I shot the winning image during the anniversary of the Egyptian revolution. It was during a time when the military had taken full control of the country promising a speedy transition to democracy. I had witnessed the first round of parliamentary elections just a while before – the country full of hope and optimism about its future. After the fall of Mubarak the country seemed to be divided into two main groups that fought to bring together the different ideologies that had splintered after the revolution. On one side lay the more hard lined group, the Muslim Brotherhood a once forbidden party that had started to gain ground in the country’s political scene and on the other the more liberal movement spear headed by the youth that felt betrayed by the army and threatened by the Muslim Brotherhood. During the previous days the square had been occupied by both groups were they both held rallies trying to garner support for their parties.
On that day when I shot that picture I was up very early as I knew there would be big celebrations all around the country and especially in and around Tahrir. I had been covering the events much before and despite it promising to be a quiet and celebratory event its recent past could have been a foreboding on how things could go a-wryly wrong very quickly. I made my way to Tahrir and the crowds were already gathering. It had rained the night before and the square was flooded in certain areas. There was a beautiful light hitting down that morning. The reflections from the water were like a kaleidoscope of colours depending on where the light was hitting.
I began working my way around trying to capture the mood. As is true with large crowds things can seem quite calm on the surface but there are a lot of emotions brawling under the surface. I always watch my back when I’m in such situations and never leave myself the luxury of feeling comfortable. At some point my eye caught the reflections on the ground and I began shooting the crowds walking by reflected in the water. I had learnt from previous shootings that there is a limit to the amount of time that one is granted to photograph a certain situation before eyebrows are raised.
Anyway I must have gotten carried away because very soon I noticed an elderly Egyptian man walking straight towards me. I immediately sensed that he did not like what I was doing. He stopped in front of me and started shouting and raising his arms in anger then pointing at my camera. He was not at all pleased with what in his mind I was trying to do – perhaps portray a country in less favourable colours on one of its most glorious days in recent history. It felt that he was insulted by my actions. Perhaps I would have felt the same…I tried to calm him, making apologetic gestures and that I would move on. His voice however began to rise and his gestures became even more frantic. So much in fact that now some other bystanders began gathering around asking for explanations. A seemingly innocent attempt to capture something interesting had suddenly grown out of proportion.
Again I tried to show remorse and that it would not be repeated but the man kept showing me the ground and wanting an explanation as to why I was shooting the dirt on the ground. He began pointing at my camera and touching it with his finger aggressively. I knew then that things could get ugly quite fast. As a last resort I though I could offer to show him my pictures and delete them – but I knew that would mean deleting some pictures that I thought were worth keeping and not something I was ready to do so right away. As luck would have it an Egyptian man probably in his 30s entered the scene. He spoke English and seemed to be more sympathetic to my situation. He spoke Arabic to the men gathered who continued to argue that what I was doing was inappropriate. The young man tried to pacify them. He came back to me and after I expressed my apologies and that I had no intention to denigrate such a day he patted me on the back and told me to move along. I thanked him and left the scene. Before the day ended I got myself into a similar but less aggressive situation twice…it was a day to remember.