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EGYPT – Looking for a Conscience

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 19 2014 (IPS) - “We are not looking for a leader to rule us, because everyone who went to Tahrir Square is a leader. We are looking for a conscience,” says Ahmed Hassan, protagonist of the Oscar-nominated Egyptian documentary ‘The Square’, which was screened at the United Nations headquarters Tuesday.

The explosive documentary – based on over 1,600 hours of footage shot over a period of nearly three years – chronicles the Egyptian revolution from its start in January 2011 up to the summer of 2013 with the ousting of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi, through the eyes of several Egyptian activists, by following their journey around the famous Tahrir Square.

Among them is Ahmed Hassan, a born storyteller and revolutionary from the working-class district of Shobra; Khalid Abdalla, British-Egyptian actor and filmmaker; Magdy Ashour, father of four and member of the Muslim Brotherhood; Aida El Kashef, filmmaker from Cairo who set up the first tent in Tahrir Square; and Ramy Essam, dubbed the “singer-songwriter’’ of the revolution.

These dynamic narrators take the audience on a tour of the chaos that was reported through minute-by-minute blog posts, Facebook updates and Twitter feeds, relating the story of Egypt’s revolution behind the headlines.

Those involved with the making of the documentary say this is a crucial time to remind the world of the human side of a struggle that is now being depicted as an endless series of power struggles, acts of terrorism and violence.

“If you think of what’s come out of the civil rights movements [in the U.S.], you think about Martin Luther King, you think about people who were really struggling to change things on the front lines, you think about the art and the music, and this beautiful energy that exploded and that is what should be treasured and spread around the world,” Director Jehane Noujaim said in an interview with IPS.

When asked about the future of the country, Producer Karim Amer told IPS that the youth who played a major role in the uprising are starting to reject the “old story” that Egyptians have been fed for years: that they must choose between the protection of the military or the purity of religious leaders.

“I think most young Egyptians see beyond that,” he said. “They see that there is an Egypt for Egyptians and are looking for someone who would put Egyptians first. The race towards that has started and there is no going back.”

“There are squares erupting in Ukraine, Turkey, Greece, in the U.S., so it was really hitting on the zeitgeist of our time to portray what it means to be one of those characters and their relationship with that piece of public space,” Noujaim added.

The documentary was screened at the U.N. by the Beirut Institute and the U.N. Correspondents’ Association (UNCA). It is on Netflix and currently playing in theatres in over 40 countries. In Egypt, however, viewers are still waiting for the censorship board to officially release the film.

Some have circumvented the state by finding alternative channels through which to view the narrative about their own lives. In fact, Amer says the process of gaining access to the film has itself become “a subversive act.”

The production team estimates the online views in the country to be over one million already.

Whether it wins an Oscar or not, ‘The Square’ is already a success and is spreading across the globe, with Hassan’s quote on “conscience” being tweeted in dozens of languages.

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