Comparing Perspectives on Egyptian Revolution

The 2013 documentary Al Midan (“The Square”) follows a cast of Egyptians whose backgrounds characterize three major social groups involved in the 2011 uprising. Among them are young liberals, Muslim Brothers, and military soldiers, all whose presence and interactions fundamentally shaped the events in Tahrir square. By focusing on perspectives from these three parties, the film successfully captures a glimpse into several major facets of the revolution. But it left me to wonder about everybody else. In hopes of broadening my understanding of the Egyptian Revolution, I sought out a first hand account.

Ahmed Hassan in THE SQUARE

On October 19th, 2014 I interviewed a friend named Daniel Lantz who moved to Cairo in 2008 following his father’s employment with BP. Although Daniel and his family lived in “Mahdi, which is an affluent suburb to the south” they still felt the effects of demonstrations in Tahrir, as well as responses from the military and government:

I think it was the 25th or the 26th of January when all of the phone lines were turned off. The government recognized the power of social media and texting, so they just cut off all texting and calling, 3G, everything even internet. So we were kind of in the dark for a while […] I think it served as more justification for them to be angry and get out there. The only media we had to know what was going on was a T.V. with cable. Al-Jazeera, an arab news channel heavily influenced by Arab ideology and did a pretty good job of covering it but CNN was the more outside news station so we stayed on that. People were still out there even after the curfew was set at 5pm. People were out there into the night. They had strong feelings about it, then got together and had stronger feelings about it. Me and my family lived on the 7th and 8th floor of an apartment building. We had a lot of dogs and Egyptians hate dogs, so we didn’t feel unsafe, because of the fear of animals. Also this was a pretty protected suburb because a lot of important people live here so additional measures were taken with the police. Well actually the police were disbanded and the army stepped in to be the protective force. But we still had to go grocery shopping and I remember once I went grocery shopping and this guy was walking around with a grocery bag of the local grocery store tied around his arm. And then he said, and he gave me five, “here take these and give one to all your friends so we know you’re on the right side.” I thought it was kind of dumb, but there was a sense of vigilantism.

Though the demonstrations were not directly targeted at Americans, there was certainly the potential for violence. According to Daniel:

My family was advised repeatedly by my dad’s company to not get involved. It’s fine if you had sympathy but we didn’t know what the sentiments were right then, we didn’t know how people were feeling- you maybe have been accused of being an American spy and with a mob mentality it can get very dangerous. For women and white people both. Because, I don’t know if you’ve heard but there were huge huge spikes in the amount of rapes that happened during the revolution.

Daniel’s description depicts a side of the revolution not featured in The Square. Although the movie characters for the most part, fought peacefully for social justice, their points of view represented only a small slice of a larger picture.

It wasn’t a glorious process because there is a good and a bad side to having basic mobs.So women were advised not to walk the streets alone, white people were advised not to take up ideological solidarity with the Egyptian people. There were stories of journalists being killed and things like that, so we stayed away.

Ahmed Hassen asserts “this revolution was for a principle not for blood” but regardless of what the main characters of The Square intended, violence and crime found their way into the tumultuous mass of humanity. In some scenes, protesters threw rocks and fought hand to hand in retaliation to the military’s forceful intervention. Ahmed himself was hospitalized after one such event, by a projectile blow to the head from an unknown origin. Indeed, the revolution’s volatile nature seemingly necessitated danger. It comes as no surprise that Daniel and his family fled the country in response.

I think with the company the decision [to evacuate] involved the fact that there was a lot of instability and a lot of anger and that was taking hold of the entire country. At the time it was directed at the government but who knew how much it could increase and in which direction it would shift. So the reason we were taken out of there: uncertainty, if you had to put it in one word. The U.S. government had taken out their people sooner than us and BP looked to the government, to the embassy as sort of a model- if they’re getting Americans out, we should probably do the same.

Daniel left behind Egypt’s collective struggle for political reform, for good reason. The movement presented a moment of fiery action previously unexpressed in that generation. What began in Tahrir as a platform for unanimous public outcry, quickly strained relations between seculars, Islamists, and the military, resulting in riots and bloodshed. Morsi’s election only further compromised the already polarized social bodies. Ahmed’s evolving relationship with Magdy illustrates that despite initially possessing a singular desire, these groups failed to retain solidarity. Ahmed understood that Mubarak’s regime could not be toppled by simply replacing the top, whereas Magdy vehemently supported giving Morsi a chance. Morsi’s election similarly dissolved the military’s attitude toward the demonstrators. Their promise to sacrifice themselves for the people transitioned to trigger happy anger. Daniel eventually returned to Egypt, to find the country had become truly divided against itself.

Up until that point, I had an assumption that everything was cool, and everything was going to be okay and stable. You know, even though we moved around a lot my family was always there to take care of me. The before and after of the revolution, being there for the before and after, brought me into the reality there are times when things will not be stable. The country was not stable, and we had to take measures for it. As a personal lesson, it was very much like realizing that stability is an illusion in a lot of places. You never know when things will be turned on their heads. Things change, and you can never know what’s coming.