Unpacking a revolution in Cairo

Egyptian "Covering a Revolution" fellows Omnia Al Desoukie, Sara Elkamel and Deena Adel participate in the first day of discussion in Cairo on October 13, 2011.
Kim Badawi

CAIRO — Just minutes from Tahrir Square in the Egyptian capital — still in tumult 10 months after the start of the revolution — seventeen young Egyptian and American journalists gathered for the GlobalPost / Open Hands Initiative “Covering a Revolution” Fellowship.

Open Hands Initiative (OHI) founder Jay Snyder welcomed the group with a message of “people-to-people understanding.”

“We believe the media has an important role to play in a changing Egypt,” Snyder said. “And we hope that through working together you will play a role in strengthening a free, independent press here in Egypt.”

Most of the Egyptian journalists participated in the January 25 revolution and have continued to report as it unfolds. A few of the Americans have experienced the “new Egypt” but most have watched with great interest from a distance.

The “Covering a Revolution” Fellowship is an opportunity for these young, accomplished reporters to learn from senior professionals and each other, said GlobalPost executive editor and co-founder Charles Sennott.

“Allow yourself to be convinced of a point of view you’ve never considered,” Sennott advised, thanking Snyder and OHI for their generous support of the program.

“This is a chance for all of us to step back and reflect,” he said. “To really use this incredible gift from OHI to give us the opportunity to work together. We only have 10 days so we really have to hit the ground running.”

The 17 reporting fellows are in Cairo from October 12 to 23, covering what for many is the story of their lifetimes.

“The vision is to take young journalists to work together to unpack this story, which is the best one I’ve ever covered in my 25 years,” Sennott said. “It’s so full of hope, it’s so full of peril. The only way I think we’re going to understand this story is if we start really listening to each other.”

He encouraged thoughtful, collaborative reporting, which will be managed and edited by Sennott, VII Photo Agency founder Gary Knight and GlobalPost Middle East editor Jon Jensen.

One of the GlobalPost’s fundamental principles is that of “ground truth,” a term that originates with NASA and describes information gathered by people that is often more reliable than satellite data.

Sennott translated that into reporting terms: “You have to look them in the eye an evaluate whether they’re telling you the truth or whether they’re giving you a line of bull.”

Although there is a sense here that the revolution has stalled and that a true regime change has yet to happen, Sennott was optimistic.

“In all of this change, I’d hate to see people lose sight of that sense of hope,” he said. “There really is hope in there. There’s a challenging of Egypt’s sense of itself.”