Middle East

'Protesters surrounded our car, rocking it': Brian Thomson in Cairo


SBS senior correspondent Brian Thompson describes how he and other foreign journalists came under attack from pro-Mubarak supporters in Cairo.

As I write this my Dateline colleague Amos Roberts has taken shelter in a building after being attacked by a group of pro Mubarak demonstrators. The ABC crew has just arrived at the hotel minus their camera, wallet and passport and reporters, producers and cameramen are streaming into the lobby bruised and dazed as the sound of gunfire rings out in the distance.

In Tahrir square, the scene of the protests over the past 10 days, night is falling, molotov cocktails are flying and the streets are being ripped up as pro and anti government protestors attempt to find rocks and bricks to hurl at each other.


It's a fluid and highly dangerous situation.

We thought our biggest concern on arrival here in Egypt earlier today (Wednesday) would be getting through customs on tourist visas with bags of broadcast equipment in tow. As anticipated we encountered some difficulty but as it turned out it was to be the least of our problems.

It has been a surreal day in so many ways.

As we landed in Egypt the pilot commented on the weather and wished us a pleasant stay in Cairo. It was as if he was oblivious to what's been happening here.

We were certainly oblivious to the turmoil unfolding in the city centre.

After negotiating an extortionate price for a taxi to take us to the hotel we became caught up in a huge traffic jam. A text from a colleague informed me that rioting at Tahrir square was the cause of the traffic jam.

Our quick thinking taxi driver pulled off the road and attempted to take the back streets to the hotel but as we got nearer the situation became explosive. Pro government protestors surrounded our car, rocking it, demanding that we leave the country. The driver attempted to calm them down and a "white knight" emerged from the crowd and persuaded the protestors to let us through. We took the difficult decision not to film what was happening fearing that to do so might provoke the crowd. Considering what happened to so many other camera crews here today it was, in retrospect , probably the best thing we could have done.

It was only when we finally got into the hotel, which lies on the edge of Tahrir square, that we realised just how crazy the situation had become. Pro government protestors on camel and horseback had charged through the protestors assaulting them with whips and in turn whipping them into a frenzy. Running battles broke out and the army largely stood back refusing to intervene.

Accurate information is hard to come by but it appears that one person has been killed and more than 600 injured.

Some opposition leaders here claim the pro-government protestors were paid to come out on to the streets by forces loyal to Mubarak and that others were carrying police ID. One theory that's doing the rounds is the government wanted to sow the seeds of anarchy so that it had the justification to come down hard on the protestors and bring their demonstrations to an end. Whatever the truth is the situation here has taken a dangerous turn for the worse and it's impossible to predict how it is going to end.