Journalists, don’t be afraid to rely on Arabs to tell you Egyptian truth

Here’s an idea for a Western newspaper trying to report in Egypt. Rather than sending your own correspondent who doesn’t get anywhere near the action – or know any of the important writers, bloggers, Tweeters etc – you actually rely on other, perhaps indigenous sources, who are seeing the real action on the streets.

Not the Australian’s finest hour:

What do you do when the man who’s just checked you into your hotel is out the front looking up the street with an iron bar in his hand?

A gang was heading our way as the largest Arab city in the world descended into anarchy.

Iron bars have become the only tool of law and order in the chaos that is Cairo at night.

By day the Egyptian capital is the centre of a revolt that is shaking the Arab world.

But the mood of hope for political reform darkened into violent lawlessness yesterday as police abandoned the streets and soldiers largely watched the chaos from a distance.

That split left the Indiana Hotel part Fawlty Towers and part Once Were Warriors.

Safe hotels near Tahrir Square had become unreachable. “Too dangerous,” a driver said. “I take you to another hotel that is safe.”

I checked into the Indiana, although we could hear gunfire in the distance.

From a balcony an hour later I saw the receptionist, along with about 15 other men, holding metal bars, saws and metal poles with hooks at the end. Weapons in one hand, mobile phones in the other.

Staff in the hotel frantically hid valuables and moved furniture across the door to shore us up. They brought out the fire hose.

They explained that gangs of looters were roaming the wealthier neighbourhoods, storming hotels and other buildings.

Soon after dark, shouts erupted at the front of the hotel. Several people ran inside.

Then a gunshot.

More shouting. No room service here tonight.

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