What it Was Really Like to be a Female Journalist Caught in the Arab Spring
Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, 2011 (Photo: Rachel Beth Anderson)
In 2011, I was living and working in Cairo, Egypt, as a freelance multimedia journalist. I had been covering local news, culture, and politics when the entire Arab region seemed to erupt, and my beat quickly turned to covering tear-gas-filled protests and revolutions.
After 18 intense days, the Egyptian people succeeded in removing their dictator, Hosni Mubarak. And just like that, the story seemed to be over as quickly as it had started.
That’s when I turned my sights to the next uprising kicking off across the border, in Libya. Thinking this revolution might finish as fast as Egypt, I set out in a taxi with two other journalists to reach the rebel-held city of Benghazi on the eastern side of Libya. It was incredibly nerve-racking to be driving into a country that had such a fierce dictator as Moammar Gadhafi. He had stepped up the violence and turned his guns on his own people. He also threatened that journalists caught coming across the border into rebel-held areas would be considered terrorists and thrown in jail — or worse.
The first day of the revolution in Cairo, Egypt, 2011. (Photo: Rachel Beth Anderson)
The rebels whisked us across the border with a few other journalists and took us to a hotel for the night. Early the next day, I went to check out the small city we had slept in, and found the remains of a battle — burned-out cars and bullet holes. The rebels introduced me to a group of ragtag young men who were arming themselves with anything they could find — machetes, guns, grenades, and large machine guns abandoned by Gadhafi’s forces. They were calling themselves “freedom fighters,” and I realized that this was not the same revolution I had covered in Egypt. This was a war with people ready to give their lives in their quest for freedom.
I immediately felt a connection to the people in Libya and their plight. So when my weeklong assignment was finished, I decided to stay and begin my own passion project. I wanted to provide a face and voice to the people of Libya, and I spent time with dozens of revolutionaries, talking to them and trying to find the story.
Unlike the quick battle in Egypt, it became apparent that this conflict wasn’t going to end anytime soon. More and more of the nonviolent revolutionaries started picking up arms and training to fight. This was the story I needed to tell — young men, who had never touched a gun, were now risking their lives for the possibility of changing the future of their country.
Rachel standing on a tank in Misrata, Libya, 2011 (Photo: Rachel Beth Anderson)