Socialist Worker

Inspirational documentary The Square is immersed in the Egyptian Revolution

Judith Orr looks at Jehane Noujaim’s inspiring new documentary The Square about the individuals caught up in Egypt’s turbulent revolution

Issue No. 2386

Ahmed Hassan in Jehane Noujaim’s new documentary The Square

Ahmed Hassan in Jehane Noujaim’s new documentary The Square

The makers of The Square say they wanted to it be an “immersive experience”. That is exactly what they have delivered.

Through the sometimes dizzyingly jerky lenses of handheld cameras Egyptian American director Jehane Noujaim takes us from the earliest moments of the Egyptian Revolution to the summer of last year. 

From the familiar aerial shots of the vast teeming crowds in Tahrir she goes on to concentrate on six individuals. These include actor and filmmaker Khalid Abdalla, activist Aida El Kashef, Muslim Brotherhood member Magdy Ashour and Ahmed Hassan from the working class district of Shobra.

It’s a reminder that every one of the millions will have their own story of lives uprooted and thrown into the tumult of struggle. 

We see them under tarpaulin in the Tahrir camp, in life and death running street battles with the security forces and arguing about what to do next.  

The scenes from field hospitals set up after deadly confrontations show how high the stakes are. Some of the most powerful footage is of the army massacre of Christian Copts demonstrating outside the Maspero state TV station. 

The face of 19 year old Mina Daniel, one of those killed and a well known revolutionary from Tahrir, is now an iconic image in the revolution. 

Thousands came to his funeral. But it’s the heartbreak on the face of his elderly father that haunts you, overwhelmed by grief while acknowledging all those who come to offer their condolences. 

The Square’s strength is that is shows revolution as a complicated, sometimes confusing and always fluid process. Although this may be slightly bewildering for someone not familiar with events in Egypt, as there is no narrative or voiceover.

But letting the footage speak for itself is one of the most powerful aspects of the film. 

Bitter debates erupt. We see people learn about the role of the army or the Brotherhood and who their real allies are as it happens without the benefit of hindsight.

Magdy is torn apart when his revolutionary friends challenge him about the presidency of Brotherhood supporter Mohamed Mursi. “You are against torture but now you are torturing,” they say.

Their dreams of creating a new Egypt are constantly thwarted

The Square is not a definitive historical account—as the name suggests it only looks at one aspect of the revolution. There is no account of workers’ struggles for instance, or events elsewhere in Egypt.

But I defy anyone to watch this without being moved and inspired by its record of the mass of ordinary people finding their power. One

revolutionary explains the transformation from life under Hosni Mubarak when, “I was scared to dream the wrong dreams”.

Today the revolution faces dark days once again under military rule. The struggle continues and this makes watching this powerful documentary all the more poignant. 

The Square will be available on Netflix from Friday 17 January

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