'The Square'

Richard Smaby


'The Square' portrays the revolution in Tahrir Square in Cairo through the eyes of the participants in real time. This compressed and intimate portait provides an impact more dramatic than the hit or miss media reporting over the two year period in which the events occurred. And it moves the viewer to become a virtual participant in this Egyptian revolution. It is a documentary assembled from footage shot during the events. It educates and inspires. It portrays passion, doubt and despair among the revolutionaries, but ultimately hope for the future.

The film follows Ahmed Hassan, Magdy Ashour and Khallid Abdallah, as they experience three occupations of Tahrir Square. Each of them has a different perspective to offer.

In the first occupation of the Square we get to know Ahmed Hassan, a young working class revolutionary. This occupation is protesting the iron fisted rule of Hosni Mubarak and the brutal persecution of the Muslim Brotherhood and other disidents. Hundreds of thousands of angry citizens gather in Tahrir Square. After 18 days the occupation deposes Mubarak, and the military takes over with promises of elections.

The film also follows a friend of Ahmed's, Magdy Ashour, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He is a religious muslim with a wife and children, who depend on him. Their livelihood is secured in part by his membership in the Brotherhood. But Magdy's commitment to the Muslim Brotherhood is challenged and his friendship with Ahmed is strained, when the Muslim Brotherhood makes a deal with the military and coopts the revolution.

The second occupation of Tahrir Square is a show of force by the Muslim Brotherhood, which calls on its members to occupy the Square. This occupation has a totally different character than the first. Both filled the Square to overflowing. But the Brotherhood is organized. All are dressed in white and move in unison in their prayers, a stark contrast to the chaos and diversity of the first occupation.

The Muslim Brotherhood wins the elections. They are the only organized block of voters. And Mohamed Morsi is elected president. The third occupation of Tahrir Square is a protest against Morsi, who turns out to be more oppressive than Mubarak. This is the largest occupation of all, swelling to millions, before the military deposes Morsi.

The third principal protagonist is Khallid Abdalla, an intellectual, who together with his friends, makes it his mission to get the truth out about what is happening by compiling video footage from individuals with cell phones and distributing it to the international community.

The film also demonstrates the degree to which Egyptian women have become active participants in grassroots politics. While the film does not focus on them to the degree it does on the three male protagonists, it does include many clips of interviews with several women, who were prime movers of the revolution and who provided astute and arttticulate observations on the revolutionary process and its prospects for eventual success.

What does this film say about the future? The view of the historical events from the inside is inspiring to all who care about justice, but it has special relevance for those who are disillusioned by slow progress in social justice and threats to democratic processes by powerful individuals and institutions. Visit the Grand Cinema's Facebook page. Encourage them to show the film. Arrange for viewings in an organization you belong to.

Visit the New York Times review for detailed background on the making of the film.