What was it like to be “pummeled” on the streets of Cairo?
Anderson Cooper advises avoiding such a beat-down whenever possible. “I don’t recommend it,” the globetrotting CNN newsman told David Letterman Wednesday night on “The Late Show” on CBS. “I’d never been hit in the head before.”
Cooper was one of several journalists from the U.S. and other foreign countries who, along with their camera crews, were threatened, roughed up and even detained last week when they ventured into the crowds of protesters amassed in the Egyptian capital. The unrest started as a protest against the government of President Hosni Mubarak, but eventually devolved into streetfighting between pro- and anti-Mubarak factions. Cooper says he and his crew were attacked by the latter.
Cooper’s appearance on “Letterman” represented his first comments about his harrowing experience in Cairo outside of his own show, “Anderson Cooper 360” on CNN. On “Letterman,” Cooper described the Mubarak boosters as “basically thugs.” Nevertheless, the swashbuckling, silver-haired newshound still felt an obligation to try and interview some of them. However, instead of telling him their side of the story, they turned on Cooper and his crew.
“We just set out to go talk to some of these pro-Mubarak mobs,” Cooper explained, “and all of a sudden, a guy went to grab our camera and from then, it just became a free-for-all. People came from all around, surrounding us, punching us, kicking us, trying to rip the clothes off my female producer, and we immediately obviously turned around and started to walk back to a more secure location, but they continued to follow. The Egyptian military stood by literally watching … I mean, we were lucky, frankly. I mean, there were people stabbed right after us, there were people who have been, you know, captured, disappeared.”
Watch Cooper’s Interview on the “Late Show” Here
In the midst of the attack, Cooper debated with himself whether to punch back or try and make peace. “My instinct, of course, is to punch back,” he told Letterman, “but I would start to slap back and then, you know, realize this is just going to make it worse. And it was funny, my adrenaline was pumping so much -– I’ve never really been in a fight like this or attacked by a mob like this –- and I thought -– I was saying sort of, ‘Calm down, calm down,’ as if they could understand what I was saying, which was sort of a waste of time.”
Cooper accused the Mubarak government of encouraging the attacks. “I have no doubt it was organized,” Cooper said. “I mean, they set out to attack people that day, and the proof of that -– the Mubarak regime is just lying continually to the world -– the proof of that is that as soon as they wanted it to stop, it suddenly evaporated.”
“They attacked you because they knew you were you, or attacked you because they knew you were American or with the press, or all three?” Letterman asked him.
“The vice president of Egypt has gone on state television saying that reporters are in league and foreigners are trying to attack Egypt and are behind these protesters,” answered Cooper, “so he’s basically given a green light for mobs to attack anyone who looks foreign.”
Cooper conceded that he stood out like a sore thumb. “I’m like a newt who’s emerged from underneath a rock, you know?” Cooper joked. “Yeah, it’s like, ‘Look for the pale, skinny, gray-haired man.’ Not too hard to identify.”