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Laura El-Tantawy


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Editors note:
After a week of shooting and updates, this is an edit of Laura’s work…she leaves tomorrow to return to London….this is her final essay.

February 11, 2011

Cairo, Egypt

I was in Tahrir Square when it happened.

Two weeks ago I arrived in Cairo determined to tell a story. I came here to document what I now know is the most significant chapter in my generation’s history as an Egyptian.

Friday February 11, 2011 felt like a normal day in the square.

Crowds slowly filtered in to join the weekly Friday sermon and prayers. The night before had ended in utter devastation as news had spread the Egyptian President would resign his post — a much anticipated cause for joy for the hundreds of thousands (at times estimated in the millions) who had made Liberation Square their home for the past 18 days. But their hopes ended in tears as Mubarak once again asserted his authority and military pride as a former member of the Egyptian armed forces and refused to meet their demands.

I was in the square photographing as I had been for the last few days. I chose to take the square as my focus, trying to highlight the human element and the square as a symbol of a new Egypt. Moments after crowds took part in Maghrib (sunset) prayers, people tuned into their radios, televisions and mobile telephones to listen to a statement from the Presidential Office. Given the chaos of the last few days, it was hard to predict what this statement might unveil. Anything could have happened.

But for the resilient protesters who were determined to have their demands met, they knew it was a matter of days before the regime gave in. For days their chanting had changed from, “The People Demand the Regime Step Down” to “The People Have Already Toppled the Regime.”

In my line of vision, I saw a group of five or six youths silhouetted by the glimmering sunset jump and strike their fists in the air. They said, “We did It! He’s Gone.”

Seconds later the entire square joined in, chanting “Allahuakbar” (God is Great) and “Lift your Head Up high, Your Egyptian”. Their echoes could literally be heard throughout the entire city and surely the country.

I never really grasped the extent of people’s determination to topple the regime. The two weeks I spent in Tahrir Square were an education. The more time I spent there, the more I realized something big was about to happen. Looking at the people sleeping in makeshift tents in the cold, under the rain, eating bread and boiled eggs for days on end showed me a sense of resilience I thought we had long lost as Egyptians. The stories people told, how they had lost their dignity, pride and their dreams during Mubarak’s 30 years of ruling the country.

Friday, February 11, 2011 is a day that will never be forgotten. It’s the day when the people’s persistence for change forced a dictator to step out and let a dream in.

I was there…


February 6, 2011, 3:17 p.m.

Everyone has a story to tell at Tahrir Square.

For nearly two weeks, thousands of protesters have made this former bustling part of the Egyptian capital their home–literally sleeping in makeshift tents on the ground and along the pavement. Some don’t sleep at all, but take turns guarding the roads leading into the square from attacks by pro-government supporters, or hired thugs.

Tahrir (Liberation) Square has become a microcosm of Egyptian society. The protesters here represent all classes of people, from the art world, politicians, engineers, lawyers, bankers, school teachers, government employees, construction workers, plumbers. They all came here to fight for something.

Abdel Rahman Mohamed Atif and his wife, Dalia, cradled their two babies as they walked through the square on a recent morning. Their faces were beaming as their eyes searched around, hearing the booming loudspeaker broadcast anti-Mubarak chants: “The People Demand the Regime Step Down.” They armed cradled their babies higher, lifting them up into the air so they could breathe the spirit of freedom echoing throughout the square.

On the other side of the square sat Ashraf Abdelhami, an Arabic teacher at one of Egypt’s most prestigious universities, the American University in Cairo (AUC). He has been at Tahrir Square since Tuesday January 25th, a day the protesters dubbed the ‘Day of Rage’. On that day, his body was sprayed by bullets fired by the Egyptian police, their traces still bruising his body. “I don’t want Mubarak’s regime. I don’t want the police” Abdelhamid said. “We are suffering and I’m here for freedom,” he added.

Across the other end of Tahrir Square sat a young farmer, Qutb Ali Ibrahim al-Sayes. He traveled from the town of Kafr al-Zayat in western Egypt to support the anti-government demonstrators. He said he was there “…for the freedom of my children.”

There are many more stories on Tahrir Square. I have seen many people weeping in the last few days and heard heartbreaking stories from people I have never met before. Protesters here vow not to leave the square until Mubarak has stepped down, seeing him as a symbol of a chain of corruption that has plagued the country for generations to come.


February 3, 2011.

My name is Laura El-Tantawy and I am an Egyptian citizen.

Twelve years ago my life changed dramatically. I still remember the day—the exact moment. It was just after sunrise had ushered in a new morning. I stood under Cairo International Airport’s flickering fluorescent lights, my heart pounding ahead of what was about to happen.

I knew my life was about to change forever.

My whole family surrounded me. My weeping mother and worried father. My ailing grandmother—my uncle, aunts, sisters, cousins. I will never forget the moment my mother and father had to let go of my hand. Their eyes holding back a silent pool of tears.

That was my reality.

This is not just my story. I am merely one of thousands, if not millions, who had to leave Egypt to pursue a better life. My family and I have endured a diaspora that has affected many Egyptian families who had to be broken apart in pursuit of a better education, better career, better treatment and ultimately a better future.

I have now lived away from Egypt for more than a decade but my heart has always been here and I know it will forever stay here. I am 30-years-old and Mubarak is the only President I have ever known. In his years of ruling this country I have seen so much injustice happen to the people. Many times I wondered how the human spirit can be so mean—so corrupt. I have wondered how the obvious sadness I saw in people’s eyes could go unnoticed by the government. I wondered how the Egyptian people were so put down socially, economically and politically that their defeated spirit had lost the natural ability to dream.

I do not represent all Egyptians but my opinion is certainly shared by many. When people took to the streets more than a week ago I felt like I had to be among them. This was my story: my present, past and future. This is the story of my generation of young Egyptians who have felt like foreigners in our own land.

