Covering ‘The Arab Awakening’

It was within hours of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fleeing Tunisia that GlobalPost Cairo correspondent Jon Jensen began reporting on reverberations in Egypt — on the protests, the clashes, and the drive to eventually oust President Hosni Mubarak from power.

Jensen lived in an apartment just off Tahrir Square and used his neighborhood connections, his competency in Arabic and resourceful reporting to capture many of the key turning points of the 18 days of the revolution. With the great power of immediacy that is the strength of reporting on the web, Jensen provided video almost instantly even recording events in Tahrir Square from his balcony. He used Twitter and a live blog to cover the story for us, and also did the hard work of sitting down to write thoughtful analysis and detailed dispatches from the scene day in and day out as the revolution unfolded throughout the year.

In the first days of the revolution, Jensen was joined by GlobalPost Executive Editor and co-founder Charles M. Sennott who also contributed to live, hard news coverage and analysis from Tahrir Square through written dispatches and blog posts as the protests swelled and Mubarak was toppled. With 20 years of experience reporting on the Middle East, GlobalPost’s Sennott, worked in partnership with PBS FRONTLINE as an on-air correspondent and reporter on the acclaimed, one-hour program on the revolution in Egypt, specifically focusing on the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in the revolution and beyond in a half-hour segment titled “The Brothers.”

The program, which streamed on GlobalPost on Feb. 22, aired the same day on PBS, just 10 days after the toppling of Hosni Mubarak.The video went beyond the day-to-day events and investigated the Muslim Brotherhood, the outlawed, often-feared and poorly-understood Islamist movement playing a key role in Egypt’s future. The segment broke new ground by illuminating how the Brotherhood had assumed a larger role over the course of the protests and examined its potential to influence politics—and today looks remarkably prescient about the course Egypt would take as the Brotherhood’s new political party claimed nearly 40 percent of the seats in parliament in recent elections.

In the year after the revolution, GlobalPost continued to employ the power of the web to unpack the complicated story developing as the country was making the journey from Tahrir Square to the ballot box. In August, GlobalPost again partnered with PBS FRONTLINE to return to Egypt where Sennott, cameraman Tim Grucza and Jensen captured the sudden return of protests in Tahrir Square that erupted out of a frustration with a failure by the interim government to bring to justice those who killed unarmed protesters. Sennott wrote a magazine-length story in which he revisited the leaders of the protest movement to see where they were and how they felt about Egypt’s future.The written piece was accompanied by five, short video segments which complimented the written narrative. The package was carried on both GlobalPost and the PBS FRONTLINE websites.

Then, while many media organizations had backed off the story, GlobalPost was doubling down as the November elections marked a turning point and the new Egypt transitioned from the heady days of the demonstrations to military rule and the hope for a new democracy. In a GlobalPost 'Special Report' titled “Tahrir Square,” GlobalPost brought together a team of 17 top, young Egyptian and American journalists for a unique and unprecedented two-week fellowship in Cairo, created with the strong belief that by working together these Egyptian and American colleagues would produce stronger news coverage.

These reporters worked side-by-side in the field, searching for stories that enlightened and informed GlobalPost's audience on the historic events still unfolding in Cairo. Sennott and Jensen served as team leaders in the fellowship working in tandem with an Egyptian editor. The team sought out the human stories that provide insight on where Egypt was on the cusp of the election. With the dramatic news unfolding, GlobalPost’s reporting fellows published more than 25 stories, videos, photo essays and a steady stream of live blog posts from this talented group of young journalists. The coverage included a particularly strong story that shed new light on the military's use of so-called 'virginity tests' in arresting female protesters, which went viral. The series also broke the story of one young, Egyptian woman who filed a court case against the military calling the procedure rape. Her case led the Egyptian courts to order the military to stop the ‘virginity tests.’

GlobalPost is proud of the commitment it made to covering a dramatic year in Egypt, but it also remained competitive in its coverage of the wider Arab Spring. And it paid a price for this commitment. In April, an experienced GlobalPost correspondent James Foley who had worked for us in Afghanistan was reporting in Libya when he was taken prisoner by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi in a hail of bullet. He was captured after weeks of reporting in which he provided GlobalPost a gripping series of video reports – an inside look at the Libyan rebels that humanized their plight and provided a unique lens on a revolution that was among the most violent of the ‘Arab Awakening,” as those who live in the region prefer to call the ongoing transformation of the Middle East. GlobalPost’s tireless efforts to secure Foley’s safe release were successful after six, long weeks. Bringing Foley home has become a part of our story as a young news organization, a chapter in our early history which revealed to our team of mostly freelancers in the field that we care about them, that we take their safety very seriously and that we are committed to their well being no matter what happens. Foley shared his harrowing ordeal in an e-book published on GlobalPost. And he wrote an essay about “lessons learned” from the experience in our GlobalPost Field Guide for Correspondents.

After his release and after several months with his family, Foley insisted on returning to Libya to cover what seemed the imminent collapse of Gaddafi along with freelance correspondent Tracy Shelton. Both were among the first reporters on the ground. Shelton was uniquely resourceful in obtaining a short video of Gaddafi being captured and brutalized by the rebels. She purchased the video from a rebel leader who had recorded the event on his mobile phone. The reporters documented the authenticity of the video and GlobalPost published the video, which proved to be the earliest footage of Gaddafi’s actual capture. It was carried around the world – on the BBC, Al Jazeera, CNN and elsewhere – with attribution to GlobalPost.

In our year of coverage of the Arab Awakening — with on-the-ground stories from Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain — GlobalPost demonstrated the best principles of journalism with the best practices of digital reporting. We hope you’ll continue to read our coverage as the Arab Awakening continues to unfold into 2012. 

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