Travels with Auntie: Taxis and Teargas

As excuses for being late for work go, I think that detouring to avoid teargas is a pretty good one.

teargasBut actually that is almost a daily fact of life now round Tahrir Square in Cairo.I was there to train a group of Egyptian and Libyan journalists just as this latest round of confrontations and violence unfolded. First there were the demonstrations to commemorate the deaths of around 45 protestors in Mohammed Mahmoud Street last year. This quickly escalated and I was being terrified in a wild taxi ride downtown when I heard Mohammed Morsi’s speech saying he was taking on sweeping powers. As he gave his speech, I could hear chanting but couldn’t make it out. I assumed it was anti- Morsi – but I was wrong. It was in support of him and his new measures.
A couple of days later and the lawyers and journalists were on strike and out in protest at this presidential resumption of power. And then things escalate really quickly – the draft constitution is rushed through in spite of boycotts and the date set for the 15th. Today, there are tanks outside the Presidential Palace.
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So, exciting times if you are an Egyptian Journalist – but also hugely difficult.TV is still the big influencer and there are certainly plenty of channels around. Newspapers also proliferate but face not only all the issues around freedom of speech and censorship (self or external) but also the same economic pressures that we have in the UK. Online is blossoming and slips under the radar a bit. But many people still don’t believe it unless they read it in the paper or see it on the telly. Social networking is endemic – and cleverly used by different interest groups. Rumours and scares abound.
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Freedom of expression varies – self censorship is often quoted as one of the big problems, The state says it supports free speech and is setting in place institutions to safeguard the media. But presidential power remains dominant. And on state TV everything stops for a Morsi speech.
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Having said all that, the Egyptian Journalists I met and spoke to were hopeful for the future and determined to play their part in it.

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