Today I stood in Tahrir (Liberation) Square where a unique spirit echoed throughout every corner. I saw men and women weeping: “We are loosing our country,” they muttered. I saw men bleeding, saying they would rather die on Tahrir Square than have Mubarak remain in power. Today I saw Egyptians beating each other, saying they will kill one another. Today I saw an Egypt split apart by political turmoil.

I stood bewildered and confused. This is not the Egypt I know. The Egypt I knew screamed in silence but today people screamed at the top of their lungs. I was torn between photographer and protester. I wanted to scream and at moments cry. I wanted to hug people and thank them for their courage. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs with them.

Today I stood in Liberation Square and for the first time in my life I said: My name is Laura El-Tantawy and I am a proud Egyptian citizen.


Laura El-Tantawy is an Egyptian photojournalist and artist based in London, UK. She studied journalism & political science at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia (USA) & started her career as a newspaper photographer with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Sarasota Herald-Tribune (USA). She became a freelance in 2006 and has since exclusively worked on self-initiated projects. Her work has been been published & exhibited in the US, Europe, Asia & the Middle East. Laura lives between the UK, her country of birth, and Egypt, where she associates most of her childhood memories.

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132 thoughts on “laura el-tantawy – cairo”

  1. Great start. Very fast turnaround. Looking forward to seeing more. I applaud Laura’s bravery and that of all working in Cairo at the moment. Please be careful. That sounds like a silly thing to say but I can say from personal experience that sometimes we are not as careful as we ought to be.

  2. Laura: thank you, for being there, for acting, for letting me see, hear and feel history from the inside..

    Be as careful as you can!

  3. Some early morning thoughts:

    We in America do not know. We play pretend patriot. We go to rallies, hold our placards, scream horrible, vile things about our leading politicians. We accuse them of “socialism”, “fascism”, “Marxism”… call them “Nazi”, “tyrant” etc (all at the same time! haha *major eye-roll*..)… we do not know. We carry the banners of yesteryear… “Don’t Tread on Me!” Wear our yesteryear tricorn hats, talk about the tree of liberty needing to be refreshed, as if the United States of America were preparing to throw off the chains of oppression, of tyranny, removing the canker of Kings and monarchy as if it were 1775…we do not know. Prominent politicians and talking heads deeply ignorant of history–and possibly mentally disturbed–go on and on, thrilling millions of like-minded ignorants on a daily basis with talk of revolution, with the threat of a coming tide of terrorist-loving muslim-socialist-Nazi-Caliphate taking over the world…we do not know.

    We have no idea what real tyranny looks like. What real patriots look like. What true rebels with humanistic values trying to fix their lives, their community, their country…people who really are trying to throw off real chains, real tyranny, real dictatorships… they know, Laura and her family know. I am horribly embarrassed to watch the events unfolding in Egypt (and Tunis and elsewhere!) then see the Sarah Palins and Glen Becks of the world and their followers revealing the true fatuous-ness and dimwitted-ness that is the prevailing disposition of America today.

    Laura, stay safe. Keep at it. Great series so far. Will be here in and out to see the rest.

  4. We have no idea what real tyranny looks like…

    What you mean, “we,” Kemosabe?

    That aside, yes, nice work, I too look forward to seeing more.

  5. Strong work! A very brave woman and I´d love to see more of her view in the next few days…but it´s simple for me to ask for more…I am sitting comfy in my studio with my kids running round having fun. I can´t help feeling worried for her safety. Careful, PLEASE keep safe.

  6. laura….
    be safe with your courage….
    and your camera…
    I can’t wait to watch YOUR story unfold…..
    great beginning…..

  7. Sister Laura!…

    please stay safe….glad to especially read your statement…one thing i have always cherished about your work is the fever and richness of its intellect, passion, and insight. i could read you day and night :))….and very honored to have your voice on the ground with us…which always means more to me than just snaps…

    and i am really looking forward to a El-Tantawy essay which is not about the news shots, but the depth and peculiar vision you always bring to the witnessing of the lives of the people you spend time with away from the headlines….

    that is what i am most excited about from having you there, an El-Tantawy body of work…

    and my thoughts and prayers are with you and with the families of egypt…


  8. Laura

    I was very moved by your statement. It is a reality check and a reminder of the struggle faced by so much of the world.
    I’m holding my breath, waiting to see what will take place. Please be careful.

  9. … My family and I have endured a diaspora that has affected many….
    Laura im afraid i know exactly what u talking about! and then That weird Feeling of going “back” when everything is burning around u..i got that same feeling when i was standing in the middle of burning syntagma square in Athens last year….
    Great Work Laura
    very proud of you!

  10. MW…

    I’m sorry, I might be a little slow today, but I can’t quite tell if you’re just being humorous or if you really think you have experienced or seen tyranny here in the States?

  11. Yes, one should probably explain what may be sort of obscure cultural references, especially on such an international site.

    The quote refers to the old Lone Ranger television show. The Lone Ranger had a Native American sidekick whom he referred to as “Tonto,” which means something akin to “fool.” Tonto referred to the Lone Ranger as “Kemosabe,” which means something like “He who knows all.”

    So in modern parlance, when some white dude starts talking about how “we” don’t suffer from things such as racism or oppression, the correct response is ‘What you mean, “we,” Kemosabe?’ It’s meant to suggest that plenty of non-whites (and females) still suffer from racism and oppression.

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  14. (I’ve only been there about a dozen times, so I’m not speaking as an expert.)

    As journalists we often try to distill a conflict down to white and black hats. I’m not sure this is useful here.

    Things have been bad for a long time under Mubarak. Worse than Nassar? No. Worse than Sadat? Infinitely.

