‘The Square’ Vividly Captures the Turmoil in Egypt

William Eley

 

With a balcony’s threshold as our viewfinder through which to see an indeterminable future, we witness the city lights of Cairo extinguished en masse in an instant anti-flash.   And alongside those lights vanquish the markers of certainty that have so hauntingly defined a post-colonial Egypt living under the boot of emergency rule for over 30 years. The cacophonous experiment of democracy has sparked itself inside the Egyptian conscience. 

 

“This is our life now.  We will stay in the streets,” says Ahmed Hassan, one of the six revolutionaries whose interwoven lives are beautifully documented in Jehan Noujaim’s latest film The Square.

 

Noujaim, who has boldly outlined the aesthetic struggle between subjective truths in a post-9/11 epoch, especially the role of international media outlets during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq with her 2004 film Control Room, rekindles her predicate of “the battle of images,” as articulated by British-Egyptian actor and filmmaker Khalid Abdalla, a featured participant in the film who left his life in London to join the revolution in Tahrir Square.

 

With this “battle of images” so resonant, to relegate this film as only an award-winning depiction of the on-going fight for social justice and freedom across Egypt would be an act of missing the point. This film is a tangible action, an expressive continuation of this endeavor towards democracy just as important as the raw material of which Noujaim’s narrative is composed.

 

The underlying thesis that makes The Square so unique is that it eschews both the construct of a conclusion and the notion of a singular authorship, as the film chronologically traces the relationships of its six disparate characters via personal interviews, cell phone camera footage, and stunning panoramas of the labyrinthine cityscape of Cairo. More so, The Square shows firsthand the essential role that social media has played in the growth of an alternative public space within a nation-state made notorious for its penchant for violent repression of dissent.  The Square proves that authoritarian states no longer hold such a strict monopoly of the violence they project against their own.  With camera phones in the streets, these violent crackdowns may now be judged upon an international stage.

Taking in the Egyptian revolution through this film, one is reminded of an excerpt from Renee Gladman’s novel, The Ravickians, wherein her protagonist proclaims that “You can design a flag and name a country, then design another flag and name another country, years before you have to bring that country into existence.”  In the film, Magdy Ashour, a Muslim Brotherhood member who had spent sporadic terms in prison throughout Mubarak’s reign, claimed that before the Arab Spring he was “afraid to dream the wrong dream.”

 

For the struggle for democracy in Egypt does not end when American cable-news no longer affords it quality air time or when Noujaim’s film fades to black and lets its credits travel through its frame.  Its narrative eternally unfolds itself, and it inspires us all to disregard every notion of complacency in the fight for a more just world.  As viewers of this revolutionary piece of cinema, we will here repeatedly throughout its duration that “Tahir is symbolic land.” 

 

Author Bio:

William Eley is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine and is presently a Master’s candidate of Aesthetics and Politics at the California Institute of the Arts.

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