The morning after Hosni Mubarak’s step-down, I entered Video Cairo’s offices at 8:00 a.m. I had been awake most of the night covering Tahrir Square celebrations, and I was working on my next story — the requisite “day after” reactions, mood on the street, ongoing celebrations, and “what next?” piece.
As I checked online and waited for my camera crew to gear up, Gohar — the Egyptian production house owner — addressed me in hushed tones:
We hear that a major CBS anchorwoman was beaten up last night at the square. She’s in intensive care. Apparently she came over with a bunch of bodyguards and they were beaten up too.
My stomach flipped:
What? Who was it? Are you sure? Oh my God. Do you think it was because of the bodyguards? Were they American?
No reply. Assuming it was Katie Couric, I searched the Internet for news and emailed several friends in different countries to find out if they’d heard anything. I also tried a search on Lara Logan thinking maybe she had tried to come back into the country. Nothing.
Perhaps it was false? But Gohar is a respected, connected journalist with decades of experience. He accompanied Anwar Sadat on his historic trip to Israel, and he was working camera when Sadat was assassinated. Industry notables like Charlie Rose and Thomas Friedman had been milling about his Cairo facility all week. “If Gohar’s mentioning it,” one of his producers suggested, “it’s true.”
But there was nothing about it anywhere. For days. So I pushed the story aside.
I’m a correspondent for China’s CCTV English. I’m not tall or blonde nor am I hugely famous. But I’m reasonably attractive. And I traveled solo to Cairo to cover the revolution. I was terrified of being on my own, but I knew I would be working with an Egyptian producer and camera crew, and that helped me feel more secure. I prefer working with locals who know the score and speak the language.
But Gohar’s news had turned my blood icy and made me panic. I didn’t want to go out onto the streets anymore.
Because I had been in the square the night before. Egyptians that had fed off of the intense energy of an 18-day overthrow were now whipped into a frenzy bordering on chaos at Tahrir Square. Ostensibly they were happy, but that’s not how it felt.
When news came down of Mubarak’s departure, I ran to Video Cairo to hook up with my crew. We rushed out to the epicenter: Tahrir Square.
My crew was comprised of Nasser and Mahmoud. Nasser is a dark-skinned Sudanese whose soft-spoken nature belies years of covering upheaval in hot spots like Cairo, Mogadishu, Belgrade, and Beirut. Mahmoud is hulking, musclebound, and light-skinned with an infectious sense of humor giving way to menacing body language: “Mess with me, you’ll regret it.”
The square was pandemonium. Shouting, honking horns, screaming, pushing, shoving and everyone seemed to be headed to the square center. It was madness. I suggested to Nasser we not venture deep into the square. I knew what happens when the camera light switches on at night — hundreds swarm and surround you within seconds, and a terrifying “anything can happen” sensation becomes palpable.
But on came the camera light, and we were engulfed. Poking. Prodding. Sticks in my back. Angry, demanding tones: “Al Jazeera? Egyptian television?”