31 Jan 2011

Across a continent and into the throngs of Egyptian revolt

Been on assignment at the bottom of Africa, so to get to Cairo I had to traverse the whole continent.

My connection in Johannesburg was cancelled, I think because it was due to land during the curfew. The only other option was to Dubai. The airport there never ceases to amaze me – even at 4:45am local the place is heaving with travellers, shopping, dropping, hopping from one plane to another.

Eight hours of Africa – Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, across the Red Sea to Yemen, Oman, and into Dubai. Flight to Cairo is four hours, stunningly most of it over Saudi Arabia: massive brown from the air, nobody there. One dusty desert settlement on the coast with telltale oil storage tanks on an island offshore – two red, one grey tanker tied up on the quayside.

The plane has a surprising number of people aboard. Egyptians coming home to rescue their money perhaps?

I wonder how I will get to my hotel when I land. Will they let me in to Egypt?

They do and suddenly I’m ploughing along empty streets from the airport, empty the decaying elegance of Cairo’s centre. The taxi smells of a classic mix of Brighton rock and overcooked barley sugar.

Then you hit it, the vast throng swarming the anyway sprawling Tahrir Square – down to business, Channel 4 News all too soon.

Tweets by @jonsnowC4

16 reader comments

  1. Britt_W says:

    I knew it. I knew you couldn’t stay away! Look forward to hearing your reports. Now then, history can resume, as you are there, ready to report it for us, as ever. And… be careful out there!

  2. Philip Edwards says:


    Plainly you don’t know Saudi Arabia. It is an incredibly diverse country and very far from the impression you have conveyed from a view at 30,000 feet.

    Dubai is just another antiseptic tourist trap hub airport at the transport crossroads of West and East.

    Egypt is the core of Arab civilisation and relatively much more sophisticated than any of the others in the Fertile Crescent. Usually, what Egypt does today the rest do tomorrow in one form or another. This is why the Israelis will be watching the developing situation with some anxiety.

    But why have the Americans suddenly turned on Mubarak in the way they turned on their other front men? There are strong rumours in Cairo the CIA and MI6 have encouraged the long overdue uprising. I wonder why………what’s in it for the Americans and British?

  3. Saltaire Sam says:

    Find us the stories- but take care. We do take for granted the risks journos take on our behalf (except those that rely on phone tapping, of course)

  4. frankgreen47 says:

    Why were you in J.burg if you dont mind me asking? Were you anticipating that Nelson Mandela only had a few days left?

  5. ColinT says:

    Those people in Davos who try to shape the world according to failed corporate inspired theology should take note of what’s happening in Egypt – most change that has served to benefit ordinary people did not come from the top, but came about through the actions of ordinary folk themselves – whether workers’ rights, women’s rights or any other number of civil rights. Increasingly, ordinary people know it.

    1. Meg Howarth says:

      Indeed, Colin, and in our own country too. Like charity, change begins at home. Just one example: UKuncut’s campaign to take the tax-avoidance question to the streets in the face of our own government’s refusal to act is now attracting the support of the elderly. See, eg, report of wk/end’s activity in Lewes, Sussex:


    2. Jim Flavin says:

      Well hopefully it looks like the ordinary people have had enough in some coutries – someday hopefully sooner rather than later – we will all wake up to the fact thta we are being conned – and take action . The people who say they represnt us – in most cases do not .

      In that report I liked this sentence
      ”A Boots spokeswoman said its Swiss registration reflected the “international nature” of the company.” . Do they take us for total fools – for that is what we are if we keep putting up with this . Surely it would be a good idea to publish somewhere a list of companies who have Swiss , Leichestein , Cayman Islands etc registration and not buy anything from them . If this list is already available – would be grateful for link .

  6. Jim Flavin says:

    It is time for Mubarak to go – there is no perhaps about it – but waht if this ” democracy hits whole of ME . Anyway another US puppet looks like he will go . The US and now Israel are playing this badly IMHO . The US never once said Democracy [ such as it is ] should come to Egypt . They seem afraid of the next days events – then belatedly react to them . Now Isarel is backing Mubarak – how will the Egytians view that ?. Surely they should have kept their mouts shut – and see what happens . Now they have branded themselves .
    Surely Elections be called – and Mubarak should go . I supppose Obama is a bit scared of saying the D word or calling for elections after waht happened with Bush in 2006 re Gaza – and when Bush didnt like the results of Gaza elections – he called them[ winners – Hamas ] terrorits – a novel ploy .
    As politics continue to go Right wing in the so called democratic West – the obvious reaction is for same to happen in Moslem world – so why should we complain about Moslem Religous states – when our leaders – the USA are in many respects no better re killing , torture – and have even on their money ” In god we trust ”

    1. frank green says:

      Jim-the US has never cared one iota about democracy (Saudi Arabia has no democracy yet is America’s biggest trading partner followed by China). All the US cares about is its own interests. Mubarak has an appalling record of corruption and ill-treatment of opponents but is prepared to block Hamas which is all the Us and Israel care about.

