Writing by Patrick Keddie
It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness, suggests The Square, Jehane Noujaim’s Oscar-nominated documentary, as it begins with the striking of a flame that illuminates a group of activists sitting in an all-too-common Egyptian power cut.
Noujaim follows the activists over the course of two-and-a-half years as they struggle in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to keep their revolution from being snuffed out.
Released on Netflix on January 17, The Square is bookended by two toppled presidents: the 2011 protests that ended the 30-year reign of autocratic president Hosni Mubarak, and the massive demonstrations in late June 2013 that led the military to oust Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated president Mohammed Morsi.
The Square focuses on three characters in particular: the charismatic star and narrator Ahmed Hassan, who sold lemons as an eight-year old to pay for his schooling; the British-Egyptian actor Khalid Abdalla, who becomes an activist during the uprising; and Magdy Ashour, a thoughtful Muslim Brotherhood supporter – occasionally at odds with the increasingly authoritarian, reactionary leadership of his party – who suffered torture at the hands of Mubarak’s secret police.
“We were all equal, reflections of each other,” said Ahmed during the initial uprising, as the film charts the transition from the giddy joy of rebellion in January 2011, to the subsequent violence and torture by the authorities, and the perceived betrayal of the Muslim Brotherhood.
“The biggest mistake we made was that we left the square before the power was in our hands,” lamented Ahmed during the film. One of The Square’spremises is that whomever controls Tahrir Square controls Egypt, and almost all the film’s action is limited to this vast space in downtown Cairo and its surrounding streets.
[Read the rest of the article published by Al Jazeera English here]