I’ve been to a few protests in my time. Going to a protest in the Bay Area usually involves BARTing over to San Francisco, getting out at the Civic Center exit, and congregating with the rest of the protestors in front of City Hall. The protest may or may not involve a march down Market street, holding a sign, and chanting interspersed with conversations with friends. After the march, coffee may be involved. And then, back home.
That is nothing, my friends.
Anything I have done for what I believe in pales in comparison to the level of commitment that Egyptian citizens protesting in Tahrir Square exhibited in January 2011, when the documentary The Square begins. Many demonstrators refused to leave until their voices were heard. Eventually, on February 11, 2011, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down and demonstrators celebrated and left the square, ecstatic that they accomplished what they set out for – they wanted real change and they believed they got it. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
With The Square, referring to Tahrir Square, Director Jehane Noujaim followed around a group of dedicated Egyptian citizens as they demonstrated over two years. The group includes Ahmed, Khalid, Magdy, and Aida. They were revolutionaries, their concern for their country evident as the documentary shows the unwavering dedication that these people have.
Noujaim delves into how invested these people are in their country, capturing the citizens view of the Arab Spring in Egypt. They were seeking real change and for a moment, that moment when Mubarak stepped down, they thought they were going to get all their concerns addressed. It’s heartbreaking when they realize that wasn’t the case, that the army that stepped in was no different, and that they never should have left Tahrir Square. And yet, their faith that they can accomplish something is unwavering as the cause unites all of them, despite their different backgrounds.
The Square is the kind of documentary that everyone should watch. With Twitter and other forms of social media, a lot of us found ourselves keeping apprised of the revolution, but it’s another thing to be immersed in it like one feels when watching The Square. The director is on the front lines, never interfering or steering the conversations, allowing us to be observers of the Egyptian Revolution and it’s quite an experience.
One caveat I would say though is that the Egyptian Revolution is complex, with a lot of variables and players that can’t be covered in a documentary of less than two hours. I don’t believe it’s meant to though. The Square gives the perspective from the ground and it’s on the viewer to become more educated on the topic to understand all the nuances of the situation.
Let it be an introduction then. Watch this, become curious, learn more.
The Square was released on Friday through Netflix, which produced the film, and is available via streaming. It has a limited release in some theaters around the country for a week so if you don’t have Netflix, that’s your best bet to catch this film.
The Square has been nominated for an Oscar in the Best Documentary category.
Further reading – check out my post on a book containing narratives of the Arab Spring: Demanding Dignity – Young Voices From the Front Lines of the Arab Revolutions