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What Oppression Looks Like

The New York Times just published a chilling report by two reporters detained while leaving for the Cairo airport. As CNN's Ben Wedeman observed, this is why the people are fighting for democracy. We had been detained by Egyptian authorities,

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The New York Times just published a chilling report by two reporters detained while leaving for the Cairo airport. As CNN's Ben Wedeman observed, this is why the people are fighting for democracy.

We had been detained by Egyptian authorities, handed over to the country’s dreaded Mukhabarat, the secret police, and interrogated. They left us all night in a cold room, on hard orange plastic stools, under fluorescent lights.

But our discomfort paled in comparison to the dull whacks and the screams of pain by Egyptian people that broke the stillness of the night. In one instance, between the cries of suffering, an officer said in Arabic, “You are talking to journalists? You are talking badly about your country?”

A voice, also in Arabic, answered: “You are committing a sin. You are committing a sin.”

We — Souad Mekhennet, Nicholas Kulish and a driver, who is not a journalist and not involved in the demonstrations — were detained Thursday afternoon while driving into Cairo. We were stopped at a checkpoint and thus began a 24-hour journey through Egyptian detention, ending with — we were told by the soldiers who delivered us there — the secret police. When asked, they declined to identify themselves.

Captivity was terrible. We felt powerless — uncertain about where and how long we would be held. But the worst part had nothing to do with our treatment. It was seeing — and in particular hearing through the walls of this dreadful facility — the abuse of Egyptians at the hands of their own government.

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I was on Danny Schechter's show on the Progressive Radio Network this morning talking about Egypt. Our conversation turned to the media, and how hard Egyptians were fighting to get the truth out about the oppression in their country. And yet, here we are in a country that allows a free press. That trust has eroded into parody for the most part, with the corporate news media giving us what profits them instead of what we need to know. As much as I appreciate Al Jazeera, it frustrates me to know I have to go outside the country to get actual reporting. But hey -- Katie Couric and Brian Williams were able to get out of Cairo, so thank God the faces of American news are safe and sound.

Today's HUGE gathering in Tahrir Square with hundreds of thousands of Egyptians had a mood of excitement, optimism, and solidarity. As I write this, there are now scattered reports of state thugs attacking people remaining for the night, molotov cocktails, and other assorted reports of state-sponsored violence. Al Jazeera's Cairo headquarters has been burned and its website hacked in an effort to discredit their reporting. Der Spiegel is reporting that rural poor are being paid by the state to stir violence among the protesters.

Egyptian State TV was very careful to show snippets of the protest on their broadcasts -- snippets taken from careful distances on the very edge of the gathering in Tahrir Square. A little sign here, a few people there, and a careful interview with a man who had been injured. They forgot to mention the journalist Ahmed Mohamed Mahmoud, who died from gunshot wounds inflicted at the hands of Egyptian government thugs. Ironic that he worked for a state-owned newspaper. I fully expect to see the government spin this as the act of the protesters, but for the fact that the protesters were unarmed and had to resort to using rocks made from breaking sidewalks to defend themselves.

I saw people in Cairo with bandages on their heads, arms, legs, with crutches and slings. They return. They hope this is the day that ends this dictatorship. They hope for tomorrow to be the day democracy begins. And it makes me wonder when we will stop taking our own democracy for granted and begin to treasure it, participate in it, and demand better from those protected by it.

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