El Maidan (The Square)
(Arabic with English subtitles)
Johane Nohaim (2014)
The Square, based largely on amateur and cellphone footage, presents an activist prospective of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that has been totally omitted from western media coverage. It delineates an early split between Muslim Brotherhood and Christian and moderate Muslim activists that occurred long before Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi became president in June 2012.
The clear view of the filmmakers is that the Muslim Brotherhood, who were latecomers to the Tahrir Square protests, co-opted the uprising and used it to negotiate a secret deal with the Egyptian military. Whether US and British intelligence, long time supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, played some role in this process isn’t addressed.* Once the agreement was sealed, Muslim Brotherhood activists withdrew from the square. This left more moderate protestors to be beaten up and killed by police thugs and the Egyptian military.
Filmmakers interview original organizers of the Tahrir Square occupation who deeply regret their decision to abandon the occupation when Mubarak stepped down in February 2011. They some failed to register that he was merely a figurehead – that the Egyptian army continued to rule with totalitarian powers. As one observes wistfully, “It was a big mistake leaving the square before the power was in our hands.”
Before watching this film, I had no idea the occupation of Tahrir Square continued during the lead-up to the so-called “free and fair” elections of 2012 – as did the beatings and murder of youth activists, Christians and moderate Muslims struggling to maintain the occupation.
Although the Muslim Brotherhood only represents a minority of Egyptian society, their Peace and Justice Party won a majority of parliamentary seats in February 2012 because they were the only organized opposition party. Non-Brotherhood activists largely boycotted the June 2012 presidential elections, in which Morsi and a former Mubarak henchman were the only two choices. They continued to protest in Tahrir Square, which the Egyptian police and military staged murderous attacks on peaceful on them with weapons provided by the US and Egypt’s Persian Gulf allies.
Morsi Grants Himself Dictatorial Powers
Efforts to retake Tahrir Square continued after Morsi took power and granted himself dictatorial powers far beyond those Mubarak enjoyed. In February 2012, protestors finally succeeded in reoccupying Tahrir Square. The protests swelled, as they had in 2011, when Morsi ordered police to fire live ammunition against peaceful protestors.
The 2013 Military Coup
On June 30 2013, organizers called for an open-ended general strike with the demand that Morsi step down and new elections be called. In Cairo alone, more than two million participated, the largest global protest in history. When the Muslim Brotherhood organized a sit-in counter demonstration, Gen Abdel Fatah el-Sisi massacred scores of Brotherhood protestors, arrested Morsi and called new elections.
Released in January 2014, the film ends before the May 2014 election, in which the Muslim Brotherhood Freedom and Justice Party was forbidden to participate. Approximately half the Egyptian population participated, with el-Sisi receiving 96 percent of the votes cast. Egypt’s state of emergency continues. According to the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, more than 41,000 people have been arrested in a sweeping crackdown against Islamists, secular activists, protesters, students and journalists – while protestors shot and killed by Egyptian authorities number in the hundreds.
*Ahmed Bensaada and others have also written at length regarding the CIA/State Dept role in infiltrating and shaping what Egypt’s so-called “color revolution”: The CIA Role in the Arab Spring