Northwestern alumni report from Cairo

February 10, 2011

As protests in Egypt continue to change the face of politics and power in the Middle East, people all over the world have relied on at least a few Northwestern University alumni to help bring the story to life.

Graduates of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism who live and work in the region have provided on-the-ground reporting from locations throughout Egypt – from Cairo’s Tahrir Square to Alexandria. And they’ve used every medium imaginable – Twitter posts, blog entries, print stories, broadcast video, and internet audio and video – to tell the story.

Evan Hill (BSJ 07), a Doha-based Al Jazeera online producer, began reporting from the Cairo streets soon after the protests began – including during the history-making and particularly volatile days of early February when anti-government demonstrators clashed with supporters of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

“I saw anti-government protesters come up against thousands of well-armed Mubarak supporters and survive against hours and hours of a rock and Molotov barrage,” Hill wrote in an instant message from Cairo.

Though he got his first glimpse of the protests from a hotel room near Tahrir Square, Hill decided “there was no way as a journalist I was going to just sit in my room and watch it happen.”

“I slipped down the main corniche road along the Nile, entered through a safe civilian barricade, and they let me walk right up to their barricades as they fought,” Hill wrote.

“Then, after they drove the Mubarak people away, I stood outside the barricade as a full minute of automatic gunfire rang out,” he wrote.

Hill’s coverage on Twitter has been particularly captivating and won praise from The Atlantic’s The Daily Dish. As a reporter he’s endured a volley of thrown rocks, captured the reaction of Mubarak’s speech in Tahrir Square, and given a face and voice to protesters with a piece on young people who are occupying an apartment building near the square.

Other alums covering the protests and aftermath in Cairo include Gregg Carlstrom (BSJ 07), a web journalist at Al Jazeera; Maggie Hyde (MSJ 10), an Associated Press reporter; and Lauren Bohn (MSJ 10), who is freelancing and studying as a Fulbright Scholar in Cairo.

Hyde has covered looting and law enforcement at the Egyptian Museum, protester reaction, and reporters who have been jailed.

Bohn and a colleague have been working for Now Lebanon. The pair is focused not on recounting events as they happen, but on telling the stories of the Egyptian people.

“I’m interested in the people who are in the middle of this, who basically started this uprising, who are carrying it through,” Bohn told Northwestern magazine on Feb. 2. “We’ve been profiling Egyptian people on the ground in Tahrir Square.”

“What’s most fascinating to me is that there are so many faces to these demonstrations,” she said. “While there are tons of poor people taking to the streets, protesting because they cannot put bread on table, because the education system is awful, because of all of these deep-seated economic issues, there are people whom you would think don’t have any reason to take to the streets.”

“I’m profiling a 33-year-old man who is probably from one of the most powerful families in Cairo,” Bohn said. “His parents were in the foreign service. He’s been taking to the streets every day.”

You can follow Bohn’s reporting on Twitter and

Many of the Northwestern alums who are reporting from Cairo are just beginning their careers. Their hard work, talent, and training have helped to land them in the middle of biggest story in the world.

They are witnessing an event that is widely considered to be historic and transformational.

“This is not something I ever thought I would see,” said Carlstrom, who lived in Cairo for two years – one year as a Northwestern undergraduate student and one year as a freelance reporter. “And there was a sense that the people wanted (the protests) to spread and to really change the region,” he said during a phone interview while en route from Cairo to Doha.

Indeed, “change” is a word that surfaces again and again in conversations about Egypt.

In a series of Twitter posts on Feb. 3, Hill recounted a day of violent clashes between protestors and Mubarak supporters. One of his last posts of the day read: “Tonight was the Battle of Tahrir, and the protesters won. Cairo is changed.”

Asked if he thought this would be the only democratic uprising he’d witness as a journalist, Hill responded simply, “I hope not.”