to me and hurt started throwing molotovs. I didn’t even know till then that they had them. They started stopping cars…

M: And the police?

Y: You must understand this…its important because its been a mix of these thugs and cops since yesterday—most of the thug types who are doing most of the attacks are prisoners who have been released by that bastard Mubarak in return for their services to beat up civilians.

Me: And the army?

Y: Till then there was no army—and then when finally they came and people cheered this one tank—it looked liked they were hesitant to use force. I actually came back home after the violence started—just walked back on 6th of October past these guys setting a police van on fire. I have a wife, family to think of.

Me: I know. I am so glad you are still OK man…today?

Y: I went to tahrir today with other friends at about 11 am and by 2 pm or so we were by the TV station near the Corniche…

Me: Yes, I remember that. I once stayed at the Ramses Hilton right next to it. There was also a small shopping mall there. That’s the one right?

Me: Hey, a lot of guys here have been saying that this revolution is all about the success of social networking? I mean I guess up to a point they are right because someone like me sitting here is tweeting obsessively with updates I am getting from anyone I can reach on a landline really—but is this true?

Y: It's bullshit…I mean, I agree that in the beginning, around the 25th. Twitter did play some kind of role because people were able to throw around ideas on it. But come on—even that! How many fucking people in Cairo you think would know how to use the damn thing or even the damn Internet—and even if they knew how many do you think would have easy access to a computer with a reliable internet connection? I mean, it's bullshit…

Me: I am so glad you are saying this. I thought I am the only fucking idiot repeating this like a fucking parrot.

Y: You said it? Great man! I have no fucking idea anyway about what you are saying? I haven’t bloody seen Facebook or Twitter in a fucking while now…

Me: Man, this is all so fucked up.

Y: Tayyib of course yaani—you see now since yesterday and even Thursday actually after they shut it all down—it is self explanatory—it doesn’t matter anymore—Twitter and all that shit—no one has it anywayI guess maybe some journalist types can still do it? I have no idea on how to get on the fucking internet and I am pretty good at this shit—so if I don’t know—how can others be tweeting--so everywhere u go, Parvez, today there are thousands of people now its come to that…All of Tahrir has been filled with so many people—I have never seen so many people—Tanks were standing at the entrance of Tahrir facing each other as I walked towards it today—All I could hear was this amazing chant that made me so fucking happy—“Alshab Aldesh Eid Wahada” you know…it means “The people and the soldiers are one…”

Me: Alhamdullilah

Y: You still haven’t given up your religious bullshit, I see…and then as we walked closer these soldiers on these tanks were holding like these small bouquets of tube roses I think…some of them were giving like a thumbs up to all of us…I even took photographs which ofcourse I cant fucking email you—but some of the tanks had “Yasqut Hosni Mubarak” spray painted on them…You know Yasqut is like Fall…

They were holding small bouquets of tuberoses

Me: I don’t remember if I saw any images of that? But I am sure there must be…


Y: Yes and then people started clapping in Tahrir and as we walked deeper into this crowd—and Parvez it was amazing…they were people who were carrying an army officer on their shoulders he was holding up his fist…the soldier and people started chanting….because the army officer was chantin

Me: What was the soldier chanting?

Y: I couldn’t hear him…there was just so much noise and smoke and then we started chanting you know the slogan of the last few days…The people will the fall of the government…and we were chanting that and this group of older guys stopped us! And said no the chant has changed now it is The People will the Fall of the President. Amazing man, do you get it? They are making sure that there is no ambiguity anymore after his scam speech from last night…and his fucking new “government” lies…

Me: wow…

Y: and ya today you know I felt Muslim Brotherhood presence for first time—these are what we call the beards you know—they made their way to the front of the protest near me where students were leading—and this elderly man in his 60’s was holding up a flag–he started chanting Allahu Akbar—and the students started

“Muslameen Mesiheen Kolina Masreen” you know… “Muslims Christians we are all Egyptians”

Me: I cant believe it—everyone is saying that the Copts have been looking after the backs of the Muslims when they are praying in mosques, man…it's just fucking unbelievable especially after all that drama a few weeks ago…

Y: yes! And then we heard fire shots from a distance— and these two bodies covered in shrouds were carried in like a ganaza procession, you know…

Me: I think I saw a YouTube video of that…ya they were reciting the Salatuljanaza…the funeral namaz…

Y: Yes. And then this ambulance kind of pulled up and the guy in it yelled out…that he had another martyr and that all three had been killed while they were at that fucking Ministry of Interior which you know everyone has been trying to occupy…you know Parvez how much that bloody MOI is hated in this country…

Me: I know…I know and now second only to Mubarak, I guess.

