Recent Medill graduates cover protests in Cairo

Rachelle Blidner and Rachelle Blidner

While reporting on the current protests in Cairo, recent Northwestern graduate Gregg Carlstrom (Medill ’07) dodged rocks, was held at knifepoint and faced attackers.

Carlstrom was delayed in responding to an interview request after spending the day trying to obtain information about two colleagues who had gone missing, he wrote in an e-mail.

Another Wildcat, Fulbright Scholar Lauren Bohn (Medill ’10), told Northwestern Magazine last week she has only begun to feel unsafe recently and has had difficulty balancing being a journalist and keeping herself safe.

Carlstrom and Bohn, who each received master’s degrees from Medill, have been in Cairo reporting on the protests that call for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak . Carlstrom is reporting for Al Jazeera English, and Bohn is reporting on the people behind the protests while studying at the American University in Cairo on a Fulbright.

Pro-democracy protests reportedly began on “The Day of Anger,” Jan. 25, in Tahrir Square. More than 300 people have been killed since the protests began, according to Human Rights Watch.

The protests transformed a relatively safe and quiet place into a dangerous one, according to media reports. Protests in Tahrir Square have been especially violent. Protesters reportedly threw Molotov cocktails, and the Egyptian military reportedly violently attacked peaceful protesters.

“The atmosphere turned into a lynch mob,” Carlstrom said of Tahrir Square. The Internet played a major role in the initial coordination of the protests, said Wendy Pearlman, a professor of Middle East Studies at NU. The government has since restricted Internet access, but Egyptians are still using social media to spread news of Egypt’s state of affairs.

“Tech-savvy people are figuring out ways around the Internet block,” Pearlman said, including an Egyptian blogger she heard about who was dictating his entries to a colleague in Chicago.

Both Carlstrom and Bohn said the lack of Internet access has made reporting more difficult.

Phone lines have been mostly reliable, but Egyptian cell phones have been blocked from dialing internationally, making communicating with family and friends difficult, Carlstrom said.

The economy, repressive government and Egypt’s close relationship with the United States and Israel are the major issues of contention for protesters, Carlstrom said.

One encounter with a protester as he was entering a mosque was “stunning” for Bohn, she said.

“He looked into my eyes with a straight face and raised his fist in the air discreetly but purposefully,” she said. “I still get goose bumps thinking about it.”

Bohn is studying Arabic and Middle East studies at the American University in Cairo. She said she chose to study there because she wants to change misconceptions and miscommunication about the Middle East.

“I want my journalism to challenge the stereotypes and one-dimensional caricatures that have become all too prevalent in the modern media landscape,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Bohn wrote in the e-mail that her time in Medill has prepared her to cover this “historic time in every medium possible.”

This revolution has been 30 years in the making, Bohn said. “So to see this change, to see people mobilizing, which they’ve really never done before, it’s really touching to see,” she told Northwestern Magazine. “I’ve been absolutely inspired.”

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