MIDDLE EAST JOURNALISM BOOTCAMP by Zachary Kineke
When I started with the Middle Eastern Studies Program at Syracuse, I never dreamed it would afford me such unforgettable experiences: meetings with government officials, opposition figures, and leading sheikhs in the region; seeing the unrivaled decadence of an artificial island, just days after the unbelievable poverty of a city of garbage collectors; and learning how to report on the region from those whose experience dates from before I was born. Yet this summer, I experienced all of this while participating in a unique program to promote exchange between American and Arab students.
Sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation, twelve American and twelve Arab journalism and also international relations students participated in the “Middle East Journalism Bootcamp” in conjunc- tion with the American University of Cairo and Qatar University. For three packed weeks, half of the time in Cairo and half in Doha, the capital city of Qatar, we combined high-level meetings with site visits, classes, and reporting, with the overall goal of learning how to best cover the Middle East. During the program, American and Arab students were paired together to produce actual stories – print, radio, television, and photographic.
The program proved to be a lesson in opposites and contrast. Having traveled directly from Syra- cuse’s Summer Abroad program in Israel, I was already in for a starkly different experience. View- points in the classroom were, naturally, very divergent on important questions, but what surprised me most was the feeling I found on the streets. In Israel, walking around cities was met with the distance and detachment one might find walking anywhere in Washington or New York. On the other hand, Cairo’s streets brought friendly reactions as shopkeepers and passers-by stopped to chat about anything under the sun.
We saw opposite poles of some of the most important regional issues, free speech for instance. We went on a tour of the massive Egyptian government-controlled news service, followed not long after by a sitdown conversation with Egyptian bloggers – some of whom had to remain anonymous and bore physical signs of torture. We met with Egypt’s Finance Minister in one of the typically grand buildings of the Cairo bureaucracy, and also, in turn, with a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood in an unmarked and inconspicuous office.
Perhaps the greatest contrast, the aspect of the trip that impacted me most personally, was the difference between Cairo and Doha. In Doha, we saw “The Pearl,” a giant artificial island off the coast featuring private mini-islands, a replica of Venice, and three five-star hotels. In Cairo, how- ever, we took a trip to Garbage City, an unfortunate place where the city’s trash collectors live, which emphasized how people make the best of a bad situation. There, we visited a school funded by the recycling of shampoo bottles and found people to be generally happy and pleasant.
Both locations brought memorable experiences and vivid sights. If the Bootcamp comes looking for another representative from Syracuse University, I can’t recommend the program highly enough.