Y: And, yes, then all these guys were carrying 3 bodies through the crowd and everyone was praying the Genaza…literally everyone….even me…

Me: Ha! So you know the Genaza and you are calling me mr. religious bullshit!


Y: Ha ha! Well I was taught well man…anyway I left Tahrir by 4:30 or 5 I think…You know Parvez…you must understand this…people were initially happy it was Omar Soliman who was going to be a vice president you know…he does have a lot fo respect…you know…but then after he made that bloody Ahmed Shafik the PM…you know…I think we realized then you know…that something is very fishy…its like he has appointed these two guys who are very close to him you know…there is so much anger….

Me: I know…I almost feel its like he will step down maybe by tomorrow but then make sure that he can run the country by proxy through especially this Soliman guy and maybe long distance…because god knows he will not be safe in Egypt!

Y: I cannot believe that President Mubarak is still so tone deaf and clueless trying his same old tricks you know…

Me: Hey Yousry--Why are you still calling him the president, man?


Y: Parvez—because he has not left the seat yet—it's important that people are reminded he is not gone yet…it is important to say President before his name constantly….he is NOT gone yet man…I am so worried Parvez….people cannot feel tired… they cant feel they somehow won and maybe we should settle for this…because really man none of the demands of the people have been met man…at the end of the day President Mubarak needs to go… this-because this was none of the demands that people were met

Me: I should let you go soon, man….you’ve had enough of this shit already…but quickly, what about all this looting now?

Y: The looting in my view is so fucking disappointing, man…and then to see how quickly the cops who are still wearing uniforms disappeared…I mean, you know that so many of those bastards are now pretending to be civilians and walking amongst all of us…bloody traitors….My theory is simple really…The Army and Police have left the country wide open you know---I feel it was deliberate---they are proving that if you guys want democracy and you want the President to go--- then this is what will happen without us…only we have protected you all these years…without us and him you are not safe and will never be safe…This is political blackmail…Everyone is sure that the police is doing all the looting…Egyptains are not stupid and I know that there are so many rumours…I hear a new one every 5 minutes…but I am sure that the police are behind the looting.

Me: So fucked up

Y: You know about the secret service— Police guys were citizen-arrested at the museum and handed over to the army? You know so many of the protestors held hands man and formed like this long cordon around the museum so that these police pretending to be looters could not go in and destroy our history…and then they found out that these secret police guys were already inside and even damaged some Mummies…I mean people were so furious and they just handed them to the army… and handed to the army.

Me: Yousry, it must be getting fucking late there man…what time is it…

Y: Maybe 12 or 1? I don’t know…it's ok…I feel better saying all of this, man…it's like just letting out all this negative shit man…Parvez tell me this…In the 80’s revolt you know…military could secure Egypt in 2 hrs—here it has taken them 2 days and they still have not—Is it because they are protecting civilians or are they proving that this is what will happen if you want the President to go

Me: Listen man…its really fucking late…what about Zamalek?

Y: Well at 10:30 when I was out with my sword…remember the sword?...a few army commandoes came to protect the American embassy compound you know…you know its just walking distance from here…it was a fucking joke…here we are all walking around barricading ourselves…and these guys arrive to the American compound to save the Americans? And guess what… I was standing there so I asked the guard outside if there were any Americans inside…and guess what man…he said they had all left between Thursday and Friday! What a fucking joke! There are no Americans left to protect and they show up to protect them while they have abandoned us?

Me: Disgusting…so fucking disgusting…

Y: I know man…so I asked the commandoes…whats up guys? And one of them says…don’t worry Zamalek is secured...there are so many neighbour guys out there you know…everyone is doing it in shifts…none of them are going back home…I mean what is this one mini van of stupid commandoes going to do?



Me: Hey Yousry…please sleep man…and if phones are still working please lets keep calling whenever you are awake and before and after you go out man…sleep now man…if u can…have any pills?



Y: Well you are the pill supplier usually! I think this Scotch will help…My father in law only keeps the best Scotch..ha ha!

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