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February 6, 2011

Alan Chin in Cairo: Power In Flux

Anti-government protesters climbed onto an advertising billboard that has been appropriated for banners, Tahrir Square.

I arrived in Cairo very late last night, and all of my cameras were impounded at customs. This has been happening with disturbing regularity to many journalists who have come to Egypt in recent days, even as the situation on the street in Tahrir Square was relatively calm compared to the bloody clashes and violence of the days before. So the most important photographs for me these last twenty-four hours have been the ones I couldn’t take:

How the customs officers sealed my bag with the cameras inside with string and a wax seal that they melted by lighting pieces of paper on fire. How I took a taxi to an airport hotel at 3 am, but first two sleeping policeman had to rustled out of the back seat. How various airport, police, and customs personnel gave me the runaround all day today, despite some much-appreciated help I received from the American Embassy. Tomorrow the bureaucratic struggle begins anew.

In the meantime I bought an $85 point-and-shoot digital camera, and did my best with it. At least it is very low-profile at a moment when the military has been taking cameras and memory cards at checkpoints too.

A family at one of the Egyptian Army checkpoints leading into Tahrir Square.

Yet it was a day when parents were comfortable enough to bring their children with them to the Square. Sometimes the mood was relaxed; I saw people playing musical instruments and singing, radiant with hope. At other times the tension remained palpable; the constant drone of helicopters overhead, a volley of firecrackers or gunshots at dusk, the mother of one of those who has been killed mourning her son angrily, and:

Enraged anti-government protesters detain and haul away a suspected pro-Mubarek supporter.

There was shouting, pushing, shoving, grabbing, and then they were out of sight. It’s impossible to know the cause, justification, or outcome of these incidents, each one seemingly minor, but potentially explosive. Centers of power are in flux; it’s absolutely unpredictable how authority is wielded, and who has it at any particular moment or place. One thing is certain: the Egyptian government continues to make it very hard for journalists to work.

–Alan Chin

PHOTOGRAPHS by ALAN CHIN

To see entire BagNews series from Cairo: Middle East Uprising 2011

Previous post: Not Just Will, but Ingenuity

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About the Photographer

Alan Chin

Alan Chin was born and raised in New York City’s Chinatown. Alan Chin was born and raised in New York City’s Chinatown. Since 1996, he has worked in China, the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, and throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. In the US, Alan has explored the South, following the historic trail of the civil rights movement and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, covered multiple presidential campaigns, and the Occupy Wall Street movement. He is a contributing photographer to Newsweek/Daily Beast and The New York Times, a member of Facing Change: Documenting America (FCDA), and an editor at Newsmotion.org. You can see all Alan's posts for BagNews here.

  • Enoch Root

    The best camera is the one you have with you.

    Thanks for doing this work, Alan!

  • http://www.jcdphoto.com Juan-Carlos Delgado

    There is something rather special about a P&S in the proper hands. I really like the images, especially the first one with the billboard. Take care my friend and I’ll be following your progress!

    JC

  • Vvoter

    In this ocularcentric hyper-mediated age, those of us who consume, but rarely produce content can easily take for granted the steady supply of images that get delivered daily to our desktops, laptops, and mobile devices.

    Thanks, Alan, for keeping us attentive to the vital role that photojournalists play in the delivery of visual journalism. You guys and girls have amazing courage.

  • omen

    pro democracy protesters!

    funny, i used to be annoyed by it, but now i miss the black and white.

  • Alan Chin

    #omen: Don’t worry, along with the $85 digital point-and-shoot from which you see the results here, I also picked up an old film camera for $100, as they didn’t impound my film at the airport. So there’ll be black+white images from Egypt too, later.

    • omen

      yay!

    • stefania

      Hi Alan,

      Congratulations for your great work!
      I’m in Cairo and received the very same treatment: I arrived on Feb 6th and my photo bag was confiscated and sealed. I spent the two following days dealing with bureaucracy; I made some little progress through my embassy but I didn’t get my bag yet. Did you?

      Stefania
      0164758013

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