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February 3, 2011

Chris Hondros on the Madness in Tahrir Square

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I had a chance to talk to Getty photographer, Chris Hondros, on the phone from Cairo in the early evening yesterday, several hours after he escaped from the absolute chaos in the central square. Below is a my transcript of his comments accompanying this slideshow of photos he took, the images published at several major news sites:

“The only way I can describe the situation today is that it was totally old school, just people with rocks, sticks and fists.  It felt almost historical.  It was probably more like how the American Revolution was fought.  Or a fight in 683 BC. Just thousands of people battling each other.

“I’ve seen fighting, but nothing at this scale. The anti-Mubarak people who have had the spotlight for a week were defending the square — it’s like the equivalent of having taken over Times Square in New York. The Mubarak faction, which had been in different parts of town, then headed toward the square. Then it was just open season. It was very tribal. Like two rival gangs. It was not organized in any sense more than that. And it played out without the officials intervening. It’s absolutely remarkable that there was no intervention at all. And it all comes down to holding that square.

“So the journalists have completely pulled out.  Almost all journalists were attacked today — by both sides, especially the the pro-Mubarak side. This evening, they’re still fighting it, with just rocks, sticks and molotov cocktails. It’s just a few blocks from here. I imagine they’ll keep it up overnight.  It all depends if security services intervene, especially the police.

“The craziest thing happened to me today. First rocks started to fly. One grazed my head. Then civilians tried to take my camera and my equipment.  I barely escaped into an Egyptian army position, but the soldiers tried to take my media card. For some reason, they seem instructed to confiscate them. Barely able to get out of there, I  jumped onto a construction trailer adjacent to the square. Then, down the street came charging five or six horses and one camel and everyone around me was completely beaten. It was an active military camel attack.

“Really I have no idea where this is going. Everyone is speculating what’s going to happen.  But if there’s one thing I’ve learned doing war photography, it’s never try and anticipate.   There are much larger forces at play and we’re just along for the ride. It could end tomorrow. Or, today could have been the start of the 2011 Egypt civil war.”

–Chris Hondros

PHOTOGRAPHS © CHRIS HONDROS/Getty Images

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