Villa Maria Academy grad Lauren Bohn captures the faces, emotions behind Egyptian revolution

By George Gregory
Special to The CS&T

A day before the Jan. 25 popular uprising calling for the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Lauren Bohn and her friends posted messages back and forth on the social networking web site about the event that would turn the eyes of the world on Egypt.

“Almost everyone I know participating tomorrow (is) spending the night fighting and arguing with their parents over it,” a friend of Bohn’s wrote, or tweeted, underscoring the youth among the first set of protesters.

Bohn, a 2005 graduate of Villa Maria Academy High School in Malvern, was already in Cairo on a Fulbright Scholarship and studying Arabic and Middle-Eastern studies at the American University in Cairo. For her part, “All my cab-drivers today said they have no plans (about tomorrow),” she wrote. “Three of four though made same throat slash gesture to describe current frustrations.” {{more}}

What started out as peaceful protesting quickly degenerated into chaos, with pro-Mubarak groups physically confronting protesters. Bohn’s tweets reporting from amid the protesters on Jan. 25 form a terse narrative.

“In Tahrir Square: barricades and police. Eerie silence,” she wrote. Then the updates followed 10, 20, 30 minutes apart: “And the clashes begin. Just got knocked over. (…) Crowd shouting, ‘Where is the media?’ (…) finally back after brush with tear-gas and stone-throwing.”

On Jan. 26 Bohn commented on the sporadic access to Twitter after the government crackdown on Internet sites and social media venues. She reported heavy security in downtown Cairo, “widespread fear” and a city still choked with smoke.

Later in the day she tweeted about crowds fleeing a cloud of tear gas yelling, “Enough!”

“Hope (is) quickly fading among many of the Egyptians I’ve been documenting throughout the week,” she would later tweet.

Throughout, though the lack of communications was “completely disconcerting” to her, and although she had been warned the safety of journalists could no longer be guaranteed, Bohn elected to stay.

Much of what she has done via Twitter, and in dispatches for and, is give voice to the people on the street.

On Feb. 2 she tweeted 33-year-old Karim Sabat’s words: “‘I feel like everything we’ve been fighting for and have gained is now lost’ and ‘Anyone who says they have any idea what’s going on right now is lying.'” And Rhanya Ahmed, 55, from Giza: “‘We are not thugs. We don’t want war.”

It is no surprise to some of the people who know her that Bohn elected to stay and cover the news from such a human angle. She had been an Archdiocesan Scholar, after all, and named Champion of Caring for the service work she did in Appalachia and the Dominican Republic during her high school years.

“Even as a teenager, she was an outstanding student who displayed a passion to learn about other cultures and a desire to make a difference in the world by helping others,” said Sister Kathleen Dunn, I.H.M., who taught Bohn at Villa Maria.

“She seems to have brought her understanding of democracy with her in these days of unrest in Egypt. We are so proud that she has the courage to be a journalist and to understand the ways journalists serve the people of the world by keeping the facts and struggles of nations before the eyes of the public,” Sister Dunn said. She added that the Villa Maria Academy community is praying daily for Bohn’s safety.

Mubarak has been in office since October 1981 following the assassination of President Anwar El Sadat. While his first 10 years in office yielded many fruits, including strengthening relations with Israel and the United States, dissatisfaction with his government has grown beyond repair in the last decade.

Senior members of the National Democratic Party in Egypt announced Feb. 5 they would resign immediately. Mubarak announced he would remain in office until September, but would not seek re-election. This has done little to quell the anger that has swept through Egypt.

In her NowLebanon blog posts, Bohn wrote about conversations with Max Rodenbeck, author of “Cairo: The City Victorious,” who told her that some of the scenes of the 1919 Egyptian Revolution are symbolically similar to what is happening now in Egypt.

She tweeted also about her Feb. 8 meeting with Ahmed Zewail, an Egyptian-American scientist and winner of the 1999 Nobel Prize in chemistry. The protests that began Jan. 25 will not fizzle, he told her. “(It is) a return of the mind (in Egypt).”

In Zamalek, Bohn interviewed Gameela Ismail, who has launched her candidacy for parliament. “We have to keep pushing. No compromises. We’ve had enough,” Ismail told Bohn.

Egyptian-Americans living in the Archdiocese are following the news avidly – and some are maintaining a cautious outlook.

“Even though it is definitely time for change, it is important for Mubarak to remain in office until his term is over,” said Michael Saeed, who was raised in Cairo and now resides in Exton. “Otherwise, the chaos will get much worse.”

George Gregory is a member of St. Cecilia Parish in Coatesville.