    In the end, the “Pro-Democracy” faction will win and their lives will soon become 1000 times worse. This is not about democracy. This is about who controls the revenue, which ironically, no one in modern Egypt can even take credit for. The Suez Canal (built over a century ago) generates four to five billion dollars a year all of which goes into a “presidential discretionary fund”. Tourism, generated by ancient Egyptian ruins. Agriculture? Fed ancient Rome and evidently is still being exported as it is mostly too expensive for the average citizen.

    I’d say most demonstrators, on either side, have no idea what they’re creating. There’s no clear coalition or leader to replace Mubarak. So the most ruthless and well-funded thugs will win, the Muslim Brotherhood. They’ll tear-up the peace treaty with Israel, in doing so will throw away the $12 billion (bribe) the U.S. pays them and start preparing for war. Those young men throwing rocks today will soon be conscripted into the army. The million (or so) Egyptian Christians will be brutalized. Money will become more scarce and food even more expensive.

    Say what you will about Mubarak, but the streets were safe. Cairo, a city of 30 million, was safer than L.A., Miami, Houston… I suppose any big American city you’d care to name. Children, elderly, tourists, could all walk the streets without fear at any time of the day or night. Christians and Muslims, for the most part, peacefully coexisted. Young men willing joined the army for the paycheck knowing that they’d likely never fight in a war.

    The whole country, from rich to poor, worked on bakeesh. Mubarak, fearing the masses, subsidized bread and petrol, but he also fed payments down to his generals, cabinet members, business leaders. Contracts were rewarded, kickbacks followed. Basically the ultimate trickle-down economy. Nobody working on a salary made enough to cover their needs, so everyone was on the take in some way, from the politicians, the cops to the guy watching your parked car.

    Yeah, it’s not fair. Mubarak is a thug. In the end both his greed and his foolishness in promoting his disliked son as his successor finished him. Still, although this typical mideast system of government goes against everything westerners believe in, lack of fairness and democratic values, in many ways it worked in Egypt. (It’s another issue, but why do we always assume that our system is best for a culture that shares little of our societal evolution?)

    With tourism destroyed (not to return soon), $12 billion less coming into the country via the U.S. taxpayers, increased strife between the religions, and renewed tensions on the border, the birdbath is suddenly a lot smaller for the 90 million who need to dip their beak.

    I feel for the Egyptian people and support their desire to better their lives, but I fear they’ve made the proverbial jump from the frying pan to the fire.

    Ken Jarecke

  15. Massive EXODUS from Egypt….
    now i feel sorry for poor greece that has to accept the massive exodus but of course the big powers of europe (germany, france & UK)could give a shit…i know their usual response to greece…: “its your borders, its your problem”…. so much for the Euro Unity plan..:(

  16. Kjarecke.. my fear is that you might be right.. my hope and believe has to be that Egyptians will know better and prove us wrong..

  17. Julliard added: “It seems that journalists are no longer safe anywhere in Cairo. Several news bureaux have also been attacked. The highest level of the Egyptian government must be held responsible for this policy of physical attacks. We urge the international community to adopt a strong unanimous position quickly, to draw the appropriate conclusions from the events of the past few days and to consider sanctions.”

    (from eva’s link above)

  18. Kjarecke: Cairo a city of 30 million?

    Umm, no. Not even with the surrounding metropolitan areas included.

    “Cairo, a city of 30 million, was safer than L.A., Miami, Houston” I’d be interested to know which statistics you base that evaluation on. It is highly doubtful in my mind.

  19. KEN:

    indeed….wanted to write something similarly, but have no time at the moment….but, it IS a critical point of view and an essential truth, especially when all (particularly in the West) alight upon a newstory focused on ‘the surge for democracy’ without one wit of an historical/cultural perspective….why, i rarely follow spot-news journalism (written/photoraphed)…

    What i await and value with Laura is that she will provide a story with insight, perspective and intelligence that will, I trust, marginalize the what-we-have-now sprint of quickpics….Remember BKK and what the West got/digested/promulgated from that last year….

    anyway, thanks for joining in :)

    Sister L, sat this afternoon during lunch for you with metta, etc….be safe!


  20. Carsten:

    well, anyone who knows much about Cairo knows the crime rate between Cairo vs. Washington/LA, etc is substantially different….

    to wit, check these numbers, for EGYPT itself


    incidentally, Washington DC (size about 600,000) over the last 15 years has a murder rate of
    40 to 80 per 100,000 per year, while Egypt, (60,000,000), as a rate of approximately 0.5 per 100,000….check it out via the UN…google it :))

  21. LAURA,

    I have been away for the past days traveling but I have been thinking a lot about you… I had read one of your messages that you were thinking of going back to Egypt and was wondering if you were already there…. I am not surprised you felt you had to be there…. there are moments in one’s life that can be defining…. this is your story indeed Laura….your words on how you feel at this moment are very moving…. No one is be better placed to show us what is going on there… but, please stay safe!!!!

    I was myself meant to be in Cairo next week for my work but the whole operation of the company I work for has been shut down, offices closed and most employes gone, all rightly watching after the lifes of their close relatives …. I will not go to Cairo next week…. but my thoughts are with you and the young Egyptians there…. Just hope this will lead to a better Egypt tomorrow as opposed to create chaos there…. We can only wish to see an Egypt with less corruption… for the people of Egpyt….

    Take care Laura and again be safe there!


  22. Bob:

    I do not trust much of what comes out of Egypt in terms of official crime “statistics”. Many people seem to agree that the official data supplied by this and past regimes is not exactly trustworthy, and it’s pretty much impossible for impartial NGO’s to establish meaningful data themselves, so any such comparison is, in my humble opinion, mute.

    My significant other is Egyptian. Her dad fled the country. I trust their subjective evaluation more than unreliable data.

  23. and here are two quotes from the article you linked to:

    “Reliable official statistics on crime were not available,…”

    “The level of criminal activity reported appeared to be surprisingly low and the success rate in solving crimes unusually high, particularly in light of the belief that urban crime was escalating.”

