[Marxism] "The Square" generates controversy
lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Feb 8 10:57:19 MST 2014
(This film can be seen on Netflix. I highly recommend it, even if you
like the people quoted in this article find some of the conclusions
NY Times, Feb. 8 2014
Once Upon a Revolution: A Story With No End
Egyptian-American Filmmaker Captures Cairo’s Arab Spring
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK and MAYY EL-SHEIKH
CAIRO — The discussion started decorously enough. The novelist Alaa
al-Aswany had screened “The Square,” the Oscar-nominated documentary
about the Egyptian revolution, at his monthly salon two weeks ago, and
he opened by lamenting that the film focused on just a handful of
articulate characters instead of the masses of “simple people.” And as
in almost every conversation here about the “The Square,” it did not
take long before the fighting began.
The debate turned to shouting, spilled into the hallway outside, and
finally drowned out any further discussion: Did the generals protect the
revolution, or had they always meant to crush it? Did the Islamists
betray the “revolutionaries,” or did the young liberals abandon the
Islamists in the face of the army’s tanks? Were the rebels doomed by
their own naïveté?
“This film wants to break us down!” a woman declared. Maha El Badry, a
popular singer, agreed as she walked out the door: “It was created to
However stirring the images of Arab Spring idealism might seem to
Western audiences, “The Square” is often painful viewing for those who
lived through it, a heartbreaking reminder of hopes deferred and fears
fulfilled. The film, made by the Egyptian-American director Jehane
Noujaim and shot before she knew how the story would end, chronicles a
handful of young rebels struggling to save their revolution from larger
and more cynical forces: the military and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Seemingly everyone here who has seen “The Square” has some complaint
about omissions or distortions. The current military-backed government,
possibly displeased with the depiction of the army, has not yet allowed
it to be distributed in Egypt. And the acrimony of the disputes among
those who have seen it — on the Internet or in private screenings —
tells its own story about the collapse of the rapturous unity in Tahrir
Square three years ago.
Khalid Abdalla, an actor (“The Kite Runner”) and activist who is a
central figure in the film, argued in an interview last week at an
upscale cafe that part of the documentary’s value was memorializing that
“moment of extraordinary solidarity” at a time when many Egyptians are
losing faith in its possibility.
“The connection is there if you want to make it, and that, I feel, is
the film’s real gift.” But as Egypt enters another “dark period,” he
acknowledged, “there are moments in the film that smart, that hurt” — as
when he or his friends worry aloud about the possibility of a military
“coup,” or declare with confidence that the generals will never again to
try to run Egypt the way they once had.
For revolutionaries like Mr. Abdalla and the film’s other subjects, the
uprising’s third anniversary last month was almost surreal. In the same
square where crowds once celebrated the end of autocracy, thousands
gathered to cheer for the general who had removed Egypt’s first
fairly-elected president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. At
least 62 protesters were killed in clashes with riot police at
demonstrations against the military takeover. Some of the most prominent
activists in the 2011 revolt were behind bars. The government was
cracking down on dissenting journalists and intellectuals.
And Islamist insurgents marked the anniversary by shooting down an army
helicopter. Egypt once again felt stuck between military autocracy and
Many civilian supporters of the military takeover accuse “The Square” of
undermining national security by portraying the army in an unflattering
light when it is in a life or death struggle against “terrorism.” Since
the military ouster of Mr. Morsi, the new government and its allies in
the news media have used the term “terrorists” to describe his civilian
supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood as well as the Islamist militants
behind the bombings and assassinations.
In scenes of the escalating street protests during the months of
military rule that followed the removal of President Hosni Mubarak, the
film shows soldiers driving tanks over Coptic Christian demonstrators,
kicking and pulling off the clothes of a woman in a traditional head
scarf and abaya, and dragging the motionless body of a wounded
demonstrator across pavement to a garbage heap. Later, an army officer
smugly asserts that the military orchestrated the whole revolution. (A
popular conspiracy theory holds that the generals manipulated the
uprising to stop Mr. Mubarak from passing the job to his son Gamal, a
The filmmakers say that they hope to receive permission to release the
film in Egypt. But the authorized distribution or broadcast of such
images of the military would be hard to imagine here.
Some have denounced the film as an American plot. Khaled Montaser, a
columnist in the pro-military newspaper El Watan, accused the film of
“celebrating, repeating and exaggerating scenes of the military’s
violence” to fit “the inclination of the Americans” in the hope of
winning an Oscar. A like-minded blogger called it “pure conspiratorial
art” directed by a propaganda arm of the United States Army.
The Islamists have accused the directors of building much of the film
around a liberal conspiracy theory of perfidy by the Muslim Brotherhood:
that the group had cut a secret deal with the generals to ease its own
ascent to power through swift elections, before liberals could catch up
Only one Islamist speaks in the film, Magdy Ashour, and he is an
idiosyncratic outlier who never articulates the contrary views held by
most Brotherhood members — that the organization was pursuing a more
feasible and less confrontational path to civilian democracy. Instead,
Mr. Ashour joins his liberal friends in their increasingly strident
criticism of the group and its leaders.
Then, Islamists say, the documentary more or less ends at last summer’s
military takeover, without acknowledging that it dispelled any notion of
an enduring alliance between the Islamists and the generals. The film
only briefly addresses the ensuing crackdown on the Brotherhood that
killed more than 1,000 of its supporters (more than the number of
protesters killed during the original revolt).
At festivals last year, the filmmakers were showing an early version as
a work in progress but they rushed back to Egypt to continue work as
street protests against President Morsi began heating up. The final
version now ends with euphoria at the massive demonstrations that
preceded the military takeover, followed by a liberal activist’s
agonized recognition that the ensuing takeover threatens the life of his
Islamist friend Mr. Ashour.
Even non-Islamist, left-leaning activists whose story is the core of the
film complain it skips over or blurs together bloody clashes with the
police that they will remember forever. Some also damn the film for
failing to blame the Muslim Brotherhood enough for abuses by the police
or Islamists while Mr. Morsi was in office.
“It is missing many things and I did not like it,” Malek Adly, a human
rights advocate, griped on Twitter.
But in an interview on Thursday, Ms. Noujaim said she had tried to tell
the human stories of specific individuals caught up in the revolt, not
to provide a journalistic account of the view from all sides. “This film
is sort of a love letter to those ideas that were put forth at the start
of the revolution,” she said. “Some may say that what is happening now
is a tragedy, but it is still an open-ended story, and that is an
important thing to remember.”
Some, especially the young, have applauded the film just for recalling
the feelings of shared hope and common cause that once bound Islamists,
liberals and working people together in the square. In social media,
many young Egyptians have said they plan to show the film to their
parents. They want to convince their elders that the revolution was more
than a mirage and that it is not yet over.
“I want to show my father ‘The Square,’ “ Mahmoud Salah, a pharmacist,
wrote on Twitter. “Maybe then he will change his opinion about politics
Marwa Nasser contributed reporting.
More information about the Marxism