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AN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT OF PROPHECIES UNFOLDING IN THE MIDDLE EAST
By CHRIS MITCHELL
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2013 Thomas Christopher Mitchell
All rights reserved.
IN THE EYE OF THE STORM
Currently the mobs targeting journalists are right outside the Hilton but have not breached the premises.
—ALERT FROM CAIRO'S HILTON RAMSES HOTEL
DATELINE: CAIRO'S TAHRIR SQUARE
CBN NEWS REPORT: TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 1, 2011
We're standing in Tahrir Square, the epicenter for events here in Cairo, now beginning their second week. They expect one million in Tahrir Square, one million in Alexandria, and another million in Suez. People have been congregating here all day, some walking hours since the government shut down the public trains.
The evidence of the week's violence are all around: burned-out vehicles, Egyptian tanks, armored personnel carriers, and soldiers surrounding the square and Mubarak's burnt-out headquarters nearby.
The one thing unifying the people here is that they want to see Mubarak go. We saw signs saying "World without Mubarak"; we heard people chanting, "Mubarak, go to the U.S."; "Go to Tel Aviv"; shouting, "This is the last day for Mubarak."
Egypt is very much a nation on the brink.
Many say here Egypt will never be the same again, that it can never go back to where it was. But the questions many are asking are: Where will it go from here? Will it sink more into anarchy and chaos? Will it go morph into an oppressive theocracy like Iran? Or will it find its way to greater freedom and stability?
Will Mubarak go? Can he withstand the pressure of the streets or the political pressure of the United States? What role will the Muslim Brotherhood have?
These are questions no one has the answers for. That's why church leaders feel Egypt—this pivotal nation in the Middle East—is at a tipping point and they're calling for prayer and fasting for Egypt—that this land rich in the Bible will fulfill its biblical destiny.
That was our report when the heat of Egypt's revolution burned white hot. But things would burn hotter.
Here's our CBN News report we filed the next day:
Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak pledged not to seek reelection in September, but it may not be enough to satisfy millions of demonstrators who want him to leave office.
The day after Mubarak's announcement, demonstrators gathered in Central Cairo for yet another day of protests. Many demonstrators here in Tahrir Square vow they will stay on the streets until Mubarak leaves. They feel Mubarak's promise not to seek reelection came too little, too late. The demonstrators here are exuding a sense of power; a feeling that all together they can force their president of thirty years to go; that at least for now that for the first time in a long time, they have the upper hand.
A young Egyptian told us, "Yes, we can make him go. And we will. We have had enough of him."
A middle-age Egyptian added, "Today we are making our own history."
The next major confrontation will likely come on Friday, the day of Muslim prayers. Some are threatening to march on the presidential palace itself. For the first time today there were minor clashes between pro-Mubarak supporters and the demonstrators.
Different factions and personalities are jockeying to control this revolution. But everyone is united on one goal: to make Mubarak go. After that, it's unclear what happens next.
Everyone agrees this revolution represents a sea change for Egypt. Some see it as the first scene in the first act in a long drama over the future of Egypt. Its present is precarious and its future uncertain, and many wonder what will be the outcome for the most influential Arab nation in the Middle East and a bell weather for the region. It's why Christians here continue to call for prayer and fasting for Egypt in its hour of crisis.
Before we left the square, around 11:30 a.m., we heard two ominous and prophetic warnings. One man told us Mubarak would use his thugs to disrupt things. Another lady—in a full burqa with only a slit for her eyes—warned us that people were now being allowed in the square without being checked. She said her large bag was not opened. Mubarak supporters would bring in weapons, she cried. She sensed the violence to come. Both felt the quiet wouldn't last.
We went back to the bureau and sent our report by satellite at 1:20 p.m. local time.
After our satellite feed—from the production house six stories up—we watched hundreds and then thousands of Mubarak supporters heading to Tahrir Square. I thought, That's odd. Why allow them to go there? Isn't that a prescription for disaster? A combustible mix?
Curious, I walked out of the bureau and followed them down to the square. Mubarak supporters carried one policeman on their shoulders and smothered him with kisses. Certainly not the feelings of the anti-Mubarak crowd just a short walk down the street.
I walked deeper into the crowd. The two opposing groups squared off. I stood just a couple of hundred feet from the epicenter. Something seemed different from the day before: ominous, wrong. I felt the whisper of the Holy Spirit: Something's going to happen.
Then, as if someone pulled a trigger, something did happen. A spark ignited the masses. The crowd surged back toward me. Like a field of wheat blown in the wind, the mass swept back in my direction. The crowd as one began to run, including everyone around me. The sounds of feet, panting, people jostling, shouting, and running crackled in the air. Fear and panic—you could feel them.
