Amid the climate of paranoia in Egypt at the moment, even Egyptians in contact with “foreigners” have fallen under suspicion. Hamdy Reda, an Egyptian photographer, has paid the price.
He told euronews: “I spent Wednesday at Tahrir Place. I witnessed violence between demonstrators and took a lot of photos. I slept there overnight and took a taxi home the next morning. I was stopped at a police roadblock in El Galaa Road, just north of the square. They made me get out of the car and searched me. They saw my two digital cameras and I instantly came under suspicion. They began insulting me, accusing me of being an agent from a foreign country. For them I was an Iranian. I showed them my identity papers. But they accused me of having false papers.
One of the photos taken by Hamdy Reda
A general spat in my face
Luckily, an army officer was also present and defended me against the anger of the police. On my papers, my occupation is “artist”. The army officer asked me: “why are you taking photographs if you’re a painter?’ I explained that I am also a photographer and above all Egyptian. I must be a witness to what is happening. State security officials then arrived. A general spat in my face. They insulted me, accused me of high treason and threatened me. They wanted to take me to a security centre but the army officer refused. Eventually, after three hours, I was taken to an army position in front of a state newspaper building.
There, I also saw two foreign journalists arrested: a Franco-Lebanese journalist from Arte and one from Cyprus. The soldiers treated me humanely. They searched me again. I was missing a camera. The police had robbed me. Since they did not know how to use my equipment, they called a photographer to check the photos I had taken. The photographer deleted all the pictures to protect me. The officer was then very surprised to find nothing. I told him that the photos were on the other camera, stolen by the police on the street. I was exasperated. The officer was furious. He yelled: “Go and get the other camera from those sons of a bitch!”
Another photo taken by Hamdy Reda
Eventually, they got the other camera, saw my photos and then confiscated my memory cards. Some hours later, the soldiers, the army, quickly departed. It seems there were clashes in the street. An officer offered to hide the three of us in a tank. We stayed there for several hours. Then they called us one by one for interrogation, at about 7 p.m. The officer told me: “You seem to be well known, so I’m going to release you. Otherwise, I would have punished you ‘.
So, they finally gave me permission to leave but actually advised me to stay; there were many “baltageya” in the streets and surrounding areas. So I spent the night with them. They advised me to only move around the city between 6 and 9 a.m. At this time, the “baltageya” sleep.
The arrest of an “Iranian agent”
In the morning, before leaving, I asked if I could have back my two memory cards, which were worth about 2000 pounds, but they wanted to keep the photos. I also demanded my iPhone but the officer said: “What are you talking about? This is not the time. Save your skin.” I finally went home.
The problem is, with the propaganda of the regime, which wants to show Egyptians against foreigners, even in my neighborhood, Ard El Lewa, where I live, now I am seen as suspicious. As I set up a cultural centre here, “artellewa”, and I welcome a lot of foreign artists, it’s something suspicious for them.
The worst thing is that on Thursday the newspaper “El yaom el sabie” published an article about me. They gave my name and described “the arrest of an Iranian agent!”, even though I am an Egyptian! Actually, I think that was helpful, because a lot of important people got in contact with the army after they saw my photo in the newspaper.