    How surprising…

  24. Carsten :

    Fair enough and a point well taken. And especially during times as this, we must make sure we all don’t fall into levels of hyperbole (which i think was your important point). I do think, the essence of Ken’s point was that revolution comes with a high price and that the West particularly (as with their predilection for colonization/nation building/war thrusting/hegemony needs especially to measure their interest in these kinds of events with respect to culture and history and an aim toward understanding what contributed to events and what all consequences may be :))

    but, alas, as you know so well, we’re all way to quick to get swelled under the compelling imagery of the moment without reflect, deeper, longer reflection….

    though even one family/person’s perception is still just that, which is what makes all this so confusing…

    Would also love to hear your partner’s perspective…the MORE rich and varied the dialog the richer our understanding (and confusion) and the better the BURN outlet :))

    thanks Carsten


  25. Ken…
    im so happy that back in 1821 (greek revolution from the ottoman empire) those greeks didnt think like you and started, continued and completed their “job”, which was freedom, democracy and autonomy…
    It is a transition, people will die and the positive results will come way way later…
    no tyrant or regime should stay on power for more than 4 to 8 years…but the dictators ala saddams and the mubaraks of this world….should vanish…30 years in power ? and thats ok? no revolution ended up with no victims…innocent victims…am i happy seeing mubarak letting thousands of thugs out of jail? to use them kill the protesters? of course not…do i want to see more blood? of course not…
    but i cant hide my respect to the simple , egyptian “commoners”, real people that RESIST….DEMAND CHANGE….
    30 years of the same asshole/puppet ? 30 fucking years and the creep has the audacity to think of his son and his legacy????
    The “guy” pretends, he actually believes that he is the OWNER of Egypt…geez louise….

    (only england can have the “right” to keep that stupid tradition of having a QUEEN but we all know that Her Majesty is just a harmless cockroach and nobody even cares)= to be perceived as a joke…of course but honestly i hope that some day even the british will wake up and laugh at their own outdated traditions…

    Damn it…2400 years after socrates, plato and pericles and we still talking about Regimes, Tyrants, Mumbarak’s and Saddam’s….
    Go Egypt go, finish what u started….get rid of your cancerous TYRANT,…
    not an easy task, almost utopia, idealism right?

    well again, im glad that the greeks in 1821 refused to think as Ken does above…

  26. Carsten,

    I’m not google checking my facts here. I’m quickly writing from memory and personal experience. Egypt has (as far as I remember) always been refereed to as a country of 80 to 90 million with a third of the population centered around Cairo. I don’t think that includes guest workers and such. Personally, I’m always stunned at the new housing developments stretching further away from the city on each visit. I don’t think 30 million is too far outside the ballpark. I also don’t think the Egyptian government could give an accurate number if they tried.

    As far as safety, once again I’m speaking from personal experience. I’ve always been treated kindly regardless of where I find myself (thankfully), still I’ve always found Egyptians to be especially welcoming. I think I’ve probably worked in the poorest areas of the country, always with a few cameras hanging around my neck, and have never ONCE felt threatened. Normally, just the act of sticking a camera in a stranger’s face will earn the working photographer a little hostility, but I’ve never experienced that in Egypt.

    That said, under normal circumstances I wouldn’t start making pictures of the canal or work to aggressively making pictures of police, but thats to be expected. Also, the guys working the Giza Plateau have been a nuisance at least since the time of Mark Twain’s visit.

    All of this has changed in the last few days, and has gotten terribly worse today.

    Ken Jarecke

  27. Panos,

    Funny you should mention the Ottoman Empire, because that’s exactly what the Muslim Brotherhood is planning to recreate. Let’s hope they don’t invade Greece again after they use this (well meaning and perhaps justified) mob to fully enslave the Egyptian people.

    Ken Jarecke

  28. and speaking of the british….big thanks to LORD BYRON that left hie safety intellectual zone in england ant traveled all the way to greece (messolongi) to support,help, lead, fight on the greek side…

  29. Brother Panos:

    I don’t think that Ken (though i can’t speak for him) was at all indicting the anti-government momentum nor Egyptians desire for change/democracy (whatever that means)/transformation….to the contrary, I read Ken as suggesting that once again the West (and journalists/readers) need to think much more deeply about the imagery and their reaction….shit, we didn’t learned very little from Vietnam, for example, did we ;))….nor, in our Western hope to ‘democratize’ (read: be like us) the world, we tend to see all this in simplistic (and hallow) ways…

    not at all a Mubarak fan, but in my from-a-distance hope for a transformation of Egyptian ruling nomenclatura and for a hope that the lives of Egyptians (educationally, materially, existentially) shall be improved….then again, a young Saddam was supported by us.govt in 1963, celebrated in 1983 for his years of service…and well, we know the rest of that ongoing tale….

    my hopes, honestly, are for wisdom and calm and goodness…and also that the west keeps their hands out of the cookie jar….

    i’m too old to smile at all this easily…instead now, just hope hope hope for peace, goodness and some meaningful improvement….


  30. Ken ,
    i might have it all wrong in my head but it seems that you state there there 2 forces/choices for egypt (either Mubarak or muslim brotherhood)..or maybe i misunderstood your writings above…

  31. KEN….

    pleased to have you and your wisdom here…would love to publish your work as well….stay with us…kinda grows on you…nice folks here….you’d be welcomed…

    cheers, david

  32. Bob: true, true… revolution can come at a high price… Will the situation be better or worse after a regime change? Nobody knows, but it’s important to take into account the complex cultural, historical, political, and economical nuances when trying to understand what’s going on and what the consequences might be. And you are of course right that it’s easy to get swept away in the powerful imagery… they trigger emotions that don’t always make it easy to assess things rationally.