Then I saw shoes being thrown between the two groups, a profound insult in the Arab world.
I got out my camera and began filming while simultaneously being swept along with the herd. Thankfully, I found myself near the sidewalk, saw a fence, and like many others climbed over it. Still the throng swarmed. Like riding a human wave, it carried me with it and I remember clearly thinking, Don't fall down, that's how people get trampled.
But this small eddy of humanity on the sidewalk found an opening in a metal corrugated wall. We poured in. The wall separated a construction site from the street. Sand and rubber tubing filled the area getting ready for a soon-to-be-laid concrete foundation. I saw a young kid pick up a rock, a big one. Then I turned and saw that now the shoes had become rocks, showers of rocks. Back and forth the rocks flew between the pro- and anti-Mubarak forces. Where did all those rocks come from? I wondered. I didn't see any rocks when I walked down the street just a few moments before, but now hundreds of rocks filled the air. Somebody brought them.
Some of the rioting spread down side streets. The crowds surged back and forth. Roars swelled when one side or another made advances. I had never seen anything like this. Smoke rose. Soldiers, tanks, and military personnel dotted the scene but took a neutral "you can both fight it out" stance. I saw one photographer in the middle of the melee who climbed up on a statue to get a better vantage point. I feared for his safety as rocks whizzed by his head. I'm sure he wished he had a helmet. Of the hundreds of wounded that day, many, if not most, sustained head injuries.
I continued to videotape with our small JVC handheld camera while hanging on to the fence. An Egyptian clung on to the fence beside me and shared these front-row seats to pandemonium. The relative quiet of thirty minutes before had been replaced by a full-blown riot.
I called back to CBN News. They needed to know. Fast. This changed everything. Our report filed less than an hour ago was already outdated. I tried to text with my fingers shaking. Adrenaline surged. I prayed, "Lord, help me dial right. Help someone answer." One text message: no reply. Another voice mail: no call back. What's that other number? I knew I wrote it somewhere. I found it. I called and reached Steve Little, CBN News's 8:00 a.m. show producer, and told him about the riot.
Then I saw the most surreal scene. Horses raced down the boulevard right in front of us! Then a camel came past me, surging through the crowd. "There's a camel going down the street!" I shouted to Steve.
He passed the phone to Drew Parkhill, our 700 Club news producer. I told Drew about the riot. Suddenly a man came up beside me. He shouted in Arabic. I didn't know what he said, but I knew what he meant: "Stop videotaping!" I put the small JVC camera in my pocket. But the man and then a second stayed right beside me. I told Drew to pray since I thought the men were from the secret police. I heard stories about their involvement in the demonstrations and knew they wanted to stop incriminating video from reaching the outside world.
I turned and walked away. I had to put some distance between them and me.
I walked about seventy-five feet while still talking with Drew and then turned around. Suddenly, one man grabbed my BlackBerry out of my hand, the other the camera out of my coat pocket. In less than five seconds it was over. They ran away, climbed up on some construction material, jumped a fence, and vanished.
My first instinct was to get my camera back. My second instinct was, well, there were two of them and one of me and I didn't know if they were armed. They had run away so quickly the scene was a blur.
But now I stood there dazed with no phone. I lost my contacts and the video of the riot, two days of personal recollections, pictures, and video of Cairo's historic turning point.
I left the construction site the same way as the thieves, half hoping I'd find them, half not knowing what I'd do if I did. The street I landed in ran perpendicular to the main boulevard where the riot was still raging. Strangely, this street remained relatively quiet. Within a couple of minutes I strode along the Nile still flowing by, a silent witness to this latest chapter in one of the world's most ancient civilizations. But what was taking place just one block away was anything but civilized.
Still trying to process what had just happened, I felt upset at myself. How could I let them steal the phone and the camera? I thought I had better street smarts than that. I pondered, What do I do next?
When I got back to the production house, I ran into a producer and reporter I had met earlier in the day. My story gushed out. They expressed shock and offered me a phone to use. I called back to CBN, reported what had happened, and then recorded a phone feed for a new and updated story for the 700 Club.
About an hour later, I talked on the phone live with Pat Robertson on the 700 Club. We talked about what happened to me, the riot, the growing concern of the Muslim Brotherhood, how many Christians were asking for prayer and even fasting for the situation in Egypt, and how Egypt's turmoil might affect Israel.
After our call, people in the production house buzzed about other journalists who had been attacked. One example: a crowd had surrounded and accosted CNN's Anderson Cooper and his cameraman. By this time, the mood in the production house had changed. You could see the growing concern on the faces. All of a sudden the streets had turned dangerous, uncertain, and unwelcome.
About thirty minutes later, I joined CBN News's daily editorial meeting by phone. We discussed my situation. Should I leave? Stay? Some implied it might be time to leave, especially since I had no backup and no reinforcements on the way. At the time, I leaned the other way. I thought I could stay in the hotel and the production house in relative safety for the next two days and then head home. The decision ultimately was mine.
At the production house, many huddled around a monitor feeding a live shot of the riot that still raged just a few blocks away. Now the bureau seemed much more vulnerable. There was little or no security. What security I did see was a willowy young teenage girl who opened and closed the front door. Not the kind of physique you want between you and an angry mob. I talked with the head of the production house. What did he recommend? He said he'd never been in this kind of situation and was feeling his way through. A very kind Egyptian, he provided crucial help for me as I sent stories to the 700 Club. I was deeply grateful for him and felt his aid was an answer for those praying for my trip.
At 5:30 p.m., I walked to my hotel, eager to look inconspicuous. The mood on the streets had turned. You could taste it. Angry crowds spoiling for a fight, eager for a brawl. Dozens of Mubarak supporters passed me headed for the square armed with clubs. I shuddered quietly inside.
Shortly thereafter I reached the hotel and found the hotel staff—bellmen, security, and others—forming a human barrier at the front door. I showed my room key and then one of the bellmen recognized me and allowed me to pass through this impromptu human shield.
The hotel itself housed mostly journalists from all over the world. In fact, the restaurant sounded like the United Nations; French, German, English, Arabic, and several other languages could be heard. Going into the lobby or sharing a ride in the elevator provided valuable snippets of information. Whose equipment got confiscated, what was safe, where you could go. The hotel morphed into an instant club, a company of reporters sharing the same dangers and glazed together in the same furnace.
I walked into the lobby and ran into old friend, Andrew Wilson of Sky News. Despite the riot going on outside, it was a delightful reunion. Ironically, the last time we had seen each other was on the Israel/Lebanon border when Israel fought Hezbollah during the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Our children went to the same school when he was assigned to Jerusalem. We caught up on family news; then he left to see for himself what was happening outside.
I went up to my room and witnessed something I don't think I'll ever forget: the battle for Cairo.
The conflict—now three hours old—that I had just watched on a monitor at the bureau raged just two to three blocks from my hotel. It had begun with shoes, then rocks, and now had sunk into a brutal battle. Pro- and anti-Mubarak forces fought like medieval warriors with crude weapons like rocks and firebombs hearkening back to the Middle Ages. A revolution that began with twenty-first-century technology—Twitter, Facebook, and the Internet—took a turn back centuries.
After I got to my room, I talked once more with my boss, Rob Allman, and discussed our plans. At this time in the early evening and before the sun had set, I still leaned toward staying, feeling I could manage our news coverage—and still remain relatively safe—by walking between the hotel and the news bureau around the corner.
Meanwhile, the battle continued raging with no signs of abating.
It was a barbaric, bloody siege.
Demonstrators threw petrol bombs from rooftops to the streets below or from one rooftop to the next. Darkness shrouded Cairo by then, and the explosions lit up the night for a moment, then the streets dimmed down into a smoky haze.
I went downstairs for dinner. Riding on the elevator provided more information from other journalists. One divulged two of his remote satellite dishes were taken. The journalists—who by now were all targets— shared an instant camaraderie. "Be safe" became a comforting salutation. My sumptuous dinner in a five-star hotel felt surreal with a revolution taking place outside. I wondered if this was how wealthy Russians felt during the Bolshevik revolution.
Back upstairs in my room after dinner, I had the unusual experience of watching the news live on TV and live from my balcony. I turned to either CNN or BBC and watched their live feed of the battle and then walked a few feet to my balcony and saw the very same image. They might have been broadcasting to the world, but just two blocks away their coverage provided me with valuable information.
Around 7:00 p.m., several thousand miles away, my CBN News colleague George Thomas led the noon chapel at CBN in Virginia Beach. He arranged a Skype connection with my hotel phone, which thankfully was still working. For the first time in days, I heard a worship service, a spiritual tonic for a weary soul. George explained to those in the chapel where I was and what I was doing and then had me share my experiences since I'd been in Cairo. I told them what was happening and my feelings about the situation. Then George led us in prayer both for Egypt's predicament and for my safety.
Excerpted from DATELINE JERUSALEM by CHRIS MITCHELL. Copyright © 2013 Thomas Christopher Mitchell. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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