PHILADELPHIA –– A Catholic student in the tumultuous Egyptian capital of Cairo on a Fulbright Scholarship has been using Twitter to record her impressions of the growing popular uprising calling for the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Lauren Bohn has been using Twitter, as well as dispatches through Salon.com and NowLebanon.com, to give voice to the people in the street and in Tahrir Square, the uprising’s epicenter.
On Feb. 2, when Egyptian secret police started openly battling with the crowds in Tahrir Square after a week of demonstrations, Bohn tweeted 33-year-old Karim Sabat’s words: “I feel like everything we’ve been fighting for and have gained is now lost,” and “Anyone who says they have any idea what’s going on right now is lying.” She also relayed a message from Rhanya Ahmed, 55, from Giza, Egypt: “We are not thugs. We don’t want war.”
Bohn, a 2005 graduate of Villa Maria Academy High School in Malvern, Pa., is studying Arabic and Middle Eastern studies at the American University in Cairo. She is a 2009 graduate of New York University in 2009.
She tweeted also about her Feb. 8 meeting with Ahmed Zewail, an Egyptian-American scientist and winner of the 1999 Nobel Prize in chemistry. The protests that began Jan. 25 will not fizzle, he told her. Instead, Zewail said, it is “a return of the mind (in Egypt).”
In Zamalek, Egypt, Bohn interviewed Gameela Ismail, who has launched her candidacy for a seat in Egypt’s parliament. “We have to keep pushing. No compromises. We’ve had enough,” Ismail told Bohn.
The day before the Jan. 25 protests began, Bohn and her friends posted messages back and forth on Twitter about the event that would turn the eyes of the world toward Egypt.
“Almost everyone I know participating tomorrow (is) spending the night fighting and arguing with their parents over it,” a friend of Bohn’s tweeted, underscoring the youths among the first set of protesters.
“All my cabdrivers today said they have no plans (about Jan. 25),” Bohn responded, using the truncated grammar common in Twitter’s 140-characters-maximum universe. “Three of four though made same throat slash gesture to describe current frustrations.”
What started out as peaceful protesting quickly degenerated into chaos, with pro-Mubarak groups physically confronting protesters. Bohn’s tweets reporting from amid the protesters Jan. 25 form a terse narrative.
“In Tahrir Square: barricades and police. Eerie silence,” she wrote. Then the updates followed 10, 20, 30 minutes apart: “And the clashes begin. Just got knocked over. (…) Crowd shouting, ‘Where is the media?’ (…) finally back after brush with tear-gas and stone-throwing.”
On Jan. 26, Bohn commented on the sporadic access to Twitter after the government crackdown on Internet sites and social media venues. She reported heavy security in downtown Cairo, “widespread fear” and a city still choked with smoke.
Later in the day, she tweeted about crowds fleeing a cloud of tear gas yelling, “Enough!”
“Hope (is) quickly fading among many of the Egyptians I’ve been documenting throughout the week,” she would later tweet.
Throughout, though the lack of communications was “completely disconcerting” to her, and although she had been warned the safety of journalists could no longer be guaranteed, Bohn elected to stay.
It is no surprise to some of the people who know her that Bohn chose to stay and cover the news from such a human angle. She had been an Archdiocesan Scholar, and named a “Champion of Caring” for the service work she did in Appalachia and the Dominican Republic during her high school years.
“Even as a teenager, she was an outstanding student who displayed a passion to learn about other cultures and a desire to make a difference in the world by helping others,” said Sr. Kathleen Dunn, a Sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who taught Bohn at Villa Maria.
“She seems to have brought her understanding of democracy with her in these days of unrest in Egypt,” Sr. Kathleen told The Catholic Standard & Times, newspaper of the Philadelphia Archdiocese. “We are so proud that she has the courage to be a journalist and to understand the ways journalists serve the people of the world by keeping the facts and struggles of nations before the eyes of the public.”
She added that the Villa Maria Academy community was praying daily for Bohn’s safety.
On Feb. 10, AP reported that Egypt’s military announced it was taking control of the situation to “safeguard the country,” seen as a strong sign that Mubarak was losing power. The AP quoted Leon Panetta, CIA director, as saying there was a “strong likelihood” Mubarak would soon step down and not wait until September when elections will be held and he said he would not run for re-election.