Photographing the Clashes in Cairo

Moises Saman—Magnum for TIME
Moises Saman—Magnum for TIME
The following photographs were taken on Sept. 13-14, 2012.
Protestors throw rocks at Egyptian security forces protecting the area near the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.

Last week, as protests once again raged in the streets of Cairo, Magnum photographer Moises Saman was there. Over three days, he documented the ongoing street battles near his residence in the Garden City area—right around the corner from the American Embassy and Tahrir Square.

With rocks and tear-gas canisters flying through the air, Saman understood that he only had a small window of time to work.

“If you’re putting yourself right in the middle, eventually you’ll get hit,” he said. “You have to work fast.”

Taking cover behind a burnt car, Saman photographed protestors in the streets early on the morning of Sept. 14th. It was there that he shot the photograph featured as the opening Worldview spread in this week’s issue of TIME. Police and protestors had clashed throughout the night, following a string of unrest earlier in the day that had resulted in the attack of the American Embassy. Arriving at the protests, Saman found a varied scene.

“It was around 7 or 8 am,” he told TIME, “and the mood was tense. There were not many photographers around—I was one of the only foreigners.”

The street gleamed with pools of water from police water cannons, reflecting men standing defiantly in the street. Improvised tools of outrage littered the roadway: stones, chunks of concrete, burned-out vehicles and broken tree branches.

In the background, lines of men fanned out, some with arms crossed, others recording the spectacle with their cell phones. Taking advantage of a brief lull, several sat on the curb, nursing their exhaustion from a long night of clashes and tear-gas.

Moving quickly, Saman photographed young men as they scavenged for stones. Working in the no man’s land between the groups, the photographer needed to turn his back to police in order to capture the action in front of him. Although security forces weren’t firing live ammunition, the risk of injury was still high: “Getting hit with a rock will ruin your day,” he jokes.

Living in Cairo for the past year has taught Saman that he can’t afford the luxury of hanging around a scene waiting for the best light and peak action. It’s often when one lingers too long that problems can arise.

“You need to work quickly,” he said. “You need to work with purpose.”

Moises Saman, a Magnum photographer based in Cairo, was previously featured on LightBox for his work from Libya.

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