Cairo, Egypt. January 28, 2013. A protester covers his head with a plastic bag he’s using as a makeshift gas mask during clashes near Tahrir Square.
Moises Saman’s Stunning Photos of Humanity in Conflict Zones
Peruvian photographer Moises Saman has spent the past few years living and working in Cairo and documenting the effects of the Egyptian revolution on the city’s residents—though he might argue that “documenting” is the wrong word. His work willfully avoids a chronological, ordered, historical view of the uprising, instead focusing on capturing humanity and the emotions of the participants. We spoke to him about how he maintains faith in humanity after working in war zones for years and the irrelevance of “objectivity” in relation to his work.
VICE: I heard that it was images of the Balkan conflict that initially made you interested in photography. Is that right?
Moises Saman: Yeah, that was the first time I had any interest in photojournalism. Seeing that work in the mid- and late 1990s was an inspiration.
That seems odd, even by the standards of war reportage—the Balkans conflict always seemed to me a brutal and especially grim war. What was it that hooked you?
I don’t know if it was necessarily anything particular about the photos, though amazing work was done there. I think it was more to do with that specific period in my life. It was a time when everything clicked in my head—when I started paying attention to the news and the world. Covering that war day in, day out was the moment that I “dialed in,” if you know what I mean. I became interested in the world beyond my personal bubble.
You went to the Balkans at the end of the conflict there—how did that trip effect your newfound awareness of the world?
I went in 1999, in the summer. I was totally unprepared and it was a badly thought-out trip. My good friend who was meant to be with me pulled out, so I went alone. I maxed out my credit card and didn’t sell one picture from the trip. I had tried to read up on the situation, but once I was actually there, I realized I didn’t know what I was doing at all.
I needed to do it, though. I think good things came of it, and my experiences there matured me a bit. I went there, and I made mistakes, but thank God I came home in one piece. If anything, it reassured me that I wanted to continue exploring photojournalism.
A lot of your work tends to be done in war zones. How do you feel about the tag of “war photographer”—is it a label you resent?
I don’t know if “resent” is the right word. But I don’t like it. I think it’s full of connotations that don’t really represent what I’m about as a photographer. It’s true that I tend to work in a lot of conflict zones. Somehow I hope my work is not just seen as something that is only related to conflict—people killing people and so on. Within the context of violence and repression, I try to find some moments that transcend that.
Sometimes it doesn’t work, of course, but it’s what I aim for. I look for moments that we can all relate to. It’s not just about showing events and images that eventually we all will become numb to—pictures of dead people or violence. So “war photographer” is a term I shy away from.
Why Are Journalists Being Imprisoned in Egypt?
Abdullah Elshamy, an Al Jazeera correspondent, has now been in prison for 175 days and on hunger strike for a little over two weeks.
"I’ve lost a number of pounds. I only rely on liquids. The littlest effort makes me feel dizzy,"he wrote in a letter smuggled out of his prison cell, where he isn’t allowed access to pens or paper. “But it’s what I feel compelled to do in order to raise awareness about the importance of freedom of speech.”
Abdullah—who was arrested during August last year when armed police violently cleared a sit-in by supporters of former president Mohamed Morsi—is one of four Al Jazeera journalists in jail, all held on vague charges while prosecutors prepare formal proceedings. They are among the dozens of reporters in Egypt who have been beaten up or detained over the past six months. Nine more have been killed since the start of the uprising in 2011.
These arrests and many of the deaths are symptomatic of what the country has turned into since the army ousted the Muslim Brotherhood–affiliated Morsi last summer. Egypt’s interim government is doing everything in its power to silence Brotherhood sympathizers, crushing the country’s revolutionary street movements by issuing a law that effectively bans any form of public protest.
VICE on HBO: Episode 6 – Corruption
Segment 1: China’s Ghost Towns
Fifteen years ago, China changed its policy so people could buy their own homes. Real-estate investments boomed, and new cities began popping up each year, many inspired by western design and mimicking iconic locales like Paris and lower Manhattan. The problem is: people don’t live here. One ghost city in Inner Mongolia, built to house one million people, is now an empty shell of unoccupied skyscrapers and abandoned construction sites. VICE checks out this and other urban failures to figure out how China’s preoccupation with growing its GNP turned “supply and demand” into “build now, sell later.”
Segment 2: Egypt on the Brink
Over two years ago, Arab Spring climaxed in the overthrow of President Mubarek in Egypt. But for many Egyptians, the situation has actually gotten worse, as has the man who replaced Mubarek: Mohamed Morsi, elected under the radical Muslim Brotherhood banner. VICE visits the embattled streets of Cairo, where opposition to Morsi has resulted in renewed mass protests and violence in Tahrir Square. Among those we meet: members of the Black Bloc, youthful revolutionaries who disguise themselves with hoods and scarfs while vowing to oust Morsi and destroy the Muslim Brotherhood.
VICE News is putting all of Season 1 of VICE on HBO online for you to watch for free!
