Warner Recounts Narrow Escape From Mob Scene at Israeli Embassy in Cairo

BY Larisa Epatko  September 12, 2011 at 6:25 PM EST


Egyptian protesters burn an Israeli flag outside of the embassy in Cairo in August. Photo by Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images.

Long-simmering tensions between Israel and Egypt boiled over Friday when an angry mob stormed the building housing the Israeli Embassy in Cairo. When a PBS NewsHour team tried to film the burned vehicles and other wreckage the next day, they were suddenly faced with an angry crowd.

Senior correspondent Margaret Warner describes what happened when her cameraman, producer and their local producer went to film in the back of the building as the others waited in a car nearby.

“A particular woman dressed in a black abaya started yelling at them, saying to Denis Levkovich, our cameraman, ‘you’re an Israeli spy’” and accusing the local Egyptian fixer of being a traitor for working with Americans, Warner said.

“They were surrounded, and when they realized they were in jeopardy, they started racing back to the car. Luckily there was another CNN crew there” to help them, she said. “I looked up — I was on the phone in our van — to see this mob descending on the car.”

As the crowd came crushing in, the NewsHour’s local producer was pinned to the ground with the CNN producer shielding her with his body, Warner recounted. He then scooped her up and helped her into the car.

“Meanwhile, some of the guys had actually gotten into the car and were grabbing at me and hitting me, and Morgan, our producer, had been hit as well. It was a tussle,” said Warner, who scrambled into the driver seat and drove from the scene. The van was damaged but “we all escaped safely,” she said.

In Egypt, rhetoric is often directed at foreigners and the United States, saying they are trying to harm Egyptian sovereignty and paint Egypt in a bad light, said Warner. “So the crowds already are incited in that direction.”

Secondly, there appears to be a crackdown on the foreign media, she said. Egyptian security forces raided the offices of Al Jazeera’s local affiliate and arrested some technicians. In addition, the government has issued a ban on issuing new licenses for satellite television and stopped televising the trial of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in an effort to clamp down on what it considers efforts to foment chaos.

There has been a “big change” from the openness that immediately greeted the post-revolution and the media, she added.

View all of the NewsHour’s reports from Egypt on our World page and follow us on Twitter.