    Appreciate your thoughts Bob, and will try to see if I can get “the boss” to weigh in :)

    Ken: fair enough… appreciate your thoughts nonetheless, I always like a healthy debate. And I definitely agree with you that Egyptians (if one can make such a blanket statement) are a great, wonderfully welcoming people.

  33. I don’t know much about modern Egypt and recognize that whether I’m for or against something that happens there doesn’t amount to a steaming pile of dogshit in the real world; and I have no idea whatsoever what’s best for the people there or their chances of achieving some kind of freedom and democracy; but I did read this interview with nobel prize winner Naguib Mahfouz; and if he was a leading liberal, then I’d say things aren’t looking too good:


    I have always defended Rushdie’s right to write and say what he wants in terms of ideas. But he does not have the right to insult anything, especially a prophet or anything considered holy. Don’t you agree?


    I see your point . . . Does the Koran discuss insults or blasphemy?


    Of course. The Koran and the laws of all civilized nations legislate against the vilification of religions.

    It’s difficult for any people to overcome the tyranny of superstition; we here in the states have a very tenuous hold on our freedoms; only baby steps from rule by Mullahs ourselves, so I’m not real optimistic that Egypt will manage to overcome. I’d say odds are they’ll end up worse off than they were before. And if there’s any real danger of democracy, you can be pretty damn sure the CIA will do whatever they can to suppress it.

  34. Ken Jareke

    “Also, the guys working the Giza Plateau have been a nuisance at least since the time of Mark Twain’s visit.”

    Too true, but not for much longer. I have been photographing the workers and changes at the pyramids for the last four years. Their fate was sealed long ago.
    On another note, I spoke to a friend there to ask what was with the horse and camel charge the other day. He said the riders that went in whipping the crowd were not Hosni supporters, just desperate. The pyramids have been closed for ten days. Very little human/animal food is getting through and what is has doubled/tripled in price.

  35. Laura –

    These few images, coupled with you simple but powerful statement and the sounds you recorded, has brought this conflict home to me in a way that nothing else has.

    I am in awe of your talent, courage and determination.

    Keep shooting, stay safe.

  36. CARSTEN :))

    BRING THE BOSS IN! :))…the more voices, the better!…that is what BURN (and all discussion) has always thrived on….it makes for a better world…and definitely for a better Magazine, the wider the voices, the variety of reflection/experience/background….

    I think David’s hope (my hope too as a BURN family member) is not that BURN exists just for photographers, but for all those interested in how stories get told, particularly through pics….and there are a whole lot of thoughtful folk around…

    i’m trying to get some students i have from the Arab world to sign up and chime in…it maybe hard, but some are reading, as of this afternoon :))


  37. BOB..

    yes, you have it right in your comment just above..well put…


    i am wary of stats as well…but as a guy who wanders around late at night with cameras in various parts of the world and have a pretty good street sense overall , surely Cairo always felt safer to me than most places….only problem was the cops/secret police themselves who were of course the reason i felt safe…they would stop me and question me, but that was it…..i never felt threatened by “street crime” in any neighborhood at any time of day or night and never heard of anybody who did….you know when you go to shoot someplace, the word is out on the dangerous spots…Cairo was not one of them…….i base this on shooting in Cairo and other Egyptian cities/towns during only one period and that was about three years ago for whatever that is worth…

  38. a civilian-mass audience

    The god abandons Antony

    When at the hour of midnight
    an invisible choir is suddenly heard passing
    with exquisite music, with voices ―
    Do not lament your fortune that at last subsides,
    your life’s work that has failed, your schemes that have proved illusions.
    But like a man prepared, like a brave man,
    bid farewell to her, to Alexandria who is departing.
    Above all, do not delude yourself, do not say that it is a dream,
    that your ear was mistaken.
    Do not condescend to such empty hopes.
    Like a man for long prepared, like a brave man,
    like the man who was worthy of such a city,
    go to the window firmly,
    and listen with emotion
    but not with the prayers and complaints of the coward
    listen to the notes, to the exquisite instruments of the mystic choir,
    and bid farewell to her, to Alexandria whom you are losing.


  39. Safety? Is it the same for tourists, strangers, and the natives? I know I never felt as secure in Beijing, police in every corner.. does that make for a true safety?

    I do know it’s different to be a Naples native and going out by night vs. being a tourist.. Egypt lives from tourism, not really a point in scaring them off, no?

    Plus we are looking at this from our angle, of course.. that is why reports from native journalists, people like Laura here, are so important, they come from a different angle, from one that knows things from the inside, who can understand the nuances better..

  40. If what Walter Rothwell relates about the camel charge being unrelated to regime thugs, that’s yet another demonstration of how nearly hopeless and often counterproductive it is for journalists to parachute into a foreign situation and provide accurate and meaningful(in a good way), information.

    Of course I’d like to be there and get photos of a camel charge, but in that situation the caption is everything and if it tells us that regime thugs charge crowd when it’ actually pissed off tour guides, those photos are worse than useless. The former is a simple, ultimately false story that a lot of people want to hear. The other is a complex, complicated narrative that fits neatly in nobody’s facile propaganda.

  41. The safest places are those with the best combination of economic security and a professional police force. I live deep in Brooklyn, NYC and can safely walk around any hour of the day or night. If I look out the window at 3 am, I’ll likely see some single young woman walking either home or to the subway and she is in little danger as well. That’s not true a kilometer or two down the road where unemployment runs high and opportunity is scant.

  42. I am always surprised to see that when upheaval arrives in a country, expats, whom many profess to love that country, leave it in a rush. rats leaving the ship?…. I suppose some crossed by Laura on the way to the departure terminal, and her direction showed where real love stands.

    On some of the comments above:

    1)Burma is the safest place I ever walked thru, for some of the reasons David mentions about Cairo, no doubt.

