Samuel Vengrinovich is originally from San Francisco and currently lives in Tel Aviv-Jaffa. He has a bachelor’s degree in international relations from SF State and a master’s degree in diplomacy and conflict studies from The Interdisciplinary Center in Israel. He has worked in various political offices and campaigns in California and Washington, D.C.
Everyone has his own definition of what opportunity is.
For me, it was the chance to get to Cairo a few days after former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime fell and experience the one-week anniversary of the Egyptian revolution in Tahrir Square.
While most foreigners were fleeing the country, I was waiting for the opportune time to get into the country and be on the ground to document what was happening.
Living in Tel Aviv, Israel, I was only a few hundred kilometers away by land to Cairo. The Egyptian embassies in Israel provided me no help or information about whether the border crossing between Israel and Egypt was open in the Sinai Peninsula. I took an overnight bus to the border and paid my way into Egypt.
The next task was arranging a ride with the local Bedouins to drive me to Cairo. I passed through nearly 10 military checkpoints on the way to Egypt’s capital. At one of them, I was caught photographing by an ecstatic 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 I had of military checkpoints. They told me they had heard I was photographing them. That was the first of many arrests.
I got arrested, detained and interrogated a few more times.
In Alexandria, I was arrested at a checkpoint and moved from one location to another throughout the night until 5 a.m. They asked me what I was doing in Egypt. They were convinced that I spoke Arabic fluently. They might have originally 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 interrogations, one of them quietly asked me: “No one cared about Egypt before. Now the whole world cares. Why?”
Events happened so quickly for Egyptians that they could not even comprehend what was going on in their own country.
They were tired.
One of the Egyptian navy officers told me he hadn’t slept properly or been home in weeks. They were all on call, tired, and acting as both police officers and the army at the same time. His last words to me before they dropped me off at the checkpoint where I was arrested were: “Do you have Facebook? I hope you do positive things with the photos and videos you have.”
I constantly get asked why I wanted to go to Tahrir Square. And I always think to myself, who wouldn’t? There are probably millions of people around the world who would have loved to experience what I did: the chance to witness the physical and emotional release of Egyptians after decades of pent up emotions under Mubarak’s rule combined with the overwhelming optimism and hope they now have for their country’s future.
Experiencing the Egyptian revolution is something I will never forget.