The Square: Fighting for the Revolutionary Narrative

Movie poster for  The Square .

Movie poster for The Square.

It is 2011: the Tunisians have successfully ousted Ben Ali, and the revolutionary fervor has just reached Egypt. This is where The Square (al-Midan) begins, in what would later be named Tahrir Square, talking to wide-eyed, excited activists who have pitched tents and are beginning their own calls of freedom: “The people demand the downfall of the regime.”

The Square is an Egyptian-American documentary film that tracks the Egyptian revolution from its infancy to its present-day state. It follows the day-to-day lives of young activists who consider themselves to be the main force of Egypt’s social movements.

The documentary, about 100 minutes long, focuses on a very specific segment of Egyptian youth activists: the secularists. Though the secular youth movement undoubtedly played a significant role in the ouster of Mubarak, the makers of the documentary, as well as the activists, attempt to downplay and denounce the roles of other groups, namely the Muslim Brotherhood. The documentary denies the presence of the Brotherhood early on in the protests and then calls them a ‘fascist organization’ in conspiracy with the military.

Following the events of June 30, 2013, that claim no longer holds any weight, as it was the secular activists and their group Tamarrod that conspired with the army to depose Morsi, the democratically elected president of Egypt affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. While the activists in the movie heavily criticize the Supreme Council of Armed Forces and their continuation of the terror tactics employed by Mubarak’s regime, they do seem to save most of their scorn for the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Square is available to watch on Netflix and YouTube, but it has been held up by the censorship committees in Egypt, which are under direction of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces and General al-Sisi. [1]   Various journalists and activists, while noting the inaccuracies of the documentary, have accused the military of whitewashing history by banning the documentary entirely. 

The Square has received many international accolades and has even been nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. The film, while beautifully shot, has its shortcomings and biases. But, despite the slanted narrative of the past three years in Egypt, it is a powerful recounting of amazing events in the Middle East that successfully captures the revolutionary fervor, joy, hope, and sadness felt by the activists. The viewer cannot help but sympathize and wish for a brighter future for not only the activists, but the entirety of Egypt.