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Live from Egypt: ASU grad reports on protests

February 01, 2011

"Cairo in the morning looks like a war zone. The ruling party's headquarters is still burning." 

When Ian Lee graduated with a bachelor's degree in journalism in 2008, he was among 12 ASU graduates who had been awarded a prestigious Fulbright scholarship to study and conduct research abroad.

With his degree in hand, along with certificates in Islamic Studies and Arabic, Lee headed to Cairo, Egypt to spend a year at American University, studying the reporting differences between newspapers written in English and those written in Arabic. He also would be monitoring Arab satellite networks for the Adham Center for Electronic Journalism while producing freelance stories for American media outlets.

Fast-forward to more than two years later, and Lee is living in downtown Cairo working for The Daily News Egypt and Reuters. His tireless reporting on the current protests in Egypt have contributed to recent CNN reports – heard in this live interview and in this article.

However, perhaps even more compelling are Lee's live Twitter updates, chronicling his journey from the streets of Cairo to the events in Suez – as he engages in the kind of reporting he said he aspired to while studying at ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

“I want to go to conflict zones and report from there,” said Lee, in 2008, before embarking on his Fulbright year. 

While helping to organize the opposition, social media such as Twitter also have served journalists like Lee in helping provide minute-by-minute, on-the-scene reporting. Just as telling as his status updates, Lee's offline periods – when Twitter and Facebook fall silent – further illustrate the unprecedented widespread Internet and mobile service outages.

Lee's story of the recent protests begins Jan. 22, in Cairo, from a cab (his favorite form of transportation in the city) via Twitter. Follow Ian Lee at

January 22 (via Twitter)

Our cab driver hadn't heard about the 25th. That will be the organizers' biggest problem. Getting the word out beyond facebook#Egypt

Egyptians began taking to the streets Jan. 25 to protest rampant unemployment, poverty, government corruption and the 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak.

January 25

Wow, downtown Cairo is on lock down. Riot police are everywhere, guarding every street. Will today be battle on the Nile? 

And here we go. Heading to Supreme Court for first of many demonstrations #jan25 #Egypt

Police and protesters clashing downtown. Police struggle to control.

People leaving buses and cars to join protest. Roughly 2000 people.

Police beating protesters, protesters respond with rocks.

Police officer tried to arrest me while I was filming a man in custody being beaten.

Reports of protesters in Ramses Square being beaten and fired upon with tear gas.

January 26

Protest scheduled for 9 AM in Tahrir square. On my way to cover it.

Reports coming from Suez, live bullets, molotov cocktails. Things seem to be deteriorating very quickly there.

Protests still taking place downtown. Tomorrow I will be traveling to Suez to cover events there.

January 27

On my way to report on the events in Suez. Hopefully I won't be turned around at a police checkpoint.

My cab driver says he isn't protesting because he needs to make money for food. But Friday he plans to hit the street.

Almost in Suez, heard rumors cell phones aren't working. Might be last tweet for a while. If not, I'll keep tweeting.

El Giesh street looks like a war zone. Burnt out tires and rubble litter the street. Police checkpoint destroyed.

Finished talking with opposition party leaders. They say EVERY party is united in Suez to overthrow the govt if demands aren't met.

Families of the dead in Suez say they are afraid to talk because of the possible retaliation from the government.

Contrary to reports cell phones are working in Suez. Protests breaking out.

Large numbers of protesters outside al arbaeen police station in Suez. Situation is violent

Rocks fill the air. Protesters charging. Suez. Reports of live rounds being used. 

Protesters angry that I am a foreigner, they think I am a spy. Left area.

I'm shooting video from rooftops, too dangerous for foreigners on street. Numbers in thousands.

January 28

With the largest protests planned thus far, the government responds by blocking all Internet services in the country – Lee's Twitter included.

January 29

Cairo in the morning looks like a war zone. The ruling party's headquarters is still burning.

Phone service in Cairo back up but Internet is mostly still down. 

Protesters say they won't go home until President Hosni Mubarak steps down.

A group called the Egyptian Youth Movement is organizing to protect public property from looters. Cairo is lawless.

Each day I've seen the protests get larger. I'm anticipating the same for today. Curious how the army will react.

Moment of truth for protesters and the army as a curfew is scheduled for 4 PM.

State TV reporting the Army is going to be strict about the curfew

I am back from the battle at the Ministry of Interior. Police used live rounds, tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters.

I saw several people dragged away bleeding. One man said he wasn't going to give up until the ministry was taken.

The streets of Cairo are in a state of anarchy. Groups of men protect neighborhoods with sticks, dogs, and few guns.

During the siege on the Interior Ministry, reports of at least 5 people killed. Saw funeral procession 30 minutes ago.

Reports that Mubarak's sons, Gamal and Alaa are in London. Does this mean Mubarak will follow soon?

Local mosque saying telling people not to be worried, the military is here.

It is now 12:30 AM and we are currently listening to a running gun battle in the distance.

With the reports about mobs attacking wealthier neighborhoods, makes me glad I live downtown.

January 30

Reports that Al Jazeera is being banned in Egypt. This isn't good news for the press.

Amazing scenes of camaraderie in Tahrir today. People were volunteering to pick-up trash and handing out free food and water.

I am hearing more gunfire outside tonight. Neighborhood watch told me last night they shoot sometimes to keep people alert.

Back from Tahrir, the crowd is starting to grow. Currently in the low thousands.

January 31

I believe this is a revolutionary moment but not quite a revolution. Tomorrow's "million man march" could be tipping point.

7 days into the uprising and social change is already sweeping Egypt.

Breaking curfew to get a feel for what's happening on the street. I'll tweet what I see when I return.

Back from Tahrir, numbers when I left in the tens of thousands. All talk about tomorrow's million man march.

The Egyptian army says it won't resort to violence against the people. Is this "game over" for Mubarak?

Rumors that cell phones are going to be down in a half an hour. Let's hope not.

If protesters march to the presidential palace tomorrow, something's gotta give.

Driven by his fascination with Cairo's complex history, Lee has analyzed both Arabic and English press in Cairo, comparing coverage of major historical events over the past 10 years. He also has learned Cairene dialect, different from the Jordanian dialect he had learned in the United States.