Andrew Hart: If I recall, I first contacted you suggesting we chat when “things die down in Egypt.” That hasn’t really happened. Should I have expected that?
Patrick deHahn: That’s a tough one. Things can calm down, but things haven’t died down. There’s still the sectarian and political differences present in Egypt. For example, the Muslim Brotherhood is now out in the streets; last night (night of July 16, 2013) there were violent clashes and seven died. The anger and differences are still there. Things haven’t died, things haven’t ended.
It’s still polarized and the differences are still present as before the coup. Things haven’t quite been solved just yet.
Surely, you must have found a way to sleep during all of this? What has been balancing time zone differences with work schedule and daily life? What has it been LIKE
During June 30 and the days after, I didn’t really sleep as much. I kept a five hour sleep schedule for the most part. I stayed up most of all Saturday night before June 30 and didn’t sleep much that Sunday night.
The thing is that with continuing experience covering Egypt, I knew what the culture was like, what the schedule was like there. Sure, there’s a 6 hour difference, but things run late at night there and scheduled things often are delayed. So, things wouldn’t happen until later at night there, which would mean about 12 noon or dinnertime on the east coast here in the U.S. And I’d stay up until 11 or midnight as late night protests or possibly clashes would ensue.
I’d get up early in the morning to be safe, and it’s when some of the political and governmental developments would occur. And I also had work and life to live, so I managed that as well. Take for example, speeches and press conferences at 10PM there, that’s normal. And that’d be 3 or 4 PM here.
Favorite type of coffee?
Hmmm. Light to medium roast, probably Dunkin’ Donuts. I can do Starbucks Blonde Roast. And my current internship has free coffee!
You said continued experience covering Egypt: when did you first start to follow events in Egypt.
Hmm, I’m not too sure of a set day or period of time where I started covering it. I followed the 2011 revolution on my own with no reporting, but I dove into it probably sometime before my internship at Voice of America, sometime around the winter of 2011 and 2012 when the parliamentary elecitons came about. I covered that and decided to follow the events in the nation there. I went to VOA and worked live coverage of the presidential elections and protests and such. And I’ve continued on my own since then.
What was it about the country or events that intrigued you?
It’s a little bit of both. I’d have to say the events first though, and that I learned more about the country and the people from the events I covered. The events of inspiring large masses gathering to protest and air their grievances was something that correlated with my beliefs. It was something that I enjoyed following and wanted to know more about. I’m one to support free speech and assembly and protest, so seeing the large numbers and – sometimes no matter the numbers – the constant protests that were planned. It never ended.
And there’s the politics. It never ends, there’s 10PM pressers, there’s 1AM Twitter speeches from the Presidency. This is something you wouldn’t see in the Western world. The politics so heated and divided that it’s back and forth every day. It’s something interesting to me as a journalist and as a person. The people there are fighting for their beliefs and needs, whether side they’re on.
I also learned a lot about the people and the country. They’re so passionate and strong, in a sense, that they will hit the streets for a better livelihood. Also educated in a sense that they know about the politics in their country and are informed and want changes. And the lives they live, the power outages, the fuel gas shortages and the economy tanking. A beautiful, beautiful country in a crisis. The people so passionate that they’ll do anything and everything to make it better but there’s always that up and down roller coaster that they seem to be stuck on.
I could probably formulate all that better but it’s a lot that I love about the country; it’s a great, great story. I love the story and I can’t let go of it. There’s lots to come, as we said earlier, it hasn’t died down.
As you say, the people are informed, and they want changes. Yet, it seems as if there are other factors that US media & politics fixate on (e.g. the military). Do you think that many in the US “get what is going on in Egypt?”
That’s because many of the U.S. media and politics fixate on the fact that it may be a “coup,” and many of the Middle East pundits online have been arguing about it, and still are. It was a coup, but then it was people supported. There were 9,500 protests in one year under Morsi’s rule, so the army wanted to move on. And nothing in the political sphere in Egypt was moving along in terms of the opposition, the various political parties, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Presidency, political talks were tough to manage.
From what I understand and have heard from Egyptians, the military doesn’t want to do much in politics after the mess they had in 2011. They don’t want to do anything else but do their job as the army under a Presidency. It just so happened that the Morsi Presidency caused more unrest and a political crisis that didn’t improve the Egyptian society, that they couldn’t work under him if the streets weren’t quiet. Then came the Morsi ouster.
Are you willing to issue any predictions about what is coming next for Egypt?
The new interim cabinet was sworn in today [July 17, 2013]. We still have the reworking of the highly controversial Constitution and the parliamentary elections to come. Then there’s the Presidential elections almost a year away. It’s going to be a long process because the Muslim Brotherhood is still fighting the Morsi ouster. The political and sectarian divide is there, but we don’t quite know how far it will go and if anything can settle in the next few months, year or two to come.
Now a bit about your process…How did you prepare for coverage in advance (and during) events as they unfolded on June 30?
A lot of the events had started the 28th and the 29th, with people preparing for gas shortages and stocking up on food and such. There were protests and clashes before the 30th. I prepared for the day trying to build up my already established Twitter list. I created a second Twitter list just for Egypt breaking news of five local news organizations. I had set up my live blog and had live video running.
The Twitter lists you built were immensely valuable. What is the process for assembling it?
I have pretty much 80% journalists and freelancers and photogs on my Egypt Twitter list. This way, I could have multiple professional reports and angles on the ground. I started the list a while back, with the basis of getting area journalists and using the sources they sourced out. It was like going from one page to another and vetting them as I went.
I also have hardcore activists, Muslim Brotherhood affiliated users, MB spokespeople, students and just Egyptians. It added life and energy to the list among the reports.
You supplemented the minute-by-minute reporting with a great live-blog. Was that a format you liked?
It was tough cause I’m a hardcore live-Tweeter, but the live blog helped me stay out of Twitter jail! The format helped my readers I think because with the constant press releases and speeches, I put those up with Arabic and rough English translation (thanks Google Translate!). And with the protests, there were multiple photos, reports, commentary, maybe clashes and in various cities. So, I was able to organize the posts and say, here are some posts and photos from a protest in Alexandria, some reports from clashes on the 6th October bridge. That helped. It helped me and helped my readers – I hope!
What are the obstacles to covering ongoing developments remotely.
Everything is better on the ground or in the area. The time difference! Remotely and on social media, it was an avalanche of information (I don’t mind it, but it is much for some). So being on the ground in Egypt, I am not sure if it would have been clearer to understand and process. Though on the ground, you only have one view, one angle and that’s it. You’re missing so much. Online, I can see what’s going on all over Cairo and in various cities across Egypt. Multitasking is fun but can be a hurdle when trying to confirm and report live. Live reporting is my favorite thing to do, really. It’s a lot of work but I love it.
Has your coverage of developments in Egypt created any new relationships for you?
I’ve formed some friendships and I’d like to continue them. One I’ve met in person in Washington D.C., another great Egypt follow on Twitter. @maie_89. Give her a follow.