There was a moment Thursday when journalists in newsrooms around the world huddled around a photo editor’s desk and studied the AFP photograph that had just moved on the wires from Libya.
Amidst the confusion of limbs in the photo, there is the bloodied face, unmistakably Moammar Gadhafi, as a hand grabs his blood-soaked shirt from behind.
It was the first image of Gadhafi’s dramatic final chapter.
Except the image is actually a photograph of a cell phone video that was filmed by a revolutionary fighter and shown to the AFP photographer.
And this is the story of the Arab Spring ever since its start: ordinary people using their cell phones and smart phones to capture and share key moments in their struggle - whether it is police brutality, the ‘martyrdom’ of fellow protesters, or victory and freedom.
For decades, state media has shaped and controlled the narratives in Arab countries. The emergence of Arab satellite news, and specifically Al Jazeera, has chipped away at that control.
The very people who once watched the Arab satellite news networks and admired the way journalists challenged Arab regimes are now leading those networks with their videos capturing the drama of the Arab spring.
In December 2010, a Tunisian street vendor Sidi Bouzid set himself on fire outside a government building after his goods were confiscated.
The street protests in January 2011 were captured on cell phones and shared on Facebook before Al Jazeera started broadcasting the dramatic clips of Tunisians clashing with police.
The cell phone video clips were admired by people in the Arab world, the courage of Tunisians envied and ultimately imitated across the region.
In the Egyptian protests, before the Mubarak regime eventually shut down internet services in a desperate attempt to halt protests, it was the case of 28-year-old Khalid Said that galvanized the protest moment.
Mr. Said was a young man who was dragged out of a cafe in Alexandria and tortured and beaten to death by the police after posting a video that allegedly showed policemen sharing the spoils of a drug bust.
The power of the cell phone video has no doubt captured brutal tactics in Bahrain and Syria.
In Libya, the early videos of February 2011 were shot following Friday prayers in places like Benghazi, al-Baida and the Tajoura neighborhood of Tripoli. They captured protesters going up against the swift and often harsh tactics of the Gadhafi regime.
In today’s Libya, the trophy is not the body of Gadhafi, which has moved from house to house in the city of Misrata, as people display it proudly for visitors.
Instead, the trophy is the cell phone video itself taken by people as they crowd around the body of the dead dictator.
The videos are a gruesome and disturbing record of Libya’s nightmare as it came to an end.