Salma Said

Activist and citizen journalist Salma Said was shot in the face, arm, pelvis and legs

When Salma Said was shot she was armed with a video camera.

She is an activist and part of a "citizen video journalism" collective in Egypt called Mosireen, which was the most-viewed non-profit YouTube channel in the world in January.

The group started in the wake of Egypt's revolution which began on 25 January last year and saw the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak 18 days later.

Members of the collective see themselves as performing an essential storytelling role: providing coverage of police brutality and filling a media "vacuum".

"There isn't a free media," founder member Omar Hamilton told me during a visit to the collective's workspace in Cairo. "We have to step in where we can to provide alternative narratives, to provide what we would see as the truth that's not being presented."

Salma Said was attempting to tell the story of a demonstration, where protesters had gathered following the deaths of at least 79 football fans in a stadium in Port Said on 1 February, when she was shot.

She was there as a citizen journalist and as an activist "to denounce police negligence and demand the removal of the minister for the interior", she explains in this Mosireen film.

"The masked man shot me first in my face and my hand", she says, then he aimed at her lower body, leaving 33 pellets in her right leg. One missed her eye by four millimetres.

Salma Said xray
X-rays showing the pellets in Salma Said's legs. Image by Mosireen on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Salma Said was lying on a sofa, a laptop resting on her knee, crutches by her side, when I visited the sixth floor apartment rented by Mosireen a week after she was injured.

Egyptian-English filmmaker Omar Hamilton, an Oxford graduate of English, told me about the risks reporters are taking and how, in November, the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate made a statement to say journalists and those with cameras were being targeted.

"There's nothing you can really do about it except run at the right time. Which is just after everyone else but not before it's too late," he said.

After a year of battles with the police, just filming teargas isn't enough any moreOmar Hamilton, citizen video journalist and activist
"After a year of battles with the police, just filming teargas isn't enough any more. You have to get something people will sit up and pay attention to, you have to get something more."

Mosireen is a play on words. It means both "Egyptians" and "determined", depending where the short vowels are written above and below the Arabic script.

The collective formed in the days following the January 2011 uprising when it set up a "human rights media tent" in Tahrir Square as "a point to collect footage that people had of police abuses".

Hamilton said: "That grew quite quickly and once Mubarak had been forced to step down there was a body of work, of evidence, and that was then built on by filmmakers and activists. It was felt that we needed a space to work out of and to host a library of revolutionary material and to archive everything we can, including mobile phone footage and news-quality material."

Asked whether they see themselves as activists or journalists, Hamilton explained how they have a "definite journalistic push".

"We have a decentralised approach. We don't have an editorial policy, we don't have an editorial meeting at the beginning of the day to tell people where to go."

Anyone can contribute footage, creating an "almost infinite number of camera people" who can be out filming, using mobile phones, DSLRs and hand-held video cameras.

"It's the combination of pushing at traditional journalism", Hamilton said, explaining that privately-owned TV channels "are vulnerable and could be pressured into softening their positions".

"We are both attacking state media and trying to push traditional media outlets into taking a stronger stance and backing them up in being able to show things that perhaps felt they were unable to show.

"We are also empowering everyone that has a camera phone to make them feel like they can contribute to a wider narrative rather than just uploading it to YouTube."

(Warning: This video includes graphic images)

Mosireen, citizen journalist collective, Cairo, Egypt on Vimeo.

In addition to gathering the footage "to document" and "provide alternative narratives" in Egypt, Mosireen is focusing on distribution.

"Obviously not all of Egypt gets YouTube," Hamilton said. "We have a huge illiteracy rate and internet connections stand at 20 million maximum, and that's a very high estimate."

Mosireen is therefore reaching out to those without internet access, which is "one of the big, big, big challenges".

"It's very easy to forget how hyper-connected we are compared to most of the world," Hamilton said.

Mosireen set up a large screen in Tahrir Square and has been focusing on distributing CDs and footage which can be shared by bluetooth and downloaded to all types of mobile phones.

As well as the "cinema" in Tahrir, the group has taken street screenings all over the country.

"Leading up to the 25 January [the first anniversary of the revolution] there were screenings in five or six different towns every night showing the films we were making."

The citizen journalists have licensed footage under creative commons on YouTube and Vimeo, where others can download the films. These can be used by broadcasters.

Asked about how journalists wanting to show the footage can verify the images, Hamilton said: "Verification isn't something we get into. If someone shows up and has a video of someone being shot, it's not really realistic for us to even think that is something that they have staged.

"Everything that has been shot so far has been shot by people we know or by people who have come to us and we now have relationships with them."

It is not the international audience the activists are focused on. "We are in a fight that is going to be settled, or won or lost, here [in Egypt], so we don't need to spend too much time talking to or addressing international audiences.

"It's really much more about Egyptian public opinion and the narrative within Egypt that is important, and helping people get access to the truth."

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