    2) mw: “It’s meant to suggest that plenty of non-whites (and females) still suffer from racism and oppression”.
    Apparently not enough that people end up on the street (other than rampaging their own neighborood, citing Panos’s LA example) to ask for the removal of the oppressive regime. food for thought….

  43. Many of us are aware that Laura is a superb and courageous photographer, yet if I may, I hope for pictures that show a bit of “behind the scenes” psychology (even away from Tahrir square) which would attempt to set the events as clearly an egyptian moment, more than street mayhem ones, which are often generic of such events anywhere in the world. I must say for that reason, the one with the man returning a quizzical look at Laura gets my suffrage. It does makes us reflect, not just react. Thank you, Laura.

  44. I see now the photo is part of a video, too bad I do not have a connection with the speed allowing to watch videos. Great image, nonetheless.

  45. a civilian-mass audience

    Mostly True…KENJ…
    and welcome aboard as my BURNIANS would say…

    LAURA…you are out There…Inside…Outside…
    may the spirits of safety and strength be with you … with All of you…!!!

    back to my aisle…

  46. Pingback: Weekly Photography Links: 02/05/2011 | Your Photo Tips

  47. Hello all – please accept my apologies for coming in late on all the comments here. I have hardly been on the internet while here and the bit of online access i do is through my phone.

    I would really like to thank all of you for your wonderful, encouraging comments. Obviously what’s happening in Egypt is a very important story for me and I have been frustrated at times because I forget I am a photographer and spend many moments admiring and breathing in the energy and the spirit of Tahrir Square. I am glad the pictures somehow resonated with you and I hope I can continue to do so.

    I will come back to specific comments as some of them raise really interesting issues, but now I must upload pictures, write text and go out take pictures.

    Hugs all around ==> Laura.

  48. LAURA,

    I have to say that I very much enjoy seeing how your visual story/reporting of the event is developing…. I absolutely love 2 of the last 3 images that David has added… the ones at night…. the one in particular with the side face of the woman is a truly beautiful pic…. What I find remarkable is that you are shooting this event with your own very specific eye and photographic style… this story is of course a story that we see all over the news but you offer your own interpretation, different that what we see everywhere else…. Keep going Laura….we are all eagerly waiting for your next pics hoping that the situation develops in a positive way for the Egpytians and that while shooting you stay safe!!!!


  49. ERIC…

    yes, this is what of course i knew Laura would do…she has a journalists sensibility but sees with an interpretive eye as few can do…i just wish we had some tech way of alerting when new pics come up, because i think few readers know when new work is posted…we will re-package on monday or tuesday…anton has been on the move and not able to fix all of this the way only anton can fix…so it is a bit hodge podge at the moment with anna and i doing it all ..but at least it is up….

    cheers, david

  50. Laura

    Live and breath first, the photographs will take themselves.

    I agree with Eric about the photograph with the beautiful profile of the young woman. It absolutely stopped me in my tracks.

    The profile itself appears almost as a bas-relief, an echo of Egyptian profile art. The features are classicaly Egyptian. It reminded me instantly of images I’ve seen depicting Nefertiti. The lighting pattern on her face, is a pure classic “Rembrandt” pattern, a favourite for studio shot profiles, with the main light skimming the eye on the shadow side, and a perfect triangular highlight on the cheek below the eye.

    This beauty is in brutal contrast to the chaotic scene behind, the woman nevertheless moves determinedly forward.

    This is an iconic image.


    Laura just picked up a small but very significant sponsorship…a model for us in the future…we will take the so called audience funding to a new level..whenever possible..anyway, Laura who is shooting exclusively for Burn will at least be compensated….this will create a whole new aura and arena for Laura and for us here at the magazine…and maybe we can use the same model for books…anyway, baby steps….cool Laura!!

    cheers, david

  52. Laura.. thank you, for the photographs, but also for the words.. this is what I was hoping for, glimpses of life from the people there, the story from the inside.

    Needless to repeat you please be careful!

  53. Laura,

    A very fine example of showing us what you feel rather than simply what you see.
    It is amazing to see your vision unfold and great to see you have support.
    All good things.

  54. DAVID,

    This is great news for Laura! I am very happy for her and I hope this extra help will enable her to stay there and carry on with the story… Laura is such a talented and strong person…. This support is so deserved!!!! I sense she could be up to something very very special… When great vision is matched with very moving words from someone intimately involved with the story, this is a unique combo….



    PS: LAURA, I keep coming back to this woman in profile!!! this is THE one for me!!!!!! That is the photograph I would like :):):)

  55. LAURA

    I must thank you first of all for your courage. Not only did you dare to go into Tahrir Square with a camera when attacks on and arrests of journalists had become all too common, but you did more, much more, than just take pictures: you talked to people with such fearless compassion that they opened their hearts to you. Because your heart was breaking open, so does mine as I look at your photos and read your words.

    You offer the most powerful view I have yet seen into what is really going on in Egypt today. Your photos are so personal and beautifully shot that I feel I am there. The heartfelt connection you have with your people shows in every image, especially, as has been noted before, the one featuring the profile of the woman’s face. It feels like a self portrait, although it probably isn’t. And the feelings you express in words give a depth and poignancy to events that can sometimes seem too distant to be understood by those of us who live half a world away.

    Laura, whatever you do, please stay safe.


    I thank you for assigning this story to Laura and then finding a sponsor so she will be properly paid. I just hope she can stay and show us how these next days and weeks will unfold. It is all about the people and Laura El-Tantawy is the perfct person for the job. Burn is flaming today…


  56. LAURA

    Powerful and emotional work.

    I can feel your heartbeat in every frame.

    This is developing into an excellent series…

    Very Well Done!



    thank you for your comment..and welcome back to Burn…Laura and you are two of the strongest forces i know….so pleased you are both here sharing this space right now

    cheers, david

  58. Laura,

    This work is amazing…the photo of the woman in profile, and the man sleeping in the treads of the track just took away my breath. While other photographers there are showing us the chaos and the riots, yoru images are bringing a personal, layered, contextual view – as david predicticed you would.

