The limits of television

One of the mot paradoxical aspects of the last week is that, on the one hand, we have seen endless loops of TV footage of what’s going on in Cairo, and yet the only times I’ve felt that I had any real insight into what it was like has been when print journalists on the ground reported what they were seeing — as, for example, with the report by Robert Fisk that I blogged the other day. Here’s another remarkable account — this time by the NYT’s Nicholas Kristof.

Inside Tahrir Square on Thursday, I met a carpenter named Mahmood whose left arm was in a sling, whose leg was in a cast and whose head was being bandaged in a small field hospital set up by the democracy movement. This was the seventh time in 24 hours that he had needed medical treatment for injuries suffered at the hands of government-backed mobs. But as soon as Mahmood was bandaged, he tottered off once again to the front lines.

“I’ll fight as long as I can,” he told me. I was awestruck. That seemed to be an example of determination that could never be surpassed, but as I snapped Mahmood’s picture I backed into Amr’s wheelchair. It turned out that Amr had lost his legs many years ago in a train accident, but he rolled his wheelchair into Tahrir Square to show support for democracy, hurling rocks back at the mobs that President Hosni Mubarak apparently sent to besiege the square.

Amr (I’m not using some last names to reduce the risks to people I quote) was being treated for a wound from a flying rock. I asked him as politely as I could what a double-amputee in a wheelchair was doing in a pitched battle involving Molotov cocktails, clubs, machetes, bricks and straight razors.

“I still have my hands,” he said firmly. “God willing, I will keep fighting.”

The courage of these protestors is awe-inspiring, given the savagery of the regime they are opposing.