The documentary, The Square, directed by Jehane Noujaim, started off with the quote, “The lights are out all over the world.” This quote was very powerful and stood out to me because it was implying that, while Egypt had no electricity, this was not the tragedy. The bigger problem was the world being shut out the real, full truth of what was happening in the all over the world. Noujaim did a great job of explaining and showing what was happening in Egypt, that was not being shared through social media, information that was being hidden from the public.
Egyptians have been fighting for social reform for over thirty years and Noujaim, grouped with many other civilians, came together to help show what was happening, risking their lives at certain times, and making difference in the society and friendships along the way. Hosni Mubarak, the original dictator, became the new ruler of Egypt when the former ruler was murdered; he then continued as the ruler for over 30 years. At first he did not allow others to run against him and that is why he was “re-elected” every election. In 2005, he allowed people to run against him, but won the election by a landslide, and it was thought that he rigged the votes. (“Profile: Hosni Mubarak.”)
Civilians were outraged and started to protest in January 2011 to show all the wrong that was being cover up by Mubarak, including the imprisonment of several innocent people. One of the most popular places to protest was Tahrir Square, a place located in the middle of the city where civilians’ voices were heard. Around the spring of 2011, Mubarak stepped down, but the protests continued to gather because Mubarak’s people were still ruling Egypt. As the summer of 2011 approached, the protests started to become very violent because the military arrived arresting hundreds to thousands of protestors in cruel ways. I was actually in Cairo, Egypt the summer of 2011 with my family, and several times when we walked out into the streets there were protests happening. Knowing that Mubarak had stepped down I was confused on why the protests were continuing to happen and this documentary helped me understand more about the problem. When I was in Cairo, there were military tanks and trucks on almost every corner of the streets, soldiers fully dressed in uniform, guns strapped around their waists and a gun over their shoulder; it looked like these men were about to go fight a war against the enemy when really they were fighting their own civilians. It was scary being there at that time, but I knew it was going to be beneficial for me because I got to see, hear and feel all the emotions that the civilians in Egypt were having that most people in America could not.
The protests became hectic when the military stepped in, killing and injuring hundreds, and the Muslim Brotherhood who was supposedly with the protestors and against the military actions, were making promises with the military. “Good and free people are being called traitors, and bad people are being called heroes.” Military cars were running over the peaceful protestors, shooting at them, spraying tear gas at them; instead of a revolution, Tahrir Square turned into a war. The people began to feel alone and hurt. Instead of the army fighting for the civilians, the military was fighting them. The new election was against Morsi, from the Muslim Brotherhood, and another man who was part of Mubarak’s government. Morsi was elected president with 51%, and the people decided to give him a chance, but shortly afterwards, Morsi gave himself unchecked powers, giving him more power than Mubarak. This enraged the protestors causing more problems. Civilians reunited at Tahrir Square to begin again, and this time it was bigger and louder protests; in fact, one new source says that it could have been the largest demonstration of a protest ever. At the end of the documentary, it ends with “Our voice is our only weapon…we are looking not for a leader, but for a conscience.” Noujaim directed this documentary mainly so Egypt’s voice, which was being blocked out by the media, could finally be heard.
The use of technology played a huge role in keeping the protests going. They used big sites, such as YouTube and Facebook to upload the actions taking by the government and military against the innocent civilians. This helped the Egyptians’ voices be heard not only in Egypt but also all over the world. The strengths were listed above, including graphic images and videos of what was happening, a detailed step-by-step information of what was going on, etc. A weakness about this documentary was it did not seem to have enough information on how Hosni Mubarak managed to stay in power for so long, and what Mubarak was doing wrong. The documentary assumed that everyone watching already knew the background story of what was happening with Egypt’s government, when in fact, a lot of viewers might not know, and it could lead to a lot of confusion. Another weakness was the fact that this documentary was not translated in English, but only in Arabic and in Spanish. The fact of having to watch an hour and forty-five minutes of subtitles got boring quickly, and since many kids have short attention spans they would probably stop watching or fall asleep faster since they had to read subtitles.
The current ruler of Egypt is Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, and he took this position in August. Both Morsi and most recent former ruler Badie are in jail. Also, the charges against Hosni Mubarak have been dropped and he was freed from jail, after being there since imprisoned in 2011. Not much has changed or improved in Egypt, protests are continuing to happen and while al-Sisi claims that he is a ruler, his actions scream dictator. Conditions have improved in Egypt from the time when the revolution began, but still need a lot of enhancements to better Egypt. As each new leader is elected, each one of them has abused their power and ignored the civilians’ rights. Egypt has been unstable ever since Mubarak was kicked out, so any leader who takes his place is given so much power, and this power can very easily be abused, and that is why it is hard to find a leader who will not abuse this power (Smith).
I decided to research Ai Weiwei to compare where else we see social media playing a prominent role for people who are trying to record abuses and/or promote alternative ideas. Ai Weiwei is a political artist in China who uses his artwork to directly criticize the Chinese government and express how the way the government is treating their people is unfair. Ai Weiwei records himself and people around him as he is on a continuous stream through Twitter and Instagram. Weiwei gives the persecutors what they want, and he gives them no way in editing and changing his words to use against him since he is always streaming. Using his artwork and himself, Weiwei is helping stand up to the unfair government in China. “Both are merged in an ongoing performance in which the man has become the art, and the art is the man,” says Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore, a British journalist who has published in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. Ai Weiwei has a studio with his pieces displayed, full of sculptures and paintings that portray how he feels toward the government. Also, his continuous posts on social medias such as Twitter and Instagram help him increase awareness and show the world the reality of events occurring in China. Weiwei has been beaten up and arrested by cops for unjust reasons, just like protestors in Egypt and he showed it publically and had recordings to prove to the world that was the media was telling them was not the truth, which is very similar to how the protestors in Egypt used the media to portray evidence.
This piece is named He Xie. It is 3,000 hand-painted porelein carbs Weiwei created for the river crab festival. “He Xie” means river crab but demonstrates the diction of the Communist’s slogan for harmonization, which is an understatement for censorship. This is one of Weiwei’s many sculptures that he used to try and portray a message.
Overall, besides having to read subtitles for almost two hours, I really enjoyed watching this documentary because it helped me understand the problem occurring in Egypt that it did not fully understand. Also, I feel like this documentary is very eye opening to all those who take the simple things, such as freedom of speech and rights, for granted. Since, Americans automatically get those rights, most of us forget that we are luckily born with them, while some people are risking their lives fighting for those simple rights. For all those who watched this documentary, including the ones who did not like it, I think they all learned something new, and may even feel different about the privileges of being a United States citizen. Below is my work cited and the links to the cites I used if any of you would like to check them out! :)
"Profile: Hosni Mubarak." BBC News. BBC, 29 Nov. 2014. Web. 09 Dec. 2014.
Sebag-Montefiore, Clarissa. "An Interview with Ai Weiwei." Aeon Magazine. Aeon
Media Ltd, 2 May 2014. Web. 10 Dec. 2014. http://aeon.co/magazine/culture/an-interview-with-ai-weiwei/
Smith, Lee. "Viewpoint: Egypt’s New Leader Is Unfit to Rule | TIME.com."Ideas
Viewpoint Egypts New Leader Is Unfit to Rule Comments. Time, Inc., 20 Aug.
2014. Web. 10 Dec. 2014. http://ideas.time.com/2013/08/20/viewpoint-egypts-new-leader-is-unfit-to-rule/