Last week, CBN News travelled to Cairo to witness and chronicle the historic events unfolding in Cairo, Egypt. The following is part one of a five part series about our journey, experiences, observations, and analysis.
Day One: Welcome to Egypt!
Monday, Jan. 31.
We gathered in my Jerusalem office and made a checklist of everything we needed for the trip to Cairo. We., like most of the world, had been eagerly watching the historic events in Egypt unfold. We watched the battles between the riot police and the demonstrators. We heard about the death tolls. We knew food was running out, as well as money. It was an uncertain and chaotic time for Egypt and we all sensed this was a historic and pivotal turning point for the Middle East.
The checklist: passport, cash, Blackberry, small video camera, stills camera, extra batteries; chargers; granola bars; laptop; satellite phone; not too many clothes. Better to travel light. Don’t check any bags; just bring everything with you on the plane. And take muted colors; don’t stand out in the crowds.
The other item was a partner. Not a good idea to go into an unpredictable and volatile situation without someone to help. Jesus sent his disciples out two by two and Ecclesiastics 4:9-12 says: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
My partner was a good friend from another Middle Eastern country, fluent in Arabic, with solid contacts in Cairo and a good working knowledge of the city. He would fly in several hours after me and we would meet at the airport.
One more item and one of the most important: alerting intercessors about our trip and the need for prayer. They would be “standing in the gap” while we went into the fray.
I headed for the airport.
In the security line, I met a Brazilian reporter and his cameraman. At least I wouldn’t be alone on the flight to Cairo. At the gate, more reporters showed up: a Dutch journalist and a Norwegian writer. The journalists began to exchange information. Where are you going? How do you expect to get there? Who do you work for? We were also accompanied by an Israeli security detail on their way to assist Israelis coming out of Egypt: one more Exodus by Israelis out of Egypt.
Just before I boarded the plane I got news my partner’s flight was cancelled and he couldn’t arrive until the next day. Did I want to delay my flight for a day? No, we would try and rendezvous at a designated location in Cairo.
We lifted off from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport this handful of journalists and Israeli security detail. Both called by duty and all flying into the unknown. We had all witnessed on TV or the Internet the violence, chaos and bloodshed that had already marked Egypt’s nascent revolution. But what would we see there? Would there be food? We knew the curfew in Cairo began at 3 p.m. and lasted until 8 a.m. We fully expected to spend the night at the airport.
Our flight from Tel Aviv to Cairo took about 90 minutes, but there’s a more than 3,000-year-old relationship between these two countries. Joseph came as a slave and rose to become second in command only to the Pharaoh; centuries later another Pharaoh oppressed the Israelites until the Lord raised up Moses the deliverer. He confronted Pharaoh to let “my people go.”
But many believe the story of the Exodus is not the last time Egypt and Israel’s Biblical history will merge. More on that later.
We made our last approach towards the airport, flew over the neighborhoods of Cairo, and landed into Egypt's history.
We stopped on the tarmac, stepped onto the bus waiting to take us to the terminal. An Egyptian official joined us on the bus and told us if we wanted a taxi could drive us all the way to our hotels. It was a surprising bit of information and we all huddled around. We peppered him with questions: What about the curfew? How far could the taxi go? Which hotels?
At the terminal, we journalists waited in line for our visa, passed through passport control (much easier than anticipated), and formed a loosely knit cadre. We also met a Canadian couple on holiday who told us about the chaos during their on their trip to Luxor, the Valley of the Kings. They were appalled at the lack of information and chaos they experienced. One more sign of the devastating impact Egypt’s turmoil was having on one of its most important industries, tourism.
The taxi dispatcher, though, gave us a different story than the Egyptian official on the bus. No, you cannot go to the hotels near the city center. You can only go about two miles away. No more. But one of the taxi drivers - Muhammad - said he could and was willing to take us all the way to our hotels.
Nine of us – like the Fellowship of the Ring - began our trek across Cairo little suspecting what lay before us.
We packed the van and headed out of the airport. I sat in the front with another journalist from the Voice of America. At first the broad boulevards were empty and he commented how surreal to drive down empty streets in a city of 16 million. That wouldn’t last.
We passed our first checkpoint, a military one: a tank, an officer, and several soldiers. The officer let us go through.
Within a few blocks, we turned into a neighborhood and came face to face with one of the most unusual phenomenon I’ve ever seen. Hundreds of people were in the streets. Men had set up the crudest of roadblocks. Stones, grates, barrels, whatever they could muster to stop traffic.
Muhammad drove up to the first one, showed his IDs and explained we represented no harm. Then he drove up to the next ... and the next ... and the next. In all, we counted nearly 80 separate checkpoints that we had to go through before we got to our hotel. Many of them were simply neighbors who banded together to protect their homes and families. Egyptian police had vanished and left a vacuum behind; furthermore, thousands of criminals had escaped from prison and threatened law and order.
Egyptians were taking law and order into their own hands.
But some of the checkpoints seemed to be manned simply by young kids, armed with knives and clubs on a power trip. Muhammad said most them couldn’t even read his IDs. But they had the weapons and the power.
As we approached most of the checkpoints, they looked threatening, ominous. But when they looked inside the van; saw who we were; Muhammad provided the right IDs and explained who we were, the threatening looks turned to smiles. Many saluted us with greetings “Welcome to Egypt, Welcome to Cairo!”
Welcome to Egypt indeed!