Cairo hotel tweets for help amid clashes

January 29, 2013

Pro and anti- government protesters clash in front of the Semiramis Intercontinental hotel, background left, on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013. (Khalil Hamra -- AP)

A group of 40 attackers stormed Cairo's upscale Semiramis Intercontinental Hotel early Tuesday morning. But when police failed to respond, hotel staff turned to a now-familiar weapon in Egyptian conflicts: social media.

Nabila Samak, the hotel's director of marketing and communications, sent a series of increasingly desperate cries for help as "thugs" swarmed the hotel, reports Egypt's Ahram Online.

 

The attack began early in the morning on Jan. 29, when looters broke down the hotel’s reinforced shutters and lobby doors. According to Ahram Online, the 40 or so men, armed with birdshot guns, knives and a semi-automatic weapon, grabbed computers, televisions and fire extinguishers, tore apart an ATM, and shot at fleeing hotel security.

After reportedly calling the police and getting no answer, the hotel turned to Twitter to beg someone -- anyone -- to respond.

 

 

 

In the meantime, hotel officials moved guests into what appears to be a conference room. Hilda Ismail, a Saudi Arabian guest, tweeted a string of her own calls for help from the shelter, saying “we are in danger” and “the situation is very dangerous.” Egyptian Special Forces arrived at 4 a.m., at which point a hotel official assured the guests in accented English that “the hotel is secure.”

Jan 28, 2013 | الامن المصري في الملجأ هذا كلامهم ، خير يارب #مصر by hildaismail on Keek.com

But the special forces weren't the Semiramis's only protectors. A group of revolutionaries surrounded the hotel during the looting, according to the Egypt Independent, and seized the attackers until police could get there. After the attack, Samak sent a tweet thanking the "revolutionaries."

 

It’s a rare instance of collaboration between the protesters and security forces, who have been clashing violently in Cairo's streets since Friday. According to AP, the hotel is on the front lines: Youths have thrown stones on the street outside since Saturday, and tear gas rose up several stories. Ismail tweeted on Jan.27 that skirmishes broke out but later moved away.

No one died at the Semiramis clash, and no injuries were reported. Still, photos reportedly from the hotel’s lobby show piles of debris, paper and broken glass.

 

 

On Tuesday morning, a hotel executive told the Egypt Independent that 45 guests had checked out, despite beefed-up security and promises to move them to higher floors. Later the hotel announced on Twitter and Facebook that it would temporarily close.

Closing has not saved the hotel from further attacks, however. At 9:40 p.m. Tuesday the Semiramis tweeted again:

 

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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Max Fisher · January 29, 2013