Q&A: SOJC graduate Mat Wolf on life in Cairo amid a political revolution

Mat Wolf has been around. He’s worked at newspapers all around the state, from The Register-Guard to the Mail-Tribune in Medford and even the Oregon Daily Emerald.

He graduated from the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication in 2012 and moved to Jordan soon after to work for JO Magazine. He’s now in Egypt covering the political happenings in Cairo. He recently talked with the Emerald about life amid the revolution. Quotes have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Emerald: How much did you consider your own personal safety before taking the jobs in Jordan and then Cairo?

Mat Wolf: Not much. I’m always cautious, but try never to be so cautious I become sheltered or afraid. I’ve heard some Jordanians complain that their country has an unearned stigma for being unsafe and I agree with them. It’s in an unstable neighborhood to be sure, but I don’t think Americans should have any qualms about traveling to Jordan.

Egypt’s a slightly different story as the atmosphere here is very anti-American as of late and they did just have a military coup. They also get angry when foreigners call it a coup and believe Americans use the term as part of some convoluted nonsensical plot to undermine the country’s official return to military rule and support an Islamist takeover. This line of thinking has never made sense to me, but it’s prevalent even amongst educated people here and the TV stations do their best to reinforce it.

Ramadan has calmed things down, but there have been gunfire exchanges and mass arrests this past week. I try to be a little more aware of my surroundings and the mood of the crowd in Egypt, but I try not to do it so hard that I’m just hiding in my apartment. I am making arrangements to get a gas mask and at least some form of basic body armor here if I do more crowd work and these were items I never really felt I needed in Jordan.

Emerald: A line in your latest post on HuffPo struck me as particularly interesting: you mention people sitting at a café as it was closing and there was gunfire about five blocks away. Can you talk a bit about everyday life amid all this political unrest?

Wolf: Everyday life goes on. Regardless of the legality of the military coup here it was still incredibly popular and I do believe the military overwhelmingly has the public’s support.

These protests were massive and brought out millions of people, so if that’s had an adverse effect on businesses it’s that they were losing employees who ran down to join the protests. I know if a business has ties to or employees from the Muslim Brotherhood they’re hurting because a lot of the brotherhood has been jailed or is in hiding. There were some pitched gun battles last week, but I haven’t heard anything in the last few days even as arrests have continued, so it seems like things are quieting down.

Emerald: As a former UO student and SOJC alum, what are some important lessons the revolution in Egypt can teach current students and why should we pay attention to what’s happening in the region?

Wolf: It’s been impressive watching what just happened in Egypt — a true revolution for better or worse — and comparing that to things like Occupy which were all the rage my final year at school. I feel like in the states a lot of these movements like to label themselves as revolutionary (be it Tea Party or Occupy) because it’s a solid marketing gimmick.

Egypt has toppled two governments in two years; that’s impressive. The military had a hand in it to be sure, but the sheer mass of the civilian protests forced the military to act or to create a national security crisis by not acting. Actual revolution needs to pull in a lot of disparate elements, have defined and obtainable goals, and needs to be more than a handful of PhD candidates squatting in a city park and having drum circles with the terminally homeless.

At the very least there needs to be a working middle class presence in these sorts of things and that’s something modern American “revolutions” tend to lack. I guess if there’s a lesson for student journalists there it’s to consider what a real revolution, civil disobedience or political demonstration is or needs to accomplish before giving column inches to just any so called “movement.”


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Eder Campuzano

Eder Campuzano

Eder is the Emerald's director of audience engagement. His work has appeared in The Oregonian, The Statesman Journal and the News-Register in McMinnville. He was also a founding member of the University of Oregon's competitive Pokémon league.