Sunday, January 30, 2011
Americans Advised to Leave Cairo; Security Forces Shut Down Al Jazeera Bureau
The U.S. State Department says it's planning to offer airlift service tomorrow for the estimated 75,000 Americans now living and working in Egypt, most of them in Cairo.
The State Department statement said, "The U.S. embassy in Cairo informs U.S. citizens in Egypt who wish to depart that the Department of State is making arrangements to provide transportation to safe haven locations in Europe. Flights to evacuation points will begin departing Egypt on Monday, Jan. 31."
However, the State Department did not provide any specifics on how this extraordinary involuntary evacuation would be arranged -- in a city under siege, with foreigners stuck in their hotels or homes without reliable access to cell-phone or Internet service. So we shall see tomorrow how that goes. (See photo above, Saigon being evacuated in 1975.)
So the unanswered question is, how you gonna do this? Chris Wallace, who interviewed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Fox News this morning, didn't ask the very obvious follow-up question ("How, exactly?") when she said this (italics mine):
"Well, we are following the conditions for American citizens extremely closely. This is one of my highest responsibilities, Chris. And we have authorized voluntary departure, which means that we will assist American citizens to leave Egypt. We have warned that there should not be any nonessential travel to Egypt. Thankfully, right now, there are no reports of Americans killed or injured. Again, I thank the Egyptian army for the support and security that they have provided. But we are watching it closely and we are assisting Americans who wish to leave."
The State Department, which was slow on the uptake to issue a travel alert for Egypt, has now issued a higher-level travel warning, which has the usual boilerplate blather, while advising Americans to avoid travel to Egypt.
As to travel from Egypt, eh, stand by for instructions ... ... (There are reports today that the police and the hated uniformed security forces will return to the streets tomorrow, after having abandoned them for the weekend. This would only add to the chaos.)
At Cairo International Airport, commercial flights are severely limited. Delta, the only U.S. airline with direct service between the U.S. and Cairo, has suspended its Cairo flights indefinitely.
But Delta is of little value for anyone needing usable information while under actual siege. Its Web site and Twitter feeds say, with that no-shit-Sherlock casualness (italics mine): "Advisory: Civil Unrest in Cairo... Civil unrest may impact travel to, from, or through Cairo, Egypt. Check flight status frequently for up-to-the-minute info about your flight plans, or get updates sent directly to your wireless device or email with Delta Messenger."
[UPDATE: The UK Foreign Office is advising British citizens to leave Cairo, Alexandria and Suez if they deem that it is safe to do so. But the UK warning also sensibly notes that Cairo International Airport, besieged by people trying to find flights out and understaffed because many Egyptian workers can't get to their jobs there, is not operating in an "orderly" manner.]
Meanwhile, what's left of the Egyptian government has desperately moved against Al Jazeera, the well-respected Qatar-based Arab news service that has been all over this story, including with live blog updates. Security forces entered the Al Jazeera offices in the capital and shut it down, but the news service continues struggle to operate throughout Cairo and the rest of Egypt.
From the Al Jazeera English-language live blog earlier today:
"The Al Jazeera Network strongly denounces and condemns the closure of its bureau in Cairo by the Egyptian government. The Network received notification from the Egyptian authorities this morning.
Al Jazeera has received widespread global acclaim for their coverage on the ground across the length and breadth of Egypt.
An Al Jazeera spokesman said that they would continue their strong coverage regardless:
'Al Jazeera sees this as an act designed to stifle and repress the freedom of reporting by the network and its journalists. In this time of deep turmoil and unrest in Egyptian society it is imperative that voices from all sides be heard; the closing of our bureau by the Egyptian government is aimed at censoring and silencing the voices of the Egyptian people.
'Al Jazeera assures its audiences in Egypt and across the world that it will continue its in-depth and comprehensive reporting on the events unfolding in Egypt. Al Jazeera journalists have brought unparalleled reporting from the ground from across Egypt in the face of great danger and extraordinary circumstances. Al Jazeera Network is appalled at this latest attack by the Egyptian regime to strike at its freedom to report independently on the unprecedented events in Egypt.'"
[UPDATE: Media blogger Jeff Jarvis at Buzzmachine.com writes that U.S. cable companies should begin carrying Al Jazeera English:
"What the Gulf War was to CNN, the people’s revolutions of the Middle East are to Al Jazeera English. But in the U.S., in a sad vestige of the era of Freedom Fries, hardly anyone can watch the channel on cable TV. ...
"It is downright un-American to still refuse to carry it. Vital, world-changing news is occurring in the Middle East and no one -- not the xenophobic or celebrity-obsessed or cut-to-the-bone American media -- can bring the perspective, insight, and on-the-scene reporting Al Jazeera English can."
Jarvis added, "Yes, we can watch AJE on the internet. But as much of an internet triumphalist as I am, internet-streaming is not going to have the same impact -- political and education impact -- that putting AJE on the cable dial would have. I can watch AJE in the Zurich hotel room where I am now; I want to be able to watch it on my couch at home."]