  7. margaret brandreth-jones says:

    I have a gold scarab and a ring stoned with Alexandrite( fluospar I think ,nothing valuable)and dad dressed in arab costume in the middle of the war looking as though he was having a whale of a time with the natives. Jones’y drove the generals around , cooked for the others,recovered tanks with all the human mess still on board, laughed a lot, was popular and provided a mind of information for the many.. it all went wrong when he came back to this Country.

    I have only travelled around Europe . I have always had responsibility and had to consider others safety.Good or bad?

    I talk to many from the Middle East daily and most talk of a safe place where hands are cut off if a robbery take place etc….. personally it makes my stomach turn… so this sort of rioting / protesting does not seem to fall into synch with the stories of a disciplinarian type of area.Perhaps they are fearless.

    I learned how to count to ten, so when the people I talk to slip into Arabic excluding me from the conversation , I slip one of the numbers in.. crass isn’t it?

    Dad used to say we are following Egypt however their Hubris far exceeds ours.Good or bad I don’t know?

  8. dan ehrlich says:

    It’s rough to be employed with an expense account and credit card..I feel for you Jon…of course when you retire you can teach media studies at City U and tell all those war stories to eager students doing whatever students will be doing then…I guess its great for some….I’m just happy to have a freedom pass.


  9. Tricia says:

    Hi Jon

    If you’re still in Joburg come down to Sophiatown and speak to the young people here about your job – they don’t even know where Egypt is – they connect more to the UK and US than the rest of the continent: is that something to do with the media?

    They would love to meet you first hand and talk about their lives, and life without Madiba

    Tricia Sibbons
    011 673 1271

  10. Meg Howarth says:

    Congrats to JRug, Lindsey and yourself for last night’s excellent reporting. Particularly liked your interview with Adelman and Green. Astonished to find myself agreeing with everything both said until they morphed into their positions of old: Adelman – ‘slow boat to elections’, Green – ‘stable government’. Still trying to tell the people of Egypt what to do. How out of touch and out of time they suddenly appeared.

    Egypt: 10th largest army in the world, and $/£1.5bn – not sure which currency – of US aid, mainly to buy military hardware. Had no idea until the people took to the streets. BTW: imagine how that money could have benefited US citizens?

    Re UKUncut demo, link above: Newsnight had long piece on same last night. Police admit using CS spray – even accidentally on their own officers in some cases. Worth taking a look.

    1. Saltaire Sam says:

      Meg, I saw the Newsnight piece and was horrified. I hadn’t realised that pushing a leaflet under a door counted as criminal damage. All those posties better look out with their junk mail. And the way that woman was dragged out of Boots for protesting tells you all you know about what priorities the state has in terms of whom it will defend first.

      The more you look at how this country works, the more incredible it seems that we seek to tell the rest of the world how to govern and behave. The rest of the world must see us as arrogant and hypocritical.

    2. Meg Howarth says:

      Letters in today’s Guardian re the w/end use of CS gas by the Met:


      Hugh Orde, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, has commented: “Police could adopt more extreme tactics to counter the growing wave of protests.” His comment sits uneasily alongside the regular chant of our politicians of the ‘right to peaceful protest’ as a marker of our democratic credentials.

    3. adrian clarke says:

      been away , not seen a news or read a paper.Only reading between the lines.There is a distinct difference between protesting , peaceful protesting and aggressive protesting .That puts the police in an unenviable position,of trying to keep the peace and protect property.
      Unfortunately during protests there are always those who take action often against the organisers wishes and go over the edge as regards violence or/and destruction to property.I do my protesting in writing , rather than on marches , but i have yet to see that either form works.Most protests neither succeed in their objective and only affect those that can least afford to be affected.I suspect even in Egypt there are many innocent people being affected,and even if they succeed in ridding themselves of Murbarak,they will not get the democracy they crave

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