Independent Journalism in Egypt Today, and the Case of Mahmoud Abu Zeid


Patrick Keddie in the LA Review of Books (AP Photo/Hamada Elrasam):

JAMMES AND SHAWKAN were in trouble. A police officer was standing on Jammes’s toes and a line of police trucks had arrived. The officer stared into Jammes’s face for several minutes. He slapped him when he tried to speak. Jammes was advised to keep looking down at his feet, half obscured by the officer’s boots. His friend Shawkan, just behind him, endured the same treatment.

Louis Jammes, a French photographer, and “Shawkan,” the nickname for Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, had arrived early that morning, August 14, 2013, at the Rabaa Al-Adawiya sit-in of mostly pro-Muslim Brotherhood supporters. The Brotherhood-affiliated President Mohamed Morsi had been ousted by the military in early July, following huge protests against him. Rabaa square, east Cairo, had become an encampment of at least80,000 overwhelmingly peaceful protesters calling for Morsi’s reinstatement. The authorities had lost patience with the six-week old sit-in; most people knew that it would soon be cleared and that it was likely to happen at the end of Ramadan.

When Jammes and Shawkan arrived that morning, they watched the camp awaken. There were many families there — men, women, and children. The photographers were shown a new field hospital that had been set up to care for the anticipated casualties of the coming clearance. It was not long afterward that the security forces made their advance into the camp.

Jammes wanted to stay with the sit-in but Shawkan preferred to be behind military lines. “Shawkan was a little afraid of the Brotherhood,” recalls Jammes. “I was really afraid of the military myself but Shawkan trusted them.” Jammes asked Shawkan a couple of times if he was certain it was the right decision; he was sure the armed forces would not allow them to photograph the clearance.

When the security forces began to fire on the sit-in, Jammes and Shawkan crossed behind them. They were perhaps 10 or 20 meters behind the frontline, crouching behind cars, running between armored vehicles and taking photos alongside the military as they pushed forward against the ranks of protesters defending the camp.

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