Tahrir Square one year ago, the media and the message

A look back at the early media coverage of the Arab Spring protests in Egypt, which began Jan. 25, 2011.

Egypt's Arab Spring protests began Jan. 25, 2011

On Jan. 25, 2011, when the Arab Spring arrived in Egypt, the end of Hosni Mubarak's three-decade reign in Egypt was just weeks away.

For the western media, that outcome was not immediately obvious, despite the loud chants of "Down with Mubarak" ringing out in Cairo's Tahrir Square and elsewhere in Egypt.

It took about a day before that possibility began to be entertained.

Another event could be part of the reason for the short delay. Later that first day, in a different time zone, U.S. President Barack Obama would give his annual state of the union address and the media was focussed on that story. did have a substantial news story on the protests on Jan. 25 but it was not on the website's frontpage, at least at the end of the day. On television, The National had a 20-second report.

Topping our list of the day's most viewed stories online was, "Mexico resort barred ambulances after fatal blast."

Over at the New York Times website, at one point during the day on Jan. 25, the Egypt protests were the lead story. But by evening the story had dropped in their lineup so that it was necessary to click down a screen to find it, as Obama's speech took the limelight.

Egypt not mentioned in 2011 State of the Union speech

Obama did not mention Egypt in his address. However, after a reference to South Sudan, he did have this to say about Tunisia:

"We saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator. And tonight, let us be clear: the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people."

The role of Tunisia featured prominently in's first news story on the Egyptian protests: "Crowds filled Tahrir Square — waving Egyptian and Tunisian flags and adopting the same protest chants that rang out in the streets of Tunis," the story read, based on the reporting of Associated Press journalists in Cairo.

Turning analytical, the story later said, "It is the example of Tunisia, though, that appeared to be enough to push many young Egyptians into the streets for the first time."

By day two, the protests are a big story

As the protests in Egypt continued, they were the big international story on Jan. 26, and one of the most viewed stories on

The news story quotes from a CBC interview that morning with protester and freelance journalist Mohamed Abdelfattah, who said the first day of protests "was history in the making."

Speaking from Alexandria, Egypt's second largest city, he told the CBC's Heather Hiscox that, "the high dam of fear has already collapsed and the water is flooding massively."

You can listen to Heather Hiscox's original phone interview with Abdelfattah via the "Egyptian protesters remain defiant" video link near the top of this page, and also see some of the earliest video of the protests.

Social media played a big part

That story also reported that the Egyptian authorities were blocking access to Facebook and Twitter, social media that had been instrumental for organizing the protests.

That story of social media's role in the Arab Spring is presented in the BBC documentary, "How Facebook Changed the World: The Arab Spring," which is running this week on The Passionate Eye on CBC News Network. You can also watch it online via the video link near the top of this page.

The Facebook page that allegedly sparked the protest was the work of a Google executive in Egypt, Wael Ghonim. Last week Ghonim appeared on CBC Radio's Q to talk about his new book, Revolution 2.0, and the future of the Arab Spring. You can listen to the interview via the audio link near the top of this page.

On day two of the protests, the Community team put together a "social media roundup" of tweets, video and photos from Egypt.

And below is a gallery of photos from the first five days of the protests that soon ended Mubarak's dictatorship. He resigned on Feb. 11, 2011.

The House Tahrir Built

At the top of this page is an exclusive online video report by Nahlah Ayed of CBC News, about a famous apartment building in Egypt.

Ayed reports that the building's residents are "representative of what is happening in Egypt." They come from the full spectrum of political views in the country. (There's also an interactive, The house Tahrir built. There are links to more of our coverage for this first anniversary of the protests in the column to the right.)

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