Inside Al Jazeera

Inside Al Jazeera:

The next morning, a Friday, Mohyeldin remembers that the city was silent. “All you could hear was the call to prayer,” he says. “That’s not normal. I mean, there was so much tension,” as well as fear, anxiety, and exhaustion. What form would the final crackdown take? Camels and thugs? Fighter jets? Armed security forces? And how bloody would it be?

Now in the square something amazing appeared: a remake of the Egyptian flag. But in this version, the emblem of the eagle of Saladin had been replaced by the flame of Al Jazeera, the ultimate statement of allegiance by the protesters who felt that whatever may come, they still had their witness.

Mohyeldin got a haircut, lunched at the hotel where the crew was set up, and went upstairs to work. By afternoon, there was an announcement that the presidential council would soon be making a statement. Mohyeldin set up for the live feed. And then there was the vice president, Omar Suleiman, reading a twenty-second statement.

What followed was Al Jazeera’s climactic moment. While the other networks fumbled for meaning and explanation, at first waiting on the Arabic translation, Adrian Finighan, AJE’s presenter in Doha, said simply, “Hosni Mubarak has gone,” and then the network went live to Tahrir Square, panning the exploding crowd for a full seven minutes without voice-over, letting the natural soundscape rise: People cheering, chanting, hugging, crying. People in shock, overcome, praying. That sea of flags, standing now for something new, thrilling, and idealistic, something yet in chrysalis.

When Finighan’s voice returned—”The roar of the crowd says it all…”—he cued the live feed with Mohyeldin. Moments prior, Mohyeldin had made a quick call to his father, the man who had taken his family from Egypt to Detroit, Michigan, in 1984, after the assassination of Anwar Sadat, in search of a better life for his two boys. Mohyeldin had never heard his father, a former military man himself, cry before—but now he cried openly, on the phone. “It’s your generation that did it,” he said.

On-air, Mohyeldin had regained his composure, and to the end, was trying to place the right, carefully considered words atop the images on the screen. When Finighan finally asked him “to stop being impartial for a moment” and explain how he, as an Egyptian, felt, there was a beat of silence, and then a slight cough or laugh, as if he was slightly taken aback. Mohyeldin then rambled a little about the sacrifices made by so many, how the fall of one man had led to the rise of 80 million this night, and after drifting on for a while, he finally allowed himself to slip into first person.

“I never thought I’d live to see a day like this,” he said.

Watching this live is something I will always remember.


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