Egypt’s Mohamed Mahmoud Anniversary Protests Were Pretty Surreal
The second anniversary of the 2011 Mohamed Mahmoud Street clashes was a confusing day of demonstration. Hundreds gathered in Cairo Tuesday to pay tribute to protesters killed by riot police during a crackdown on the Egyptian revolution two years ago, but wanting to commemorate those who lost their lives was about as close to an overall common ground as it got. Demonstrators included people who support the army, people who support the Muslim Brotherhood, and people who support neither and don’t want to be ruled by either a military junta or Islamists.
Thankfully, the scenes of November 19, 2011 weren’t repeated, but small scuffles did break out near the Egyptian Museum just off Tahrir Square as pro-army groups exchanged verbal—and then physical—threats against their opponents. For the most part, it was a peaceful day of demonstrations dominated by the “third square” movement that opposes both the army and the Brotherhood.
In the build up to the day’s events, various groups released statements outlining their plans for the day. The pro-Brotherhood “Anti-Coup Alliance” made it clear that they had no intention of going anywhere near Mohamed Mahmoud Street or Tahrir Square, “so as not to give a chance to the conspirators to fabricate violent incidents and blame them on the [Anti-Coup Alliance].” They kept their word and their protests were mostly confined to areas away from central downtown Cairo.
The Dying Art of Belly Dancing in Conservative Egypt
At the Scheherezade club in Cairo’s downtown district, five paying customers and a dozen staff sat and gawped as the belly dancer shimmied across the stage, amid the peeling paint, chipped murals and dusty faux chandeliers of what used to be a very grand dance hall. The atmosphere is awkward and sad. When a member of the audience threw a handful of Egyptian pounds in the air, the club owner swiftly appeared and scooped it all up. When someone tucked a big bill into the dancer’s dress, she promptly handed it over to the aging pimp-like crooner on stage.
There’s no glitz or glamor in sight, only a tired and depressed-looking dancer doing one of the few things that might earn an uneducated woman a lot of money in Egypt. (Top dancers can earn up to $2000 to perform at a wedding.)
The past three years have been tough in general for most Cairo entertainers.
The Chaotic Start of Mohamed Morsi’s Trial
Yesterday, for the first time in four months, Egypt’s deposed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi appeared in public. Since his ousting on July 3 the interim government and armed forces have gone to great lengths to keep his whereabouts a secret. The inevitable speculation made for some interesting gossip: was he rotting in jail in Alexandria? Was he effectively being held captive in the Republican Guard HQ? Was he, for whatever reason, in Qatar? Could he even be dead?
If he is found guilty of the charges laid against him, death will become a very real possibility for Morsi. He, along with 14 other high-ranking members of the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, are accused of a multitude of crimes, including incitement to murder.
On December 5 last year, a march staged by supporters of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood intentionally made its way to an anti-Morsi sit-in outside the Ittihadiya Presidential Palace. Predictably, violence ensued, with 11 people dead—three of them non-Brotherhood. Reports subsequently emerged that Brotherhood members had set up makeshift torture rooms and graphic stories leaked out over the proceeding weeks. The question now is how much Morsi, or Brotherhood leaders, had to do with any of it.
Appalling Violence Hit Cairo Again This Weekend
Bloodshed, teargas, and plumes of acrid black smoke are never far from the streets of Cairo these days, and they returned this weekend as police fought with supporters of Egypt’s ousted Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi. Around 50 people are reported dead after the clashes, which lasted for hours on the 40th anniversary of the Arab-Israeli War.
This Sunday’s protests were part of the weekly and sometimes daily marches that have been taking place since Morsi was deposed by the Egyptian military on July 3. The marches have gradually been intensifying since hundreds of his supporters were massacred at Cairo’s Rabaa mosque on August 14, expanding to include growing numbers of young people and non-Islamist protesters. This latest march was organized with a familiar objective in mind—to demand the end to military rule—and it was met with a familiarly appalling response. Its destination—Tahrir Square—has been a no-go zone for Islamists in the days following the coup and the country’s security forces weren’t keen on the idea of relinquishing their turf.
I went to the Moahndesin district in Cairo in the afternoon, where the much anticipated protests were scheduled to leave El Mahroosa mosque after noon prayers. I’ve been following these marches for the past month but Sunday’s protests seemed like the largest so far. It was led by hundreds of yellow-clad ultras, who banged drums and bellowed loud chants as the crowd made its way along the normal route. When the time came to break off and mark this special occasion with a visit to Tahrir, the anxiety ratcheted up a few gears.
Death, Peace, Power, or Jihad: What Is the Future of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood?
After last Monday’s verdict from the Cairo Court for Urgent Matters, the Egyptian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood is set to face a future that mirrors the majority of its past: Once again becoming an illegal organization.
After some deliberation, the presiding judge proclaimed, “The court bans the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood and its non-governmental organization, and all activities that it participates in and any organization derived from it.” He also ordered the interim government to freeze the Brotherhood’s assets and establish a panel to administer them until any appeal has been heard.
The court didn’t reveal the grounds for the ruling, but it was apparently prompted by the leftist National Progressive Unionist Party—also known as Tagammu—who claim that the Brotherhood have links to terrorists organizations and are guilty of “exploiting religion in political slogans.” Whatever the reason for the verdict, it seems that the spectacular fall of the Muslim Brotherhood is now complete.