Reporter’s firsthand account of violent mob mentality

Hazem Zohny , Tuesday 8 Feb 2011

Ahram Online reporter Hazem Zohny recounts his experience of being attacked by a mob on account of apparently being an “Israeli journalist”

Last Thursday I was attacked and beaten by a mob of no less than 20 people while taking a picture of the fire that burned through parts of HyperOne market near the entrance to Sheikh Zayed City. The assault began while I was trying to tweet through my phone that people seemed to be insisting this was caused just by an “electric short-circuit.”

Suddenly, an older man, quickly joined by others, began yelling at me for attempting to cover “the chaos which Egypt has had enough of.” When I said I was an Egyptian journalist and presented a folded piece of paper that stated I worked for Ahram Online, the document was (without even being unfolded) aggressively deemed a joke and ignored. I quickly realized I was surrounded by some half a dozen people that looked like they were itching to throw punches.

And throw they did.  As I struggled to protect my head I heard shouts that proclaimed, “We caught a Jew! We caught a Jewish journalist!” Seconds later, as one of the men was dragging me off somewhere through HyperOne’s car park while the others tried to synchronize punches, slaps and kicks at my utterly anesthetized body (thank goodness for adrenaline), I quickly realized I was surrounded by an entire mob of men wielding club, canes, and at least one gun.

Quickly the number of people trying to simultaneously land their blows against the “Jewish scum” meant that I literally could not breathe from the smothering crowd. I briefly saw a man holding a pistol yelling at the others to move out of way so that he could “finish this.” When he failed to get a clear shot, I heard what sounded like an egg shell cracking above my skull, where my hands were trying to protect my head.

At this point the terrifying thought dawned on me that in about an hour or so my mother would receive news that her son was beaten to death for no reason just down the road from where she lives.

Thankfully, two of the men closest to me, took it upon themselves to try to deliver me to the army officers on the main street. Time after time these two saved my life as they stopped others who ran ahead of the crowd to get a good angle at my head with their raised clubs.

Eventually, after my phone was stolen and camera destroyed, I found myself in front of a very unnerved soldier, whom I breathlessly tried to move towards through the still incoming blows. Seemingly unsure whether to shoot at me or the crowd, the soldier eventually fired round after round in the air. At this point, I never thought the usually hair-raising noise of machine-gun fire up close could sound so comforting as it temporarily repelled the blood thirsty mob.

A dizzying moment later, I was locked up inside an army tank as my ID was checked and my work letter finally unfolded and read. I was quickly put in an ambulance where I sighed in disbelieving gratitude that I was relatively unscathed but for an index finger that looked all too similar to a piece of raw kebab.

About two hours later, Hayat TV reported that an “Israeli journalist” had been apprehended near a fire that broke out at HyperOne. The army officer, who vaguely apologized to me on the mob’s behalf while I was inside the tank, had tried to explain all this violence on account of my “suspiciously foreign-looking features.”

To me, the real sadness behind this senseless violence was that these people, so far as I could tell, where not of the same caliber as the paid thugs that stormed Tahrir Square or continued to harass and beat up journalists around Downtown. These were ordinary people, many of them presumably protecting the entrance to Sheikh Zayed. Tragically, at least some of them seemed bent on murder, spurred on by no more than hearsay.

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