Today, for our last day in Cairo, we decided to take a group and head over to the pyramids for one last group activity while doing exactly what Egyptian authorities have been wanting us to do since we’ve been here: tourism! But of course, for GFMers, no activity is complete without a little activism sprinkled in 🙂
So, what we originally planned to do was to go to the pyramids and take a picture in front of it. We intended to just gather as a group at the base of the pyramid, hold the signs, and take the picture. However, in all the excitement and confusion, at the last minute it was just a 4 or 5 of us that spontaneously decided to run up the side of the pyramid, drop the flag, banner, and signs, and pose for the picture. Needless to say, Egyptian cops were NOT happy with this.
[youtube v6x-gtnDCWc Egypt pyramids Gaza Action to Open Borders]
Video: Ziyaad Lunat
After we took the picture (we also had a member of the Egyptian press capturing the moment as well!), we scurried and raced down the pyramid to avoid further complications. As we’re on our way, we realized they had gotten a hold of Basem and his backpack which was packed with the signs we held, as well as many of our valuables, ie: money, laptop, camera, etc. The rest of our group converged on the scene (with our cameras, of course) to dissolve the situation, but the cops were just not having it.
[youtube hnulP_ng0jg Egyptian police have run-in with GFMers]
I arrived to the scene yelling and screaming at the cops in Arabic — BIG mistake! Once they saw I spoke perfect Arabic with an Egyptian dialect, their attention shifted from Basem and his bag, to me and my Arabic. They were convinced that I was an Egyptian citizen although I assured them of my American citizenship. Not only this, but they were also sure that I was a journalist too! I can’t even explain the escalated rage they expressed when they heard me speak Arabic and saw my camera…if I really was an Egyptian journalist, the scene would have been unimaginable! Thankfully, the two press people who took the photo were long gone by that point.
[youtube kV8WKXJt0No Egyptian police escort GFMers out of pyramids]
As we tried to leave in order to extinguish the situation, we had 3 cops following us asking us to stay with them until their supervisor arrived. We obviously refused and continued walking, explaining to them that we had given them our signs and banners, hadn’t taken any pictures, and would just like to leave the pyramids area since we didn’t appreciate the way we were treated. They followed us all the way from the small pyramid to a small road alongside the large pyramid. Once we got there, the supervisor arrived in and intercepted us in a “Tourism Police” truck. By now, we were surrounded by a group of about 20 different police officers who now wanted us to get into the truck and go God-knows-where! After adimently refusing, I was advised by a member of our group to call the US Embassy to ask for help and assistance with the situation.
Photo: Danah Abdulla
I called and spoke to someone at the embassy and when I tried to get any of the cops to speak to her (holding my phone up for them to take and speak into), not one man stepped forward to take the call. I said something along the lines of “Nobody wants to take this? NOW you don’t want to talk? Alright, fine I’m leaving!” I finally got someone to talk to her and when she spoke to me again, it got very…educational…The US embassy told me that I need to cooperate with the cops, that I did something illegal, and that I’m on Egyptian land and must abide by those laws. Of course I interjected after each statement in my defense; afterwhich she was on the phone with a cop again. At this time, I’d started to inconspicuously walk away from the large crowd with Basem and a new friend, Ziyaad. The police were so caught up in their indecisiveness, they didn’t even realize I was gone.
At this time, the embassy called my phone back and Basem spoke to her. The only thing that came out of that conversation? That if I wanted help from the embassy, they couldn’t do anything until I offically filed a police report!!! Do you know where I could be by then? God only knows, but this really taught me a real lesson in not being too trusting or depending too much on the “power” of the US embassy to save me when I need them to. Basem even asked them if they could send someone to where we were in order to help alleviate the sitation, but they refused.
With the help of some amazing new friends, we were able to make it out of the Pyramids compound and meet at a cafe across the street. The second I walked in, I noticed the secret cop sitting in the back corner looking a his “phone” which happened to make a camera sound just as I’d turned around a few minutes later. I swear, these guys are so not good at what they do, lol! The cafe owner later referred to him as his “son” which was just laughable. Later on, the restaurant owner ordered us a minibus which he said would take us all the way downtown. I thought this was sketchy, but didn’t want to say anything since I’m obviously not an objective voice.
When we all went downstairs, the same cop from upstairs was waiting downstairs and the guy asking us to get into the bus looked like one of the guys from inside the pyramids area! I got really paranoid and told everyone that we’re not getting in the bus and we refused the offer. We walked all the way to the main road and took a public bus (which was crawling with secret police) to the metro station and back to Tahrir Square. The public bus ride experience deserves a whole blog post in itself! 🙂
Later that night, we found out that a small group of Canadian GFMers also went to the pyramids that day, wearing their GFM shirts. They were spotted immediately and yelled at by the tourism police. To learn more about their experience, go here: http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/gazadelegation/2010/01/topless-pyramids-cant-tourist-just-be-tourist
Photo: Ziyaad Lunat
Our story was covered by Al-Shorouk newspaper and can be viewed here (in Arabic):
Note: This post would not be complete without mentioning the inspiration for our actions at the pyramids today. Earlier in the week, members of the French delegation visited the pyramids, created a diversion to detract attention from themselves (someone “fainted” to bring police attention to her instead), then quickly climbed about half-way up the small pyramid and hung a 30 foot Palestinian flag down the side. The sight was absolutely amazing; the image became an icon of our week in Cairo and the French immediately made a name for themselves! Below is some video and photos of this awesome action in Cairo:
[singlepic id=1125 w=320 h=240 float=center]
[youtube gUNUMHCyhT4 French hang Palestine flag on Pyramids]