Keeping the spirit of Tahrir alive
The third anniversary of the beginning of the Egyptian Revolution passed on January 25 with the military, security forces and former henchman of the dictator Hosni Mubarak, who was overthrown in 2011, tightening their renewed grip on power. The regime is cracking down on all dissent--not only members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood of former President Mohamed Morsi, but revolutionaries who led the January 25 uprising and protested the Brotherhood as well as the military.
In this context, the Oscar-nominated documentary The Square is a refreshing and inspiring reminder of the high points of the revolution--and the lesson that those who protest and mobilize the powers that be can make history. Featuring interviews with many of the activists who helped mobilize masses of people to Tahrir, director Jehane Noujaim and her crew depict many of the twists and turns of the first two and a half years of the revolution, ending with the massive protests against Morsi on June 30, 2013.
On January 22, 80 people gathered at the Roxie Theatre in San Francisco to watch The Square at a screening hosted by the International Socialist Organization and cosponsored by the Arab Cultural Community Centerand Arab Resource Organizing Center. After the showing, a member of the Revolutionary Socialists in Egypt spoke via Skype from Cairo to give his impressions of the film and update the crowd on the latest developments in Egypt. The speech was edited slightly for publication here.
I ACTUALLY just finished watching the movie The Square, as most of you have done for the first time. I thought it was a breath of fresh air given the difficult moments that we are going through in Egypt right now.
The movie comes out at a very strange time, when the old regime and the media and the military are carrying out a vicious smear campaign against the January 25 revolution. They have arrested dozens of January 25 revolutionaries in the last two months. They are trying to portray the revolution as an international plot by the United States and Israel against Egypt--and portray the revolutionaries as people who have been paid by the United States to bring about instability in the country.
This, of course, couldn't be further from the truth. As the movie showed, the revolution was an incredible moment in human history. Eighteen million people participated in the revolution, not only in Tahrir, as you saw on the screen, but up and down Egypt--with the aim of changing the world. This is something they want to take away from those who carried out that revolution.
I'm quite moved by the film, and I have had the honor of being friends and comrades with many of the characters in the film. I wasn't aware of that before watching the film.
The film ended on a great moment also--a great milestone of that revolution. That was June 30 of last year, when millions of people came out in the streets to protest the regime of the Muslim Brotherhood for having betrayed the revolution--for having carried out the same neoliberal policies, designed to impoverish Egyptians, that Hosni Mubarak followed over the course of 30 years.
This was a great moment in the revolution. But unfortunately, the old ruling class--the businessmen of the Mubarak era, the generals in the military, the officers of the corrupt and repressive police force--used that great moment cynically, in order to not only get rid of the Muslim Brotherhood, but carry out on July 3 a coup against the January 25 revolution.
In the past six months, we have witnessed the ugliest moments since the outbreak of the revolution in in terms of repression--a massive campaign of repression. If 2,000 people were killed from January 25, 2011, through June 30, 2013, in the last six months, the government has carried out some of the biggest massacres in Egyptian history, killing twice that many people--most of them supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Unfortunately, the population remains quite polarized at the moment, with a minority continuing to support the Muslim Brotherhood. Sadly, because of the betrayals of the Muslim Brotherhood, the counter-revolutionaries in the military have cynically managed to mobilize the majority of people, at least for the moment, behind the chief of the armed forces, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, who has portrayed himself as saving the country from "religious fascism."
THIS IS, in a nutshell, the situation in the country at the moment, and we're facing some serious difficulties--because the campaign of repression against the Brotherhood has extended to all revolutionaries with the passage of a law that basically outlaws protest. Some of the people you have seen on the screen in the movie--some of the best fighters against the Mubarak regime and some of the greatest leaders among the youth and the January 25 revolution--are now actually in jail, serving time for daring to protest in the last few weeks.
But it's great that an audience in the United States and audiences around the world will get the chance to revisit what actually happened in the Egyptian Revolution so far. Because it's going to be really important for all those who support the Egyptian Revolution's fight for democracy and social justice to reject any U.S. support for the military government.
I think it's going to be really important for audiences around the world--in the U.S., in Europe and Asia--to watch this film as a reminder of what the Egyptian Revolution was all about. It was not just meant to change the face of Egypt. It was meant to change the face of the Middle East and give inspiration for radical change all over the world.
We look forward here to having solidarity from activists and ordinary people in the United States who support all the struggles for democracy that are taking place, whether in Egypt or anywhere else in the Arab world. Your solidarity is absolutely key given the fact that the United States not only supported Mubarak, but it has supported the Military Council, the Muslim Brotherhood and whatever government that has existed in Egypt.
Egypt cannot exist without support from Washington, so your role in the U.S. is absolutely key to help us in our fight here--international solidarity campaigns for Egyptian revolutionaries who are in jail, but also against the repression and massacres that are taking place against the Islamists in Egypt--despite the fact that they betrayed the Egyptian Revolution and were willing to go along with the U.S. and its policies in the area. It is a democratic principle to oppose this kind of repression, despite our political disagreements. It is important to stand up in the U.S. for democracy and for human rights.
I lived half my life in the United States--like Khaled, one of the main characters in the movie. All the struggles that you are involved in on a local level in the United States--for social justice or health care or others--are absolutely important and an inspiration for us here, because it's one world and it's one struggle.
So I hope you continue to work on both those levels--changing your own lives in the United States, as well as lending support to the struggle for democracy worldwide.