Our news media did not cover the Egyptian Revolution the way it deserved to be covered: a largely peaceful ‘people’s’ revolution centered on civil disobedience that was repeatedly and brutally attacked by government forces, yet continued to rise up, again and again, leaderless, but passionate about freeing Egypt from dictatorship. It is becoming increasingly apparent that if we want to know what is actually going on in the world in any substantive detail, we are being pushed to other outlets. Well, be prepared to be flat-out embarrassed by what we consider “news” in this country when you see Jehane Noujaim’s astonishing film “The Square” (2013). “The Square” at its’ heart is a completely personal and individual film, driven by the relationship it establishes with you as an audience, bringing you right into the heart of the passion, the danger, and the hope of a revolution.
“The Square” follows the ongoing turmoil in Egypt since the January 25 Revolution, shot in an intense and often jarring way; physically bringing the audience into the streets with the revolutionaries as they occupy the eponymous Tahrir Square in Cairo, and clash with Egyptian police, the Armed Forces, and pro-government thugs. While many documentaries make the mistake of trying to give you a full picture of the subject, often dragging themselves down with too much detail, or with so many different stories that the personal, human connection to the story is lost, “The Square” achieves the finest of balances, in presenting the ongoing events through the eyes of a small number of passionate people, imbuing the film with an energy and urgency that few other films (let alone documentaries) ever achieve.
There are four main revolutionaries in the film (supported by many others), through whose eyes we see the fall of Hosni Mubarak, the horrors of the “transitional period” and the Armed Forces government, and the rise and fall of the Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi. They are: Ahmed Hassan, a deeply passionate and strong-willed young democrat who fiercely speaks his mind to all those who will listen, and whose charisma drives much of the films’ heart. Khalid Abdalla, a British-Egyptian actor/producer born in Glasgow who had returned to Egypt as an advocate for social change who takes it upon himself to provide a safe place for people to work on and upload their footage and photos of the horrors of the revolution which went unreported in the mainstream media in the non-profit activist citizen media collective Mosireen. Magdy Ashour, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood who has suffered greatly at the hands of Mubarak’s regime for his faith, and is a passionate revolutionary, with some misgivings about the Brotherhoods’ chameleonic nature as they manipulate their way into power. Finally, there is Ramy Essam, known primarily for performing protest songs for the crowds in Tahrir Square, including “irhal” (“Get Out”) which became the anthem of the January 25 Revolution, who was arrested and tortured when the Army cleared Tahrir Square in March 2011.
This is not an easy film to watch, nor should it be considering the subject matter, but be warned that this is not a documentary to be entered into lightly: this is revolution at an individual level and it is impossible not to be affected by the trials, fears and dangers experienced by Abdalla, Hassan, Ashour and Essam. You will be with the revolutionaries as they are attacked by tear gas, sticks and live bullets, beside Hassan as he throws stones at the Army on the street, fleeing the streets as Armed Forces A.P.C.’s ram and crush people, and you will be there to see the aftermath of Ramy Essam’s torture at the hands of the Armed Forces. Ahmed Hassan states what is essentially my warning to you in the film: “There is only so much you can handle. We are human after all. There is only so much you can see”. I do not wish to belittle his statement in any way, as he lived and experienced so much more than can be reasonably understood, but it does explain what I am referring to more eloquently than I could hope to; you will be exhausted after “The Square”, but you will have gained a brief experience in something that these men and women have been fighting within for years, and if you (even think you) can, you must try.
Essentially what you need to do right now, if “The Square” seems like something you can handle watching, is get out of here and head straight to Netflix and experience this film.