    Many thanks for showing me – us – this…and prayers go out to you to be safe, and to continue this valuable observation…

    You are a shining example of good light in a challenging place….

  59. These are some of the most unique and effective photos I have seen of the Cairo uprisings, bar none. I hope more of this kind of reportage is able to be funded and that Burn is blazing the way for it. While the work in the MSM is good, well, I find the edits a bit sterile and “safe.” I say edits, because if you were to go into the Magnum archives and look at Alex Majoli’s full take from Tunisia, I think you might be surprised at what you see there versus what was published.

    All of this is just to say, great job Burn and, especially, Laura…


    i am only speaking for myself of course and just a small part of your compliment and sometimes i am embarrassed to take a compliment, but not this time…this particular sequence of events and the matching of Laura to this story and having it all happen on Burn, will indeed be a significant milestone i think in the development of content on the web and how it might get financed….of course the beauty of it for me was just good old fashioned seat of the pants flying…….i think i can do the same for others …..thank you for your comment…

    no doubt Laura feels the same, but we will let her answer in her own eloquent way….

    cheers, david

  61. LAURA,

    Another big night tonight on Tahrir square…. thinking of you…. hope all is well and that Mubarak will announce his resignation…. Hope you are still there and capturing what will happen tonight!!!!

    Keep us posted.


  62. DAH

    “will indeed be a significant milestone i think in the development of content on the web and how it might get financed”

    i so hope so. ive been freelancing now for 9 years and while it has always been difficult just to get an assignment (nearly impossible for me now, despite awards, cover shots, front page pictures and numerous double trucks) being able to publish work with a voice has been even more impossible.im not alone in this, i know. and at any rate, that is why Laura’s work is really shining like a beacon for me here. And sometimes the people in the MSM need an example like what Burn is doing here in order to show them that, yes, people do want to see work with a voice and, yes, it is effective, and yes, you can come out of your comfort zone….

    and of course one last thing in light of Mubarak’s latest speech. Laura and everyone out there in Cairo, take care…

  63. KENNETH…

    just went to your website now ..i just had no time before……you have some very interesting work indeed… please send us some for publication here…we will treat you right…..

  64. Hoping to see more of Laura´s work especially last night. It´s funny because I have practically given up on viewing television… sometimes the odd film and no news at all. Anyway always been a bookworm! So thanks to Burn I have sort of kept up with current foreign news!

  65. Breaking News Alert
    The New York Times
    Fri, February 11, 2011 — 8:57 AM ET

    Mubarak Leaves Cairo as Military Asserts Control

    The Egyptian military appeared to assert its leadership
    Friday amid growing indications that President Hosni Mubarak
    was yielding all power. A Western diplomat said that Mr.
    Mubarak had left the capital.

    As protesters were swarming into the streets Friday morning
    for what was expected to be the biggest and most volatile
    demonstrations in the three-week revolt here, the Supreme
    Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces issued a statement over
    state television and radio indicating that the military, not
    Mr. Mubarak, was in effective control of the country. It was
    unclear whether the military would take meaningful steps
    toward democracy or begin a military dictatorship.

    Western diplomats said that officials of the Egyptian
    government were scrambling to assure that a muddled speech
    Mr. Mubarak made on Thursday night that enraged protesters
    had in fact signaled his irrevocable handover of presidential

    Read More:

  66. It’s incredible to watch and listen.. they really did it!

    “This is the beginning, not the end, it is the beginning of the new Egypt”

  67. Yes, Mubarak finally resign, Mubarak is history!! Laura, stay safe! Next days will be awesome and overhelming for Egyptians after 30 years of military power. History in the making.
    Shoot deeply from your (egyptian) heart as a photographer… hope to see THAT kind of images from you soon here in burn.

    As George Orwell said : “Rebellion is in the masses”

    LIVE Stream: http://english.aljazeera.net/watch_now/


  68. Bravo Egypt!!
    Obviously this is just the begining of a couple very delicate days…but the people have managed it.
    I wonder if the CIA have got their fingers crossed hoping the next middle east country could be Iran.

  69. Next days will be awesome and overhelming for Egyptians after 30 years of military power.
    Much to be happy about but the military is still in power. If I understood what was said about the Egyptian constitution, elections must take place no later than 60 days after the presidency is left vacant.
    Awaiting the next photos from Laura about this historic day.

  70. I wouldn’t be patting Egypt on its back just yet. In fact I’m surprised so many are shouting hosannas when a dictator’s generals are holding the reins. Just doesn’t make sense. I always felt the story lay within the military…

    …don’t know how that would be photographed, though.

  71. Take pictures Laura… DO IT FEVERISHLY and DO NOT STOP.
    THIS is a historic moment not just for you but for the rest of the Egyptian people.
    Show us so we would know how it feels:
    Heart bondage when you are walking freely.
    Supposedly walking but with lead-ened feet.
    How does it smell? What do you hear?
    Are you rejoicing because you are free?
    Or are you rejoicing because for once you all feeling together?

    Photograph feverishly so Egypt will remember and will not easily forget.
    How easy it is to forget how to stand together.

  72. Laura..

    I’ve been following closely for the past 3 weeks what was happeing in your homeland. Glued to the screen, watching Al Jazeera live stream, reading twitter feeds, blogs, interviews, looking at pictures, all over the net.

    Happy and scared when knowing you were going in the midst of it, understanding your reasons, being a bit aprehensive, especially when hours and days passed by without any news (sorry for having been in your ears asking often, David!)..

    And most happy about the essay you have brought home, the warmest, closest and soulfull pictures I’ve seen of what have happened in Egypt since January, 25th.. and I’ve seen lots of them.

    Thank you!

