Editor’s note: As of press time, Downey was unsure if he would accompany the French journalist to Egypt. Downey said the trip was dependent on whether or not his Egyptian contacts were still available for interviews and if the situation was safe for foreign journalists. Updates will be posted online at asreview-media.as.wwu.edu.
Kirsten O'Brien/The AS Review
As many people watch the events in Egypt unfold via television news networks or breaking newspaper headlines, Western senior Michael Downey may be traveling to experience the atmosphere in Egypt firsthand.
On Feb. 8, the Associated Foreign Press may send Downey and a French freelance journalist into Egypt for six days to report on the ever-evolving situation. Downey, who speaks Arabic, would be helping the French journalist get in touch with the Egyptian contacts he made this past summer while studying at the American University in Cairo.
Downey would be aiding the journalist in creating a 13-minute news piece focusing on the dialogue that exists between the Egyptian people and their government, as well as the possibility of Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency and a Nobel Laureate, becoming the next Egyptian president.
Downey made his Egyptian contacts at the American University in Cairo in summer 2010 while working on a research paper for Dr. Jonathan Miran, a liberal studies professor at Western. Downey was contacting various political groups in Cairo to interview for his research, and landed an interview with Khaled Hamza, chief editor of the Muslim Brotherhood’s website, ikwanweb.com. The Muslim Brotherhood is Egypt’s largest opposition party, and has been blamed by the Egyptian government for initiating the political unrest.
“I was researching the question of reviving the caliphate, a subject that some fundamentalists call for as a necessity to unite the ummah, or Islamic community,” Downey said. “I was curious what the Brotherhood’s stance on the matter was and after answering quite simply “no” on the matter, we quickly began discussing the organization’s stances on government, women’s rights and foreign policy.”
According to Al Jazeera English, a 24-hour news and current affairs channel focusing on the Middle East, Egyptian activists began calling for an uprising to protest against the country’s government, headed by President Hosni Mubarak, in January. On Jan. 25, deemed a “day of rage” by Egyptians citizens, thousands of protesters marched into downtown Cairo. The protest was relatively peaceful until police began to clash with demonstrators.
Since then, the fighting has only intensified. As of Feb. 1, Mubarak said that he will not be running again for re-election, but he has refused to step down from office, according to Al Jazeera reports.
The Egyptian government has been very hostile towards foreign journalists, and there have been reports of journalists being attacked and held hostage by Mubarak supporters and police. Downey said that his darker features would help him blend in better with Egyptian citizens and keep him from attracting unwanted attention.
“There’s always that possibility,” he said. “But you have to be smart and careful about these things, fortunately I blend in a bit better than most.”
Downey said that he would be staying in the homes of friends he met during his time at the university. He said he planned to avoid the Tahrir Square area, where there have been some violent outbursts between pro-Mubarak and anti-Mubarak protesters.
Downey has kept in contact with Hamza throughout the protesting, and a full transcription of the interview he conducted has been published on the World Policy Institute’s blog at http://www.worldpolicy.org/blog/2011/01/31/interview-brotherhood.