By Jeremy Griffith
The American Millennium
“Why Mina?! Didn’t I tell you not to go to the protests?”
“‘I won’t go. I’ll do as you say, Mom!’”
“But you tricked me and went and took your life away from me!”
“‘If I died a martyr, Mom, would you be sad for me Mom?!’”
“I’m not sad for the martyr in you, my love! But losing you hurts!
“I’m not sad for the martyr in you, my love!”– A grieving mother following the death of her son, from an interview in the documentary, “The Square”
It seems in the absence of real news, I’ve taken up movie reviews. Here’s another film you should see, friends, but it is not likely to be in a theater near you. Instead go to Netflix to watch, “The Square” and bring a box of tissues.
Like Marcus Luttrell’s “Lone Survivor”, The Square is a tear-jerker worthy of your review. It is a documentary covering the lives of three individuals who partook in the revolution that started and ended in Tahrir Square, Cairo Egypt in 2011. Ahmed Hassan is from the working class neighborhood of Shobra in Cairo. He is featured prominently throughout the film as a spokesperson for the Revolution. Khalid Abdalla is a British-Egyptian actor who helps organize the protestors and uses social media to tell their story to the outside world. You may recognize Khalid from movies like The Kite Runner, United 93, and The Green Zone. Magdy Ashour is a father of four, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood who befriends Ahmed. Despite their differences, Ahmed and Magdy are close, and work together during the revolution. Magdy was tortured during the Mubarak regime’s crackdown on the Brotherhood.
Now I was in Egypt in 2008 following my deployment to Iraq. I was there as a tourist and I walked around Cairo, where even then you could cut the tension with a knife. Not far from Tahrir Square where the events of the documentary took place, in the shadow of a large Mosque, I sipped Chi Tea and listened to the call to prayer. Three young girls chatted at the table next to me, smoking a hooka together. The fragrance of the tobacco was thick and sweet. I was struck by how few people went up to the mosque when the singing started. I started filming, but my film was ruined, at least in my mind, when a street vendor accosted me to sell his worthless trinkets. Another such vendor had tricked me and picked my pocket earlier in the day, next to the Giza Pyramid, and it was only because of the police that I was able to get my money back. So when this new guy attempted to hawk his business, I would have nothing to do with him. I didn’t realize it then, but I had been first hand witness of the heavy handedness of the police and military in a brutish totalitarian regime. That event shaped the way I think of Egypt to this day. The police found the man who had taken my money, lined him up against a wall and went through his pockets, returning the cash to me. I think about that man from time to time, wondering if he is alive or dead. I wonder if our encounter gives him a sour view of my country or tourists like me. I hope not, but I wouldn’t doubt it. I have no animosity for him. He was most likely trying to support himself and his family, albeit in the wrong way. But, when you’re starving, you’ll do anything, I suppose.
It was because of the memories of those days that I was intrigued to find a documentary on the revolution on Netflix. I had to check it out and I’m glad I did. In 2011 things boiled over as the people of Egypt had had enough of their totalitarian government under the direction of Hosni Mubarak. Young people gathered in the square for many days and sat there, demanding the resignation of the president and the writing of a new constitution guaranteeing civil rights for all. They succeeded in toppling the government, only to bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power, and a new fascist government of Muhammad Morsi. Morsi, emboldened by his new power, seized upon his opportunity like a newly crowned Egyptian Pharaoh. His police and soldiers removed the protestors and seized power illegally, claiming the Quran as their constitution. No real constitution was written and the people went on the offensive again, retaking the square.
The documentary is an excellent one using a combination of professional film photography and cell phone video to cobble together a moving narrative of the events of those days, much of it not reported by CNN or the rest of the mainstream American media. It demonstrates masterfully how social media was used to circumvent the power of government and ultimately lead to the demise of not one or two, but three regimes in Egypt in the course of a few years. It showed the suffering of the people who lived through it and the pain of loss of families who lost loved ones in the conflagration.
It reminds me of Occupy Wall Street times ten. Violent scenes captured on cell phone cameras depict people shot down in the street by soldiers and mowed down by armored vehicles. Follow up video shows the tragic aftermath and will leave the viewer in tears.
The film is balanced from the heady joy of the participants following a victory and the shameful brutality of the government and hired thugs. The photography is beautifully done and the editing shows a keen sense for dramatic story telling. A graffiti artist tells the story magnificently through mural art and the music makes you want to march in the street.
Americans have this troubling philosophy that if it didn’t happen here, it’s not any of my concern. This horribly misplaced egocentricity blinds us and prevents us from participating on the world stage. The fact is, the United States supported Mubarak’s regime and sold him tanks and war planes, knowing he was a brutal awful dictator. The Obama administration supported the Egyptian Spring, but did nothing to foster real democracy, allowing the Muslim Brotherhood to take control through political subterfuge. Instead, the Egyptian people alone had to solve their problems, without any real help from the outside world, and continues struggle to this day. That is a shame!
Ahmed has a wonderful comment that I think illustrates the role of the Muslim Brotherhood’s takeover of the government in Egypt and solidifies their intent around the world. He says, “The Brotherhood is here to celebrate- and we’re here to continue the revolution. The Brotherhood buys people with oil and sugar. They mobilize people using religion!”
“The Brotherhood is here to celebrate- and we’re here to continue the revolution. The Brotherhood buys people with oil and sugar. They mobilize people using religion!” -Ahmed Hassan
In the midst of the strife during the military crack down, someone comments, “The Army is killing us! How can they be Egyptian? They’ve forgotten Egypt!”
“The Army is killing us! How can they be Egyptian? They’ve forgotten Egypt!” -an Egyptian citizen in Cairo
In the end of the film, Ahmed narrates, describing his role in the Egyptian Spring. He remarks, “We’re not looking for a leader. What will they bring, solutions from the heavens? Everyone who marched in Tahrir Square is a leader. What we want is a conscience.”
“We’re not looking for a leader. What will they bring, solutions from the heavens? Everyone who marched in Tahrir Square is a leader. What we want is a conscience.” -Ahmed Hassan
Every American should see this movie, and hopefully ditch the notion that what happens overseas doesn’t affect us here at home. The documentary is raw, and relevant and powerful. And the events that happened there can certainly happen anywhere, even here.
For more information on the documentary film, The Square, visit the web page at http://thesquarefilm.com/.
Watch the trailer of the movie below.