The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

Thinking Outside “The Square” Part 1/2

This piece was written by Colleen Fonseca, STAND’s Emerging Conflicts Coordinator.  Colleen is junior at St. John’s University in NYC and can be reached at colleenfonseca 7 at gmail dotcom.

Jehane Noujaim’s The Square is a riveting and eye-opening documentary in which he uncovers the truths of the Egyptian Revolution. If you happen to own a Netflix account, this is definitely a movie you need to see. Besides all of the buzz that the film has been acquiring over the past few weeks, this is a documentary that might make you question what you thought you understood about the last three years of Egypt’s history.

In this fast-paced and gripping film, we watch anxiously and helplessly as divisions and lines are drawn between the newly liberated Muslim Brotherhood and “everyone” else. What is it about this film and the unfolding scenarios in Egypt that result in such a gut-wrenching drama? The polarization of religious and political groups is fairly evident, and the film is strategically framed around this concept. In article after article pertaining to Egypt, there seems to be a focus on the religious division as a justification of the nation’s chronic political instability.
Truthfully however, it is sources like The Square that show us a lot more than merely the divisions of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Egyptians. Upon watching this film closely (which I encourage you to do!) you will find that there is discontent among Egyptian civilians that goes much deeper than religious belonging. In fact, throughout the film we witness these same religious lines become increasingly blurred only to be violently rigid, and then blurred once again. Despite this movement, and the Egyptian ousting of President Morsi as one of the largest public demonstrations in the entire world, some still seek to rationalize it all as a mere religious issue. This, in my opinion, is a strongly Western imposed idea to justify the uprisings of Egyptians, that inhibits us from rationally understanding a pivotal portion of world history.
Historically, Egypt has been a nation which has become familiar with almost consistent repressive rule. After decades of being under the control of President Hosni Mubarak, the people of Egypt took to the streets urging for change in 2011. Under Mubarak’s violent policies, the Muslim Brotherhood was banned from politics and open acts of violence were perpetrated against active and alleged members. Even before Mubarak’s reign, political turmoil had brought tensions to a boiling point between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and fellow Egyptians. It should come as no surprise that in the 2012 elections, the Brotherhood was victorious after decades of organizing as an underclass of citizens.
Once the Brotherhood did reach their height of power in Egypt through the election of President Morsi, negative perceptions of the political party intensified as they engaged in political grabs that enraged Egyptian civilians. There is a scene within the movie as pivotal in shaping our thoughts and discussions of the Egyptian crisis. One of the main characters Khalid Abdalla, famous for his leading role in The Kite Runner, poses the single most important phrase throughout the film: “Who created this situation?” This is the central question in determining the future of Egypt, as well as discerning the future of other countries descending into chaos. Throughout the entirety of The Square, we see revolutionaries such as Ahmed and Ramy claim time and time again, “the streets are our ballot boxes.” As viewers, we have an moral obligation to see that these cries from the streets of Egypt are more than religious tension, but a call for systemic reform of the institutions governing Egypt. The vigor for reform that fills the streets must be felt in all institutions of the government, something that has yet to happen. Even in the transition from Mubarak to Morsi, there was not much of a change in terms of the constitution and how government organizations function. The power players and institutions that dominated in the Mubarak era, remained almost completely intact in the transition to Morsi.
Despite the strain of living in volatile times, Egyptians continue to diligently work towards a better future for their nation. Even in the face of failed attempts to build a new democracy, they pursue on in Tahrir Square making their voices heard. In the film’s conclusion we see this unmistakable commitment to a country that may prosper without the fear of violence, subjugation, and restriction. In the words of Ramy Essam: “Freedom is coming that’s for sure. Liberty was written in our destiny.”


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