Deb Amos is what's known in the biz as an experienced "Middle East Hand." A correspondent for NPR, she's traveled all over the region (she's here right now), knows the history and watched the stories develop over decades, often under fire. She's also one of my best friends. She's the one who told me the time was ripe for "On the Media" to go to Egypt. So we did. Because she is always right. Thank you, Deb.
So this is pretty unusual. I just got back to my hotel room and got a Skype call from John Scott-Railton, the guy behind @Jan25voices, who I work with on my @feb17voices Twitter feed. I was on a call with my mom so I didn't answer right away, but he sent me a frantic message saying that he just heard I was arrested.
Sarah has been struck by the contrasts of Egypt more than I have. Maybe its because I'm older, or because of those years in Moscow, but I'm grateful for the chance to see the city form her perspective. She has been spending more time on her balcony, not far from Tahrir. Last night, while I slept, she heard gunshots, which (she gleaned from Twitter) was probably the military attempting to disperse crowds in the square defying the curfew. The protesters are determined to remain a constant reminder that there is still a revolution underway.
Friday at Tahrir Square was intense. The sun, the crowds, the emotion. It was incredible to finally be in the center of it all, to be on the ground after having grown accustomed to the view from above that was broadcast all over the news during the revolution.
We've all seen Tahrir Square -- the crowds, the banners, the children, the passion. In the weeks since the revolution, all that has ebbed and flowed on that historic patch of ground. But today the crowd was the biggest in weeks, though of course, not nearly so big as in the days leading to that decisive, iconic moment when Mubarak was pushed from power.
If time is money, then I think that dollars are not the only currency that we need to convert upon arriving in Egypt. We also have to convert our time currency, throwing out our very American desire to be on time (though admittedly I have never been able to quite master that skill even in the States.)
Ok. This weirdly off topic, but I gotta mention it. I leave my room at the Rameses Hilton every morning, and when I return in the evening, the nice young men who tidy the room leave a surprise on my bed: Towel Sculptures! The first night it was a swan giving a ride to a small stuffed camel. The second night, I was initially stunned by what appeared to be a small child wrapped in gauze, before I switched on the light and beheld a an impressive towel-crocodile holding the aforementioned camel in its gaping mouth. Today it's a small man in a robe (thank god it's small - I don't think my heart could take any more life-size renderings) wearing MY hat. Also he 's sleeping on MY side of the bed. What nerve!
One thing we planned to do while in Egypt was to go to the University of Cairo's journalism school to see how media professionals are trained and talk to the new generation of would-be journalists. But when we got to town, we found out from another reporter that security on the campus was high and journalists were not being permitted. Turns out, like many other institutions in the country, the University of Cairo was dealing with its own mini-revolution, with student protesters holding a sit-in that has lasted for nearly a month, calling for the dean of the media school to step down.
A city of perpetual demonstrations (even though they are supposedly illegal.) Yesterday we passed a protest in a cab and asked the driver what it was all about and he said, "oh, everything!" Tonight was a demonstration commemorating the "April 6th Movement," essentially started on Facebook in Spring 2008 to support the textile workers in El-Mahalla El-Kubra--it was the first demonstration of the power of social media in Egypt. Tonight the movement unveiled its new slogan: "A New Era for Egypt." (A spokesman for the movement told us they learned some of the basics of using public relations and technology to promote their cause from the Serbs who developed the tools to fight Slobodan Milosevic.)
Last night we finally got to meet Mona Seif, a 25-year-old Egyptian activist, blogger and tweep who spoke to OTM from Tahrir Square at the height of the revolution. And as if her digital activism wasn't enough, she also does a bit of breast cancer research on the side.
OTM has finally arrived in Cairo. Words can't describe this city and the energy felt all around us. Having never been to Cairo before, I can't say for sure if the excitement that I am feeling is a result of the recent revolution or is simply the status quo for this bustling metropolis, but I feel fairly certain that there is a newfound sense of optimism among Egyptians--despite the repeated acknowledgment from the people I have spoken with that there is still a great deal of work left to do.