“A Revolution Story…”

roygunnels-cairoegypt-tahrirsquare-egyptianrevolution-roygunnelsphotography-10I was talking today to a friend, an artist and visual art instructor, about the challenges and risks shooting in the field…as I’ve mentioned earlier in blog posts, I was arrested a myriad number of times during the Egyptian revolution, and had my share of ugly incidents across the Middle East and East Africa, as well as my own country. That said, it’s simply part of shooting “in the field”, to me…
And yet one incident during the revolution was perhaps the most significant. I had been at Tahrir Square for hours shooting the happy throng, it was the day after Mubarak had stepped down and the revolution was theoretically over, with it’s goals achieved.
As I was leaving I saw a child cleaning the tracks of an Egyptian Army tank, and stopped to photograph the scene, this young girl in a “Dr Seuss” hat in the colors of the Egyptian flag, brushing the dirt from the wheels of the tank. I shot a short series and then a soldier appeared, grabbed my arm and asked “Are you an Israeli?”. I produced my passport but that did not settle the matter, he called other soldiers over and I was escorted through the crowd to a group of officers, who proceeded to repeatedly ask if I was Israeli or had been to Israel, and searched my camera bag, then began going through the images on my camera.
Even though I had been followed by State Security operatives while I was working protests, and detained numerous times during the revolution by both the military and the police, I was always questioned, searched, and allowed to go, but this felt different, it felt much more serious.  I had my cell phone and called my friend and frequent shooting partner, herself an Egyptian, and told  her what was happening and I would keep the line open for her to hear it all. The officer in charge at that point noticed I had someone online who was listening, and kept assuring me there was no need to contact the US Embassy when I suggested I was going to.
So, the repeated searches continued, and the questions, and the idea somehow that I was an Israeli spy.  At that point I was surrounded by a throng of soldiers, several officers and a group of enlisted men, all armed of course, as the lead officer kept calling higher ranking officers on his cell, to discuss what to do with me. My Arabic was not good enough to keep up with the discussions, but really, it was the only time during the revolution I felt very uneasy about what might occur. It’s interesting to note here that post-revolution can be a very dangerous time, with channels of command and control very hazy.  Under those circumstances mistakes by authorities can be made, and I did not want to be one of those “mistakes”.
So, after about 45 minutes I was released, with the commanding officer returning my passport and equipment and wishing me “Welcome to Egypt”, even though I had been living there for several years…It is significant to note here that my Egyptian friend, herself a journalist, was very concerned about what she heard in Arabic, “frightened” is the word she used, and that she had begun calling other activists in Tahrir to assemble, find my location and confront the soldiers.
And so, a “war story”, or at least a “revolution story”, from me today…RG