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The Rise And Fall Of Politics On The Silver Screen

June 18, 2015
Credit: Sultan Al-Hajri/Flickr
Credit: Sultan Al-Hajri/Flickr

By Nada Deyaa’

The silver screen frequently spoke the tongue of the silent nations, carving the history of several eras for people in the future to understand the times and lives of people they never met, and outlining the living facts some tried to hide from others. In Egypt, the past four years since the 25 January Revolution held several overwhelming emotions for people, which differed from pride and happiness to depression and anger. That was definitely translated in films which were and are still being produced.

In the past year, the number of picture productions discussing the overall political scene were very few, unlike the numbers of films and series’ produced under the rule of Mohammed Morsi or the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF). Even the films which were made discussed the politics of the 25 January Revolution rather than the status quo.

Scene from "Rags and Tatters"
Scene from “Rags and Tatters”

The latest film in theatres regarding the political scene was “Farsh w Ghata” (“Rags and Tatters”) by director Ahmed Abdullah. The film discussed the first few days of the 25 January Revolution, where prisons were opened up and many prisoners managed to escape. It