BY INSI

SAFETY ADVISORY: Covering Egypt and its protests

The advice below will not prevent you being attacked, but it may help you to avoid getting into a situation that is potentially dangerous.

Reporting in Egypt

You are not advised to cover the current protests in Egypt if you 

• Have not undertaken a hostile environment course

• Do not have up to date medical training

• Are an inexperienced journalist

• Do not have a local fixer or do not speak Arabic

• Do not have a robust communications plan

• Do not have emergency plans in place

• Do not understand the way demonstrations take place and the tactics of the security forces, as well as the weaponry that is used and why

Preparation

Ensure you have considered the following prior to going to cover the protests - Tahrir Square included

• Have a plan – decide what your story really is, do you need to go there to get the story? Can you get it another way?

• How long do you need there and why?

• Have a plan for emergencies and know the square or the area of the protests. Do a map study and plan escape routes. Try to drive around the square and the area, so you know the back streets before you have to walk it

• Make sure you have an entry plan and exit plan

• Broadcast – try to send 3 people and stick together

• Other individuals try to go together with other journalists if possible (safety in numbers)

• Take someone with you knows the square or the area

• Find a fixer to act as your guide. This may give you some level of protection

• You must take an Arabic/English speaker with you to translate for you

• What time of the day do you need to go to get the story, can it be done during the day?

• Leave Tahrir Square before it gets dark or move to high ground to cover the night’s events

• Be conscious that foreigners may be seen as spies or Israeli agents and this belief has led to sexual harassment incidents

• Atmosphere – try to get a sense of the mood in the morning. Who is there, what are they doing?

• Try not to show disgust at anything going on in the Square it will make things difficult for you

Equipment

Ensure you take the following

Backpack with

• Water for drinking and for washing away tear gas

• Food

• Torch

• Gogges and dust mask, or preferably a respirator/gas mask with a spare canister

• Hard hat/baseball cap to protect your head against bricks being thrown

• Small fire extinguisher

• Eye drops

• Medical pack with equipment for burns and gunshots

• Compass and map so you know where you are and which way to run to safety

Clothing for females

• Wear long trousers with high waists and tight belts

• Wear large knickers under the trousers; tuck a vest top into the knickers underneath any blouse you wear

• Make sure that blouses are large fitting and cover all flesh to the wrist. They should be high necked and not show off chest

• Avoid wearing jewelry, keep watches in pockets and wear cheap sunglasses

• Consider wearing lightweight gilet to cover up. If it has pockets, you can carry batteries or notebooks in them to give you some protection of the chest areas

• Carry your backpack on your front to cover your breast and intimate areas at the front of the body 

Thoughts for consideration

• If you take pictures of people doing bad things it is likely they will turn on you. This applies to the security forces and locals. Both sides are just as aggressive

• Consider driving around the square and surrounding areas in the mornings/during the day when there is nothing going. Do this to familiarise yourself with the layout of the square

• Ask whether it is safer to send a man or a woman. Would it be safer to send a man given the atmosphere? It may be safer for the women in the team to stay on the corners of the square and then for a male colleague to go forward to get the pictures and then return to the team

• Ladies - lose any feminism ideals and think safety. Both Egyptian and foreign women have been attacked by mobs in Tahrir Square and other areas in Egypt. If your fixer or your local guide says it is time to leave, trust them

• If you get into trouble, you may not be able to get help. You have to be self sufficient

• Make sure females have the number of volunteer groups which habe been assembled by locals to assist in an emergency. One is Tahrir Bodyguard, whose members wear high visibility yellow vests with construction helmets and TahrirBodyguard stickers. Another is Operation Anti Sexual Harrassment (OpAntiSH) whose members wear white t-shirts with red writing. However, it is not guaranteed that these groups can help you, and you will have to be able to speak Arabic to speak to them. 

