One year ago today, I thought I might have made a mistake. After three and a half years of college in Kentucky, I decided to spend my last semester committing journalism in Washington DC through the Best Semester DC Journalism Center program. Having felt led to go in this direction and experience the change I so utterly desired left me beyond excited. There were programs all over the world I could take part in, and in the beginning I would never have imagined Washington.
Ever since I started college I knew I would end up doing one of these semesters. There was absolutely no way I could spend the ‘entire’ experience on the same campus for four years and I had never felt more led to step out and change my circumstances (much like I felt when I started college and how I’m feeling right about now).
I knew DC was a place I had always liked but didn’t know I would soon fall in love with it and feel more at home than anywhere else. Modeled after Paris, Washington was already a city I admired and had a decent grip on geographically, but when I heard the news on January 25th, 2011, I thought that maybe, just maybe I had chosen the wrong program..
The director of the journalism center was in dissary as he knew Egypt’s government probably wouldn’t last much longer… The Best Semester Egypt program was stationed outside of Cairo, but the Egyptian President was shutting down all communications throughout the country leaving panicked parents and friends of the students in Cairo. I was incredibly fascinated by the uprising because, unlike other protests and revolutions, this one was more unique than ever before. It was the transparency revealed by the increase and availibility of new technology that assembled and drove much of the revolution. I kept thinking to myself, “Wow, could you imagine starting your last semester of college in a country whose government fell the next day during one of the greatest uprisings in recent history!?” And that uprising would then go on to shape much of the conversations, protests and technology issues that are playing out today. I so wished I had been there, but little did I know that this major news event would lead to everythig else, and me being in Washington was key..
On January 25th, 2011, thousands of protesters took to the streets in Cairo, converging on Tahrir Square in an uprising of free expression, civil resistance and demanding an overthrow of the 30+ year regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mumbarak. The start of the revolution that was staged on Jan. 25th was in part, assembled from social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Here was a country that kind of unconsciously (as well as very consciously) lived under oppression with incredibly limited freedoms. Then the spread and availability of the internet brought about a means of transparency and free expression that had never before been experienced. Now, the voice of the average nobody was amplified, it had potential to gather an audience, to assemble, to share ideas. People had become their own publishers with a free available platform to broadcast their expression. As people in these countries became connected to the global community via the web, not only was free expression spread but a global transparency which led to a massive ongoing uprising. Here was a country that lived a particular way in a particular culture and then, suddenly, iPhone’s were dropped into it. Whereas in America, it progressed and happened over time as the technology developed, in places like Egypt it happened all at once, and the only logical outcome to a suppressed culture awakening to their suppression - uprising.
When one Tunisian demonstrator set himself ablaze to protest the government, did he realize that the spark would eventually spread throughout the region and then the entire world? The uprisings stem from technology’s major role when the whistle-blower website WikiLeaks released State Department cables about the corrupt Tunisian regime, acting as both a trigger and a tool for political outcry. If it weren’t for Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Google and the availability of the internet and smart-phones than free expression around the world would not be nearly what it is today. Tunisia’s uprising led to Egypt and then to Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and Syria.. it then spread to Europe due to financial crisis and on to America with the Occupy movement… we have witnessed and continue to witness the world’s first real Cyber Revolution. The global online hacker vigilantes, Anonymous, successfully destroyed the government websites of Egypt when Mubarak shut down the countries internet. They have attacked the governments of Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, Iran, Tunisia and countless corrupt countries including the United States in protest of the SOPA and PIPA bills.
Anonymous turned out to be my first story when I started working in Washington. The seemingly small report had found me and I just knew that it would become more and more significant as the future unfolded, and I was right. Today, Anonymous is far from a small story, rather the cyber revolution is at the forefront.
In the end, if it weren’t for Egypt demanding their voices heard, half of the things I have written about on this blog and in my career as a journalist, would not exist. I owe it all to the internet, the greatest tool for free speech and expression, though in a sense, I owe it all to Egypt.
As a young kid I remember being so fascinated by Egypt. I had dozens of books on the pharaohs and the ruins and watched tons of those Discovery channel shows about the country. I wanted to be an Egyptologist and unlock ancient mysteries. Today, I’m still a nerd like that and am driven to unlock answers and find out the story. Little did I know, Egypt, a place that once inspired me so much would re-emerge in my life as the single event to inspire the path of my career as a journalist.
As Egypt struggles to define itself and its version of democracy and freedom, so does the rest of this brave new world grapple with the very same issues of new defining due to technology and free expression; Egypt, just being the physical embodiment of the global change.