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Since last Tuesday, when Egyptians began filling the streets to protest 30 years of autocratic rule under the thumb of Hosni Mubarak, one of the best places to go for news and commentary has not not CNN, or other high-profile news networks, but a small website run in the spare time of a University of Central Arkansas graduate named Daniel Green.
The website is called Arkansas Abroad, "focusing on Arkansas and its role in the world." And it just so happens one of the writers for Green's site was in Cairo when the protests began.
Cory Ellis, a University of Arkansas graduate now in a master's program at George Washington University, found himself in Egypt as part of a semester-long study abroad program. His bio on Arkansas Abroad reads, "The slow pace of Egyptian life suits Cory well as he whittles most of his days away in tiny street side cafes talking to old men about politics and religion." That all changed last Tuesday.
As protests escalated, Ellis found himself right in the middle of a revolution playing out before the eyes of the world. Although his neighborhood was relatively safe, Ellis was tear-gassed numerous times and jumped by secret police twice.
"So far, he's noticed two things," Green said. "One, the protesters are happy to see Westerners, because the way they view it is that Westerners are their best hope for getting this stuff out. He said they have told him that time and time again. The other thing is police are indiscriminately attacking anyone who isn't police. I think at last count he had been tear-gassed eight times. He said every time protesters would drag him out of the street, into a bar or something, wash his face off and then start telling him, 'You have to tell people what is going on.' "
Green said the protests gave Ellis and others an opportunity to showcase thoughtful and newsworthy commentary from Arkansans around the globe. Through reports from Ellis, articles from other contributors and podcasts of round-table discussions, Arkansas Abroad was able to bring perspective to a major issue that was hard to find in other mainstream news outlets.
Ellis reported via podcast:
"The major protest happened on Jan. 25 and [Mohamed] ElBaradei was supportive of that but didn't really throw his weight behind it. He's supported by 'Western media' but in reality, Baradei has had nothing to do with what's happening now. The Muslim Brotherhood told heir members not to go out and protest on Jan. 25. After the protests became large, the Muslim Brotherhood has thrown their support behind what we can now call a revolt. It's extremely interesting for me to see that CNN and the New York Times have labeled ElBaradei and the Muslim Brotherhood as catalysts for this revolution, but as I said, they're really just jumping on the bandwagon. The feeling I have from getting around the streets of Cairo is any support is welcomed... This revolt has gone from Twitter and Facebook to the consciousness of basically every Egyptian."
Ellis kept in contact with Green through email, Skype and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, that is, until the Egyptian government decided to pull the plug on the Internet and other communications. Green, safe in Northwest Arkansas, relayed the info via Arkansas Abroad.
Green was able to re-establish contact with Ellis on Sunday. By that point, the protests had grown in size and scope. Ellis was told by someone in the U.S. Embassy to be ready to leave at a moment's notice. When Green and Ellis last spoke, the time had come for an evacuation.
"He was pretty shook up the last time I talked to him," Green says. "He talked about how the mosques put out a call to create neighborhood militias. Food supplies are running low, the government had cut off water to some neighborhoods and it's getting ugly on the streets. He no longer felt safe so he was going to leave if he could."
Last we heard, Ellis was on his way to Dubai. Green continues to update the site as news comes in. Listen to Ellis' podcasts, interviews and updates at www.arkansasabroad.org. National outlets are also taking note. CNN has tried to set up an interview with Ellis. We'll provide updates on the Arkansas Blog.