(By Samuel Vengrinovich)
Everyone has their own definition of what an opportunity is for them. For me, it was the chance to get to Cairo and experience the one-week anniversary of the Egyptian revolution in Tahrir Square. While most foreigners were fleeing the country and trying to get out, I was waiting for the opportune time to get into the country and document what was happening.
Living in Tel Aviv, I was only a few hundred kilometers away by land to Cairo. The Egyptian embassies in Israel provided me no information about whether the border crossing between Israel and Egypt were open in the Sinai Peninsula. From Tel Aviv, I took an overnight bus to the border and paid the Egyptian border officers my way into Egypt. The next task at hand was arranging a ride with the local Bedouin to drive me to Cairo. On my way to Cairo, I passed nearly ten military checkpoints. At the last checkpoint before entering Cairo, I was caught filming the area by an ecstatic and excited young Egyptian soldier, hoping to brag to his friends about catching me. He couldn’t stop smiling at me while I was waiting to be interrogated. The Egyptian military detained me for about an hour and examined all my photos. They were insistent and determined to find footage of the military checkpoints that I had filmed. They told me that they had heard I was photographing them. That was the first of many arrests and interrogations on my trip to Egypt.
In Alexandria, I was arrested at a checkpoint, held in a minivan for hours, photographed, and continuously moved from place to place throughout the night until 5am in the morning. They asked me what I was doing here in Egypt? They were convinced I spoke Arabic fluently. I’m pretty sure they thought I was an Israeli Mossad agent. I don’t really blame them though. Egyptian state television supposedly had been broadcasting reports of foreign agents or Israeli spies covering as reporters and instigating the revolution. The Egyptian intelligence officers were intently trying to figure me out. At the end of my interrogation, one of them quietly asked me, “No one cared about Egypt before. Now the whole world cares. Why?”
I came to realize that events had happened so quickly for them in Egypt that they could not even comprehend the speed at which change was occurring. One of the Egyptian navy officers told me he hadn’t slept properly or been home in weeks. They were working non-stop, tired, and acting as police officers and the army at the same time. His last words to me while they were dropping me off at the checkpoint where I was arrested were, “I hope you do positive things with the photos and videos you have.”
I frequently get asked why did I want to go to Tahrir Square? And I always think to myself who wouldn''t. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness a nation breathe democracy and freedom for the first time in their lives. I was so close, being here in Israel. I knew I had to get there. I’m sure there are millions of people around the world who would agree with me and would have loved to experience what I saw: A nation releasing decades of repressed emotions for the first time in their lives without fear. But now, with an optimism—for a better future.
Experiencing the Egyptian revolution will be something I will never forget.To view photographs click here.
Samuel Vengrinovich is from San Francisco and currently lives in Tel Aviv-Jaffa. He is a musician, mountain biker, and coffee connoisseur. He has a bachelor’s degree in international relations and a master’s degree in diplomacy and conflict studies. He has worked in various political offices and campaigns in California and Washington, DC.
For further information and to contact the writer/filmmaker, then please send an email to [email protected]