The most urgent question I had at Mohamed ElBaradei’s press conference was, Where can I find the hummus?
Unfortunately my question was never answered.
We arrived at the presidential candidate’s Q&A 45 minutes early to get good seats and prepare. The campaign office we walked into was small and bare, as if it had been vacated in haste that morning. There was nothing on the walls; scattered papers and an occasional laptop sat on desks that appeared to be placed randomly in empty rooms.
If ElBaradei’s campaign was expecting a big turnout among the press, it didn’t show it. The room for the presser itself was fit to hold maybe 15 people. The black table at which ElBaradei would sit looked like it belonged in a bad Office Depot advertisement — a computer chair and a few microphones accompanied it, with absolutely nothing on the scuffed white walls at which the cameras would be aimed. No Egyptian flag, no campaign logo or slogan or identification.
And where was the food? Aren’t press conferences supposed to account for journalists’ constant hankering for free snacks? And water bottles, too. A good rule in Washington's Beltway is that if two important press conferences are scheduled for the same time, you go to the one that's catered by Panera.
A half-hour after we sat down in cramped chairs, the tiny enclosure started to get crowded. Soon there were 50 reporters crammed into the room, a half-dozen standing video cameras and a few straggling campaign workers (who brought six water bottles for ElBaradei’s table, and handed out an extra three — three! — to the rest of us).
The temperature was no fun either. The stuffed room was hot and stuffy, except for exactly where we were sitting, underneath an air conditioner — which made it uncomfortably cold. I asked a campaign helper to adjust the blast of air hitting my neck. She said no.
In other words, the trappings of the traditional press conference I’m used to (in the United States) were entirely absent.
ElBaradei kept us waiting another 20 minutes after he was supposed to start. A few questions in, a reporter asked him in Arabic why the room was just a bit small to accommodate the crowd.
The candidate just replied that if the press wanted to rent a bigger room for themselves, they can do that.