In Egypt and Libya


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“It’s coming.”

That’s what a former judge in Egypt told Penn doctoral candidate Eric Trager in early January, insisting that the protests then roiling Tunisia would be repeated in his country. Yeah, right, Trager remembers thinking. He stuck with that skeptical outlook right up until January 25—when he found himself caught up in the protests in Tahrir Square that would end Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s 30 years in power within weeks.

Trager, a PhD student in political science who was researching his dissertation and blogging for The Atlantic when he chanced to become a witness to the opening act of Egypt’s revolution, is one of several Penn-affiliated scholars interviewed by associate editor Trey Popp for his cover story, “Anatomy of an Uprising.” He and the others offer some unique and striking insights into the (limited, but real) impacts of social networking tools like Twitter and Facebook in building support and getting people into the streets; the (comparatively little noticed) significance of Al Jazeera and other satellite broadcasters in the Arab world in breaking the monopoly on information formerly enjoyed by dictators; and the reasons behind the Egyptian army’s partial embrace of the revolution’s goals and decision to pressure Mubarak to resign.

One incident Trager recounted involved lending his camera to an Egyptian friend, who was later arrested and beaten. The camera was destroyed—pointlessly, as the thousands of videos and pictures from Cairo that flooded the Internet have made clear. As important as those images were, however, there’s still nothing quite like the power and immediacy of an image created by a skilled professional photographer—like Tara Todras-Whitehill C’00 EAS’00, whose compelling photos from Egypt and Libya are featured in this issue.

That’s her work on the cover, and illustrating Trey’s story. We also offer a separate interview she did via email with senior editor Samuel Hughes, “Shooting Big Changes,” which showcases more of her Libya photographs.

Even as an undergraduate, Todras-Whitehill knew she wanted to be a photojournalist, and moved to the Middle East in 2005 to pursue her career. The recent uprisings weren’t her first brush with violence. “My first day in Beirut was February 14th, 2005—the day that [former Lebanese Prime Minister] Rafik Hariri was assassinated,” she emailed Sam. “It was one of those moments where you have to decide whether to run towards an explosion or away from it, and I chose to go towards it.”

As for what will happen next in the region, the writer Jeffrey Goldberg C’87 is among those who hesitate to hazard a guess. “This period in Middle Eastern history demands analytical humility—that’s a quote that will stand up over the next few months,” he told frequent contributor Jordana Horn C’95 L’99, who profiles him in “Jews, Journalism, and Jeffrey Goldberg.”

No less an authority than NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell CW’67 considers Goldberg “one of the most thoughtful people about Middle East policy.” Jordana’s article mostly traces his stellar career as a journalist for the Washington Post, New York Times, New Yorker, and Atlantic—with an additional mention of his somewhat less impressive academic history at Penn.

Fond farewell. This is Dave Porter C’82’s last time up as the Gazette’s sports columnist, as he has decided to move on after a 57-issue streak that began in Jan|Feb 2002. (If this were sports instead of sportswriting, we would know for sure if that is a record. In any case, it’s an impressive run.)

Dave’s work in his colums and the other pieces he’s done for us has been well-informed, sharp, and as timely as our bimonthly schedule allows. The coda to his current column is an excellent example. Many thanks, Dave, and best wishes.

—John Prendergast C’80

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©2011 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 4/28/11