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Oscar-Nominated Film 'The Square' Examines Egypt Uprising, Aftermath

  • Jane Friedman
  • Penelope Poulou

The Egyptian uprising that unseated President Hosni Mubarak, a decades-long autocrat, is three years old.

An unusual documentary, The Square, takes an intimate view of the events and has been nominated for an Oscar, the first Egyptian film to receive this honor.

The uprising began in January 2011 with a burst of optimism. Thousands of Egyptians of all stripes converged on a central square, demanding the departure of the military-backed ruler.

After 18 days, the unbelievable happened; Mubarak stepped down.

The Square focuses on several characters who guide us through the joy in Tahrir Square and the rollercoaster that followed Mubarak's departure.

Most, like Ahmed, are secular young people who launched the revolution. But there’s also Magdy, a Muslim Brother who joined early on, and Egyptian actor Khalid Abdalla, from the intellectual upper class.

“What we hoped to do, as being one of the only camera teams that stayed in the square from the 18 days all the way through three years, following these characters, was really to try and take audiences on a visceral, emotional experience, giving people a slice of what it was like to live through Tahrir,” said Karim Amer, the film's producer.

An Egyptian general tells the protesters they will be protected. But the army turns on them. The deadliest clashes of 2011 occur in November. Some 40 people are killed.

"It was a war in the square. Not a revolution," Ahmed says in the film. "It was not a revolution."

All while the military is planning parliamentary elections.

“I have fear for a future of this country which includes the military and a military that wants to be above the rule of law, above the constitution," says Abdalla, the activist actor, in the documentary.

But the military prevails. By June 2012, Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader, is elected president and is working with the military, until anti-Morsi protesters fill Tahrir Square again. In July 2013, the army removes Morsi, returning Egypt to military control.

"I think we’re in a dark moment right now but as you see in the film, you cannot measure this revolution by the moment you’re in," said Amer, the film's producer. "This uprising, this revolution, whatever word you want to use, it’s a wave."

The film has not been released in Egypt. But an Oscar would put it in the spotlight.

"For Egyptians, it would be historic," Amer said. "The Oscar would make this film unstoppable in Egypt and the Middle East. It would be a historic event."

Meantime, Netflix is streaming the film for subscribers in the Americas and Europe. Amer says The Square has a message for all people whose governments are oppressive.

"It’s people being more active and participating in the process, and holding their governments accountable," Amer said. "It’s holding the power structures accountable...and if you talk to Ahmed, he’ll tell you that kind of consciousness, for it to succeed, it’s not just an Egypt thing. It’s a global thing."

So even if Egypt's revolution is in a dark moment, at least this story will see the light.
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