It was a week ago today that we witnessed history being made. Egypt’s former President Hosni Mubarak stepped down on February 11th, after an 18 day revolution that ended his 30-year rule. Now, as Egyptians celebrate his fall and look to the country’s military to implement democratic reform, we look back on those 18 days through the eyes of an American photographer Joel Carillet as he shares with us his story.
“I do a lot of travel stock photography and was actually photographing in Egypt last year for about ten weeks, as part of a seven-month trip through the Middle East,” he tells us. “I returned home in November and thought it would be a long while before I returned to the region. But when the protests began in Egypt on January 25, I watched the news with much interest and mulled returning. On January 30, I bought a ticket for Cairo and left the next day.
“I arrived the night of February 1 and the next day pro-Mubarak forces attacked the demonstrators in Tahrir. They attacked a lot of journalists too. My first full day of photographing, then, was intense, probably the most intense day of taking pictures I’ve ever had. You had to be aware of possible stampedes, of flying rocks, of undercover police, of angry Mubarak supporters who might be inclined to believe you were a spy here to wreck their country (Egyptian state media had described foreign journalists this way).
“The violence ebbed after a couple days and eventually I spent more time having conversations with many of the people I would photograph in Tahrir Square. I was constantly dumbfounded by the protesters’ articulateness, courage, and passion. They had a vision for how Egypt could be better, and many were ready to die before giving up on that vision. I had never seen anything like it before.”
“I was on a hostel roof downtown, talking with a Hungarian journalist, when a tremendous roar, straight out of the lungs of tens of thousands of Egyptians, swept through the streets. We stood and ran to a better vantage point to see if the sound meant something good or – just as probable – something bad. Soon we learned its origin: Mubarak had resigned, and one of the largest street parties in human history had just begun.
“Downtown was a sea of smiles and ‘v-signs,’ of jubilation and relief. People told me such obvious things – ‘I am Egyptian!’ or ‘I was born in Egypt!’ – and I loved hearing it as much as they loved saying it. Old women and small children shouted ‘horreyah’ (freedom) and people cried and kissed the ground. Egyptians had just put down another marker in history — and they knew it.”