Capturing the Moment

Thomas Friedman (ALU '74) and Nicholas Kristof (ALU '84) flew in to Tahrir to witness history in the making

All of a sudden, Egypt was everywhere. From Al Jazeera to CNN to print media, the Egyptian Revolution was front-page news. The New York Times's opinion page was no exception, dedicating column-inch after column-inch to each new progression of the revolution. Indeed, among its group of columnists are two who share more than just the distinction of a New York Times byline: Thomas Friedman (ALU '74) and Nicholas Kristof (ALU '84), who share five Pulitzer Prizes between them, are both AUC alumni.

Both columnists approached their coverage with an international mindset rooted in a study of Middle Eastern affairs. Friedman, who came to AUC in 1974 to study Arabic, later went on to earn a Marshall Scholarship at Oxford University. Early reporting assignments took him to Beirut, where he later served as bureau chief for The New York Times, a post he also held in Israel. Friedman has been The New York Times's foreign affairs columnist since 1995. Kristof, who came to AUC to study at the Arabic Language Institute in 1983 after completing a Rhodes Scholarship, is best known for his coverage of humanitarian and human rights topics and has written extensively on Darfur. He has been working for The New York Times since 1984 and has earned two Pulitzer Prizes.

When describing the feelings associated with Tahrir Square, Friedman and Kristof who both visited Cairo during the revolution were overwhelmed by the display of courage and humanity shown by the protestors.

Kristof referred to his years in Cairo in his column on January 31, while reflecting on the changes to Tahrir Square since his time there. "When I lived in Cairo many years ago studying Arabic," he wrote, "Tahrir Square, also called Liberation Square, always frankly carried a hint of menace. It was cacophonous and dirty, full of crazed motorists in dilapidated cars. That was way back at a time when the then-new Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, talked a good game about introducing democracy. Now the manic drivers are gone, replaced by cheering throngs waving banners clamoring for the democracy they never got, and by volunteers who scrupulously pick up litter, establish order, and hand out drinks and food." Friedman, in his February 7 column, commented on the great variety of people out in the square. "I'm in Tahrir Square," he wrote, "and of all the amazing things one sees here, the one that strikes me most is a bearded man who is galloping up and down, literally screaming himself hoarse, saying, 'I feel free! I feel free!' Gathered around him are Egyptians of all ages, including a woman so veiled that she has only a slit for her eyes, and they're all holding up cell phones, taking pictures and videos of this man, determined to capture the moment in case it never comes again. Aren't we all? In 40 years of writing about the Middle East, I have never seen anything like what is happening in Tahrir Square. In a region where the truth and truth-tellers have so long been smothered under the crushing weight of oil, autocracy and religious obscurantism, suddenly the Arab world has a truly free space a space that Egyptians themselves, not a foreign army, have liberated and the truth is now gushing out of here like a torrent from a broken hydrant."

By Madeline Welsh