    And thank you to the Burncrew who has made it possible.

  73. Pingback: RT @DavidAlanHarvey: New BURN post: laura el-tantawy – cairo https://www.burnmagazine.org/essays/2011/02/laura-el-tantawy-cairo/ | Wayland Media

  74. Laura…
    Your Cairo essay is soaked in your very personal style and this is quite an achievement knowing the difficulties photographers and journalists have been subjected to in the last couple of weeks. The simplest thing would of been just to go in and take the standard straight shots everyone else has taken up until now. But you have found the nuances, whispers and textures which help your photos stand above the rest and I hope this essay will in time become a turning point/milestone in your career.

  75. LAURA,

    You have made the most personal essay I have seen on the events and like Eva said before, I have seen many…. You should feel very proud of being Egyptian today but proud also of the work you have done…. there are few iconic images in your essay. I already mentioned the number 2 of the women face on the side which I love and, I have to say that the last one is an amazing shot as well… well done all around Laura! and congrats for having stayed true to your personal vision!!!!!

    You were there Laura and thanks to you, we almost felt like we were there as well!!!!


  76. Laura, this is certainly one of the best essays burn showed.

    These are really personal and great great pictures.
    Seeing the pictures you witnessed makes me have a high respect of the people there and their way to change the future of their country.

    Congratulations for your pictures and for the great things your people achieved so far in Egypt.

    I think everybody here feared for you after we saw the pictures and heared about reporters being attacked.
    Good to know you are well.

  77. Laura, you wrote “My name is Laura El-Tantawy and I am a proud Egyptian citizen” and any Egyptian citizen who sees your work will, I’m sure, be proud of you. This is first class photojournalism, showing insight and empathy with your subject. I’m so pleased that the story, so-far at least, has had the hoped-for outcome for the Egyptian people. Of course the story has just begun and Paolo Pellegrin will now document for Burn and for Magnum. Documenting such stories after the press pack have left is what Magnum does so well and I hope you have the opportunity to return and do the same.

    Congratulations Laura, strong, brave work.


  78. That first photo, the one of the guy up in the palm tree, congratulations, best photo I’ve seen about Egypt so far. I just went through the 48 photos that Gladdy suggested at the Atlantic (real Atlantic, RIP) and knew nothing after viewing that I didn’t know before, which was pretty much next to nothing. Guy in the palm tree though, that really captures it. For me at least. As I commented in the other thread, in response to David’s mention that he cares more about the truth of feeling vs any kind of literal truth, most of your photos feel like trepidation, like everyone is deathly afraid of what’s going to happen next. Guy in the palm tree though, he doesn’t give a shit what’s going to happen next. He’s going to take the leap into that ole great unknown. And gonna do it with style. That’s the kind of feeling I like to see. Feels true. And I genuinely hope it works out for the Egyptian people, though of course I have my doubts. But fuck a bunch of me and my doubts, eh. Jump off the palm tree, I say. Go for it.

  79. This is the best documentary work on the revolution in Egypt, for sure! Laura took photos that will exist eternally.

  80. It does come out superbly as an essay, though I definitely would not see it as a documentary of the events, and most of the comments do point to that, that this is about feelings, moments of great emotions, and Laura’s personal stake and fire-hot stance in catching her own people in the midst of long-awaited liberation (if it proves to be, too soon to tell).

    Probably, Laura shot during the days too, as this is one remark that comes to my mind? Did you consciously edit the essay to keep only night shots?

  81. Morning all – it feels unreal to be back in London after a really intense few days in Cairo. I definitely agree that the work here is more of a series than an actual story. In fact most of my work is like this, with no definite beginning or end. It’s also still unreal thinking Mubarak is gone. The vibe in Cairo is like nothing I have ever seen before. My last couple of days there the conversation was revolving around whether to stay in the square until the rest of the demonstrator’s demands are fulfilled, or if they should go. There was a definite split and it was very interesting to listen to people debate and of course, at times, take part in the debate myself.

    In the end, the spirit in the city, and surely the country, is one of a new beginning. Most people feel a sense of relief the military has taken over and they feel safe. The military will only be there temporarily until a new government is formed (anytime over next six months). Now there is a sense that the air is purer, the spirits are stronger and dreams can actually come true. It is a new Egypt.

    Thanks for all the support you have shown me here on this platform. When I left for Cairo I didn’t have intention of necessarily having my work published and seen by so many people. Thanks for the courtesy you have shown me and for allowing me to share my story ==> L.

  82. Laura,

    I felt pain, sorrow, genuine courage, and passion from your essay.

    Thank you very much for your real works.

    And congratulations on the success of Egyptian againt autocracy.

    Kyunghee Lee

  83. Pingback: Thoughts on dreams, iconic shoes, & inside a revolution

  84. just fantastic work. i like that it doesnt pummel me over the head with “this is what is happening” pictures. not merely pictures of record, but more personal, narrative work. much like the best reportage in the writing realm (kapuscinski). anyway, more of what we need. in 29 pictures, only a few of people with hands in the air, whereas that’s what everybody else is showing (at least in edits). i can imagine that more is happening there (or was) than people standing around in Tahrir Square with their mouths open and their hands in the air. Yes, for me, you have shown us, perhaps, a more comprehensive (sensory, etc…) “picture” of what happened and is happening there.

    Laura, your quote “most of my work is like this, with no definite beginning or end” I submit, isnt this kind of what life is like? Superb!

  85. Hey Laura, sorry I am a bit late to this party…I have had a whole bunch of of things going on down on this side of the world…this is extraordinary work and I am glad that the will of the people has prevailed…on this side of the world it has been a number of months of the will of god which always prevails regardless… A beautiful essay, my particular favourites are the guy in the palm tree and the guy in the tank treads…but I reckon the guy in the palm tree is a WPP winner! Great to see your work here, cheers Lisa

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