NORMAN — In early 2011, as protests erupted in the streets of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain, NPR correspondent Kelly McEvers was in Baghdad, watching the events unfold on television.
In 2010, McEvers had been sent to the Middle East with instructions not to miss a day in Iraq.
She was a part of an NPR team that expected to cover the Iraq War until the last American troops withdrew.
But as she watched footage of the early days of the Arab Spring on Al Jazeera, the story on television seemed more compelling than the one she was covering, she said.
McEvers spoke Thursday evening at the University of Oklahoma's Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Her visit was a part of an event hosted by KGOU and OU's College of International Studies.
KGOU station manager Karen Holp said the station will broadcast a recording of the event at a time to be determined later.
After demonstrations erupted across the region, McEvers asked to be assigned to cover the developing story. Her first assignment was in Bahrain, where hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets of the small island nation.
Before she arrived, the protesters in Bahrain were in high spirits, she said — it seemed like a third of the people in Bahrain were demonstrating in the streets. It was like the world's biggest state fair, she said.
“There was popcorn, there was singing, there were grandmas.”
But that revelry only lasted so long. After a few weeks, a crackdown began. The Bahraini government began expelling journalists and arresting or publicly shaming protesters. Ordinary citizens and elected officials alike were carted off to prison.
Workers bulldozed a monument in the middle of the square where the protesters had congregated, as if to bury the incident forever, she said.
Journalists were no longer allowed in Bahrain, so McEvers entered the country undercover on a business visa. Bahrain is a major U.S. ally and home to an American naval base. McEvers said she thought the nation's ties to the U.S. made the story all the more important for American audiences to hear.
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It's hard to impart how absolutely momentous this was, how enormous this was. Here you had tens of millions of people taking to the streets across an entire region, demanding something different.”