We are Egypt

By Raksha Kumar

NEW YORK — Shouting loud slogans such as “Justice, Employment and Democracy,” thousands of Egyptian youth gathered in front of the Supreme Court of Egypt, protesting noisily but non-violently. There was anger in the air; clearly, they would not tolerate injustice.  This was not the 25th of January 2011 when the Egypt Revolution is formally said to have begun. This was eight months before that, July 2010, as documented in the film “We are Egypt: Voices Leading to the Revolution.”

The first draft of the film, directed by Lillie Paquette, is a reminder that the Egyptian revolution did not happen overnight. It was simmering all through the past two years. Paquette, who spoke after a screening of the film at Columbia University on March 28, spent all of 2010 in Egypt filming the events leading to the revolution.  Her film was screened at the Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs before an audience of eager students, researchers and professors.  This one hour film recounts why the revolution happened and what lead up to it.  Paquette said that she felt compelled to do it as there are many people who do not go beyond the headlines to understand the issues that plague a society.

“Part of the problem is that we Americans are not aware enough,” she said, “how many people know that Egypt is the second largest recipient of tax payer funded aid?” Paquette had worked in the field of international affairs before she decided to study it at Tufts University.

The main focus of her film was the demonstrations that led up to the November 2010 parliamentary elections, of which the January protests were an extension.  The rigging of those elections sparked anger among vast segments of the population and especially young people.

Someone watching the film without knowing when it was shot could confuse the scenes to the revolution of 25th January in Cairo. However, these protests were happening all over many towns and cities. The film looks at the huge crowds in Cairo, but also documents demonstrations in other places. The police was unable to do anything; the peaceful protests were noisy and determined.

The film also gave faces and names to those unknown heroes who were instrumental in starting the revolution through Facebook and Twitter.  “Something very important will happen, I am not sure what,” said Abdel Fattah in the film, the democracy activist who started the Facebook group calling for people to unite and protest. “Tunisia happened and all of a sudden there was renewed energy amongst the democracy activists,” said Paquette.

Basem Fathy was involved in these demonstrations from the beginning. A young, well-educated person, he said he was motivated to fight Egypt’s “shamocracy”.

The film also explores the reason for Ameirca’s 30-year political and military support to Egypt. “There are three main reasons for Arabs’ anger,” said Paquette, “U.S. support for Israel, U.S. military presence in the Suez Canal and U.S. support for dictators in the region.”

In 2009, when Paquette proposed the idea of this film, many organizations declined funding. “No one knew how volatile the situation was even in 2009,” she said. “In fact,” she added, “PBS Frontline felt it was not sexy enough”. Paquette left Egypt a month before the revolution. At the time of the revolution she was miserable. She wanted to be there to capture it in her camera. “Some of them had warned me not to return to America, but I had to edit my film,” she said. Her film, however, ends with phone interviews she did with the democracy activists after the revolution. The jubilation in their voices is hard to miss.

Asked about the future of Egypt, Paquette was skeptical, “I hope it won’t be an Animal Farm scenario, where the pigs take over,” she said voicing many people’s concern.

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