Undercover in Cairo
By Fox News Radio’s Alastair Wanklyn
Police states don’t like foreign reporters.
“This is forbidden.”
A cigarette-smoking customs officer at Cairo airport tells me he’s seizing a satellite transmitter I use in live radio reporting, usually from a balcony or the roof of my car.
He doesn’t know what it is. He doesn’t even try to open the antenna. But losing this suspicious-looking piece of kit is no surprise. I have surrendered it before, in both Dubai and Tehran.
However, more worryingly, the guy now examines my Marantz digital sound recorder.
This is how we record interviews for broadcast, and losing it would be a problem.
“It’s nothing more than a fancy Walkman,” I argue truthfully.
It fails. Egypt’s airport officials are either super-twitchy or fulfilling a quota for confiscating stuff.
I make my way to a Cairo hotel with barely more than a toothbrush and a change of clothes.
But in my pocket is a bottom-of-the-range Samsung digital camera.
It looks like the cheap gadget it is. Among other gimmicks it shoots video, in lousy quality. But this jerky video happens to record excellent sound.
I stick black tape on the camera to make it look old and broken, and then I mix with Cairo’s protesters and anti-protesters, gathering their opinions with only them aware I’m recording their voices.
Days earlier, two of my colleagues from the London bureau barely survived a mob attack in Tahrir Square.
Fox’s Cairo coordinating producer is meeting senior Egyptian government officials to secure recognition of our need to work.
“You are here illegally,” they inform him. “Stay in your hotel, or we won’t be responsible for what happens.”
You can’t report from inside a hotel.
We take off into the streets, looking like tourists. And we attract no notice.
One day we visit what is usually one of the world’s busiest tourist attractions, the pyramids outside Cairo.
You don’t find many sightseers in a crisis. We are the only visitors today.
It is a once-in-a-lifetime emotion to be alone among such astonishing 4,500-year-old monuments.
Just Fox Business Network’s Ashley Webster, three of his colleagues, and me.
A couple of locals are present too, earning a wage.
But the guards are disappointed that we’re not the type to try climbing the stones.
And the camel-ride touts are dejected: For tourists, we are strangely reluctant to pay for resort thrills.
Undercover, we have survived un-noticed again.
The revolution takes place. We report it, then return to London.
Two days later an email arrives from a colleague in Cairo.
“Your press pass has arrived. We are now free to report, apparently.”