Egypt: A Look Back with Longing to Pre-Tahrir Cinema

Rome–This week marks the fifth anniversary of the Tahrir Square demonstrations that helped bring down the 30 year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak and then opened the way an experiment in electoral democracy and climaxed climaxed with the rise of strongman Abdul Fattah al-Sisi and a new period of military rule.

Egypt: Movie poster for The Yacoubian building

In retrospect, there were a decade long series of events that led to the uprising: protests over the US invasion of Iraq and the Israeli occupation of Palestine; small but persistent pro-democracy demonstrations; labor strikes; increasing public awareness of police abuse; canny use of social media to counter official propaganda; and the failure of Egypt’s version of trickle-down economics.

One of the consistent signs of the coming storm were a series of daring Egyptian movies. They dealt with a wide range of discontents, including chronic corruption. In some cases, they predicted violence was on the way.

The independent news website Mada Masr has chosen three as emblematic of the pre-2011 protest cinema. One was Imarat Yacoubian (The Yacoubian Building, 2006) which chronicled top-to-bottom corruption of the Mubarak era. Next, Mada Masr selected Heya Fawda (This is Chaos, 2007), which detailed police abuses, Ramy al-Etesamy (Ramy the Protester, 2008), a comedy about an accidental political agitator, and Microphone (2011), depicted deep despair in Alexandria.

There were several others which, I my view, exemplified the unease with things as they were. Heyna Maysara (‘Til Things Get Better, 2007) described a society rife with hopelessness and homelessness; terrorists blow a shanty town to bits. Cabaret (2008) was about a night club bombed by a terrorist. Wahad-Cifer (One-Zero, 2009) told the tale of society’s degradation during Mubarak’s reign. The comedy Hassan wa Markos (Hassan and Markos, 2009) was about a Muslim and Christian who are forced to change identities by religious fanatics.

These kind of movies are not likely to be produced in the current post-Arab Spring atmosphere of repression as al-Sisi simultaneously fight a terror war and suppresses any kind of dissent. The first decade of this century was a heady, even hopeful, time of dissent.

Sit back and enjoy Yacoubian Building (in English).

Here’s Heyna Maysara (in Arabic with English subtitles).

Daniel Williams

Published by Daniel Williams

I am a former correspondent who, for more than 30 years, did time in China, Southeast Asia, Central America, Mexico, the Middle East, Europe and Africa and covered wars that went from episodic to non-stop. My book, "Forsaken," about Christian persecution in the Middle East came out January, 2016. NextWarNotes is a news and analysis blog designed to fill gaps, provide background and think about what’s next. The name of the site comes from a 1935 article by Ernest Hemingway in Esquire Magazine called “Notes on the Next War,” in which he predicted the coming conflagration in Europe, told why it would happen and warned Americans to stay out.

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