Tuesday, September 29, 2009


I was woken up today by a phone call at 2.30 a.m., which I was expecting. It was a woman’s voice, which I wasn’t expecting. It was bad news, which I was half-expecting.

“They’ve stopped Per. I’ve got through but they’re not letting him through.”

I digested this as sleep softly beat me around the head. Swedish journalist Per Bjorklund (he of the heavenly Scandinavian eyes) and his girlfriend, A (who rang me), were meant to be staying at my place for a few days while looking for a flat, and looking after the cats in my flat, while I go to Dahab. They had just arrived at Cairo Airport.

A was eventually able to give back Per back his mobile phone and the next time I rang it he answered.

“Hey,” the familiar, phlegmatic voice answered. “My name’s on a computer apparently. I’m being held in a security room and waiting to see a security officer. This looks like it could take some time.”

I’ve never met anyone as self-possessed, at all times, as Per, and this is saying something as our working relationship largely consists of me watching him nearly getting arrested at protests, having his camera memory card stolen by the police (more than once), nearly getting run over while trying to stop a police car kidnapping someone, and dealing with the sinister after-effects of that decision. I’ve never once seen him shout, seen him be rude to anyone. In fact I largely have to attempt to interpret his emotions through the speed at which he says stuff.

I tried to text and call A on her Swedish mobile while Per was inside. All I got was dead air. I then promptly fell asleep :-s

The next message I got was from Hamalawy at around 4.40 a.m., informing me that Per was going to be deported on a flight to Prague.

Per – or Bar as I and virtually everyone else call him - is a blogger, but more importantly he is one of the few journalists I know who actually gets off his arse and goes to situations which he knows won’t make headline news, rather than relying on phone calls and/or Twitter. He was one of the few journalists (Egyptian or foreign) who covered the Mahalla 49 trial with any consistency, having to contend with me at 9.30 a.m. for two and a half hours in a Peugeot.

He was always great company too, and always seemed to be able to analyse – and analyse well – situations very quickly.

In short he gives a shit.

I’d like to think that Per was deported because they’ve been following his Swedish-language reports on the labour movement and street protests in Egypt and decided that he is a threat – at least they’d be a chain of thought there.

I suspect though, as usual, that the decision makes as much sense as a rat in roller skates. I don’t want to waste the few functioning brain cells I have at 8 a.m. on considering reasons why he was stopped because what’s the point when actually there probably isn’t any kind of logical bloody reason for it. As there wasn’t when Travis Randall was deported, and a Palestinian mother was kept in Egypt for a week, supposedly for “being a security threat”.

Per was one of the people involved in the To Gaza march – as was Travis Randall – but other foreigners on that march have been in and out of Egypt since then without problems. No, there’s no great plan. This (“your name is in our computer”) is just yet another instance of what they do best: bullying disguised as bureaucratic procedure, as thought-out policy.

The last call I got in this whole sorry saga was an hour ago, when A rang me, still at the airport. No-one had bothered to tell her that Per had been deported (or at least told that he was going to be deported. His phone was switched off after Hamalawy spoke to him). She had been waiting there, alone, all that time. She broke down in tears.

1 comment:

James Buck said...

Thanks for the updates and here's to press freedom, good governance, transparency and due process.

Free Per.