Tuesday, August 19, 2014

THE SQUARE is one-dimensional

Jehane Noujaim's Egyptian-American documentary THE SQUARE is perhaps one of the more deceptive films about the Arab Spring one could produce.
The film is a composition of characters meant to represent the general populous, including Muslim Brothers, secular thinkers, and Western-oriented young people.  The arc of the plot is how these revolutionaries react to multiple opportunities to overthrow the government.  In the film's opening, everyone is exploding with joy as the popular protests in Tahir Square force Hosni Mubarak to abdicate his wretched puppet-throne in Cairo, and it is almost impossible to resist the personal raw emotional reaction these sequences evoke.
But the issue is the film devalues democracy and essentially endorses the al-Sisi coup in the final reel.  In any other country, the behavior of the film and how it pushes its ideology would be called propaganda.  But here, because America and its Allies have deemed it so, the popular narrative has been that the Muslim Brothers not only were failures but furthermore that removal of Mohammed Morsi was the only way to prevent Egypt from devolving into a radical Islamic theocracy akin to Iran or Afganistan.  The implication underlying the ideology of this film is that Western power structures are superior and only acceptable as a form of government.
The first question to ask is not whether or not the al-Sisi coup was given mass support and encouragement by a certain demographic of Egyptian society but why?  The discussion cannot begin with the final failures of Morsi but with the first acts of aggression against a democratically elected government by the United States.  Only in recognizing the reality of how America undermined the Egyptian revolution and put into power a reactionary military junta can a proper critique of this film be engaged with.
The bifurcation of Egyptian society as 'civilized secularists' as opposed to 'Islamists' in this film is simply disingenuous.  The reality, that pesky discussion about the inter-connections of capital and class, is simply absent.  The inflation of the Egyptian pound, the inter-relationships with Palestine, Hamas, and other Islamic countries is outside the discussion.  Instead, we are shown a simplistic version of history that has a powerful grasp of how to get the audience sympathetic with its ideological ends.  But the result is simply false, a story of counter-revolutionary ethos masked as liberation politics.

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