News footage from protests in Egypt show defiant demonstrators braving tear gas and water cannons with more than 100 protestors reported killed and thousands more injured since the demonstrations began last Tuesday. News organizations have had correspondent teams in place in Egypt since last week, but this weekend, the broadcast networks began sending anchors to Cairo.
“We had no idea what to expect,” said Christiane Amanpour during a telephone interview from Cairo on Monday. “But it is always more scary from the outside than it is from the inside.”
Amanpour and a small ABC News team arrived Saturday where protestors were still defying a nationwide curfew to join demonstrations calling for President Hosni Mubarak, 82, to step down after 30 years in power.
Landing at Cairo International Airport, said Amanour, “we saw hundreds of people camped out — there were American and foreign tourists trying to get out. And there were Egyptians who were arriving but were too afraid to leave the airport while it was still curfew.”
Amanpour and her team chanced it, piling into a taxi while the driver strapped their luggage and equipment to the roof rack. But the usually short journey from the airport to their hotel in Cairo took nearly an hour as their car was frequently stopped by civilian street patrols who had taken it upon themselves to set up check points to protect their neighborhoods from marauding gangs of looters.
“Every 50 to 100 yards our car was stopped and there were people with machetes, meat cleavers, swords, rifles, metal bars,” she said. “Once they saw [who we were], they waved us through,” she explained. “I would describe the journey as tense but friendly.”
Asked if it was possible to be friendly while wielding a meat cleaver, Amanpor replied: “Yes, as long as you don’t whack somebody with it.”
Amanpour anchored This Week from Cairo and will report from the region tonight for World News and Nightline. She added that she is not sure when she’ll leave Egypt as the situation there is fluid. A “million-person march” is on tap for Tuesday while Mubarak swore in new vice president Omar Suleiman, who has begun talks with pro-democracy opposition leaders, according to the Associated Press.
Amanpour began anchoring ABC News’ This Week last summer with a personal mandate to bring more international coverage to the confines of Sunday morning political television. Invoking the late Peter Jennings as well as former Nightline anchor Ted Koppel, she cited the news division’s “international news pedigree.”
“It was sort of a no-brainer for all us at ABC News,” said Amanpour. “We made the decision very rapidly to send me here. I certainly feel for my program that it’s really important to cover the huge stories of the day no matter where they are — and to cover them on the ground where they’re happening rather than just to talk about them from afar.”