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Inside Tahrir Square

02/25/2011 2:00 PM e40"496
Iason Athanasiadis, Journalist; Kristin Fabbe, Graduate student, Political Science Dept; David Weinberg, Graduate Student, CIS

Description: Greek journalist Iason Athanasiadis is no stranger to uprisings in oppressed nations, having covered Iran's Green revolution (and been jailed for his work). So it was not even a close call for him to ditch the margaritas during a brief respite in San Antonio, as news in Cairo "acquired an extraordinary force." He offers a remarkably intimate photographic portrait of the Egyptian revolt from its epicenter in Tahrir Square, following the brutal attacks by government loyalists on protesters on January 25th.

Unlike other foreign journalists, who had fled for the relative safety of the Ramses Hilton and other hotels, Athanasiadis took his camera into the heart of the protests, where he captured electrifying scenes of rock" and Molotov"cocktail throwing attacks by both sides, late afternoon prayers, speech"making on tanks, interrogation holding cells in subway stations -- all set against Tahrir Square's "beautiful backdrop." Says Athanasiadis, "Imagine a revolution unfolding against Belle Epoque buildings and the Nile." His photos and narration illustrate the juxtaposition of commonplace and unusual, such as "a grandpa driving in his yellow Vespa" past burned"out armored personnel carriers and an Abrams tank.

Amid the smoke and chaos, Athanasiadis tracks the rapidly shifting tactics of protesters and loyalists, and almost absurdly runs into old colleagues. He also makes new friends, some of whom shield him from accusations of spying and direct violence. He hides out for an evening in an apartment he locates via Facebook bloggers, where a group of online"savvy Egyptians coordinates demonstration strategies. Athanasiadis remains in the square through the darkest hours, when protesters feel sure Mubarak's forces will turn on them in full fury, to the day when Mubarak announces his departure, and "the square turned into a fair ground."

Middle East affairs specialist David Weinberg provides a cautionary note to this "fantastic liberation of a people." The U.S. has historically relied on Egypt for help in stabilizing the region, from counter"terrorism efforts to mediating the peace process, and provided billions in aid each year. With Libya and other oil nations in turmoil, Washington is watching the evolution of the new government with some anxiety. There is the possibility that newly elected Egyptian representatives would be less inclined to maintain amicable relations with Israel or abet western interests in the region, says Weinberg. He also notes some parallels to the Iranian revolution, which "America misread almost every step of the way." With Egypt, "this is a half"finished revolution," he says. Things will change, but in terms of how, we don't entirely know."

About the Speaker(s): Iason Athanasiadis is currently based in Istanbul. He was a 2008 Nieman Fellow. He has written for The Christian Science Monitor, the Financial Times, the International Herald Tribune, the Sunday Telegraph, The Guardian, the Toronto Star, The Washington Times, and Australia's leading current affairs magazine The Diplomat. His March 2007 article, "Persian Culture and Iran's Defiant Diplomacy: A View from Tehran," can be read on the World Politics Review website. Athanasiadis was jailed in Iran in 2009 for his coverage of the Green revolution.

Host(s): School of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences, Center for International Studies

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MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

Category: Events | Updated over 2 years ago

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December 16, 2011 18:31
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