OpAntiSh has hotlines to report incidents of sexual assault and provide support for victims: 01016051145 / 01157892357 or 0227946787

• Ask yourself - what will you do if you are attacked or assaulted? Have a plan

Transport and routes into the protest areas

• Think about the transport you're going to use to get there, and have a car on standby as near to the square/protest area as possible for use in the event of an emergency 

• Ensure you have communications with your driver, so you can get them to assist you if needed

• Ask yourself, what is the best approach to the square/area of the protest? Seek local advice

Tahrir Square

Geography of Tahrir Square - West-East

General advice for covering demonstrations

Before you head out, consider the following

• Ensure your accreditation is in order and easily accessible. Carry a photocopy of your press accreditation, and the telephone numbers of your editor and lawyer. Make sure your editor knows how to reach your family in case you’re arrested or hurt

• Set your mobile phone to speed dial with an emergency number pre set

• You may wish to alert the authorities that your news organisation plans to cover the protests, if it is appropriate and not dangerous to do so in the country you are in. If so, obtain the mobile number of the person in charge; the more senior the better

• Take protective gear. This can include helmets, gas masks, or bulletproof vests with protective plates. Your decision regarding this may depend on what weapons the local police force uses for crowd control. Take a bump cap for projectiles being thrown

• If possible, try to study a map of the area you are covering prior to going on the ground. Consider filming for high vantage points. Agree a rendezvous point in case you lose your team and agree a 'safe' place where you can retreat if the situation becomes too dangerous

• In case of tear gas, use a gas mask and have a spare canister. If you do not have one, then use a dust mask or carry a bandana soaked it in water. Cover your mouth and nose with it.  Try to use some sort of goggles to protect your eyes. Ladies – consider not wearing make up as tear gas sticks to it

• If you do not have access to this the next best thing is to escape hoods, which are cheaper than gas masks and aren't subject to the same export rules as military respirator

• If you do not have either of these use a damp cloth, o the inside of your coat or jacket to protect the airway by pulling it up and over the nose (note that the outside of the jacket is likely to be contaminated with CS)

• Consider using goggles to protect your eyes while you move away

• Try not to wear contact lenses, as the tear gas will get under the lens. Bring eye drops and spare glasses

• Wear comfortable boots that you can run in

• Wear natural fabrics, which may be less flammable than synthetic fabrics. Carry a small fire extinguisher with you

• Prepare a backpack with supplies to last a day: lightweight raingear, energy bars and water, spare batteries for electronic equipment, protective equipment

• Pack a medical kit and know how to use it

On the ground

• Try not go alone. If you can, have someone to watch your back if you’re shooting pictures

• As soon as you arrive, look for escape routes and ensure you know the landmarks to head for if you become disorientated

• Try to stay on the edge of the crowd and do not get caught on the line between police and protestors

• Crowds have a life of their own. Be constantly aware of the mood and attitude. They may well turn on you

• Alert your editors if the mood starts to change and begin to think of what your plan is

• If planning to change direction, seek advice from people who have just come from the direction in which you’re heading

• Television crews should travel as light as possible. If experiencing aggression, ensure your backpack is big enough to hold the tripod and pack it away. Be prepared to leave it behind if you need to run away

• If possible, ensure you have studied the map prior to going on the ground. Consider filming from high vantage points. Agree a rendezvous point in case you lose your team and agree a “safe” place where you can retreat if the situation becomes too dangerous

• Avoid horses. They bite and kick

• Try to stay upwind from tear gas. Have your gas mask ready

• If the police detain you, try to ask them to call the person in charge if you have their number. Try to speak to a senior officer, as this will have more impact

• Call your editor; ensure legal advice is available through your organisation

Note: The views here are those of the author and are personal reflections and safety advice. They are meant to assist the media in preparing to work in Egypt and are not meant to be negative in nature. If they cause offence to anyone, sincerest apologies are offered in advance. INSI holds no responsibility for any ensuing problems, bodily harm or death in relation to this advice. 


If you have further information that you would like to share with INSI, please contact us at [email protected] 

Photo: Volunteers form a safe zone between men and women to prevent sexual harassment during a protest against President Mohammed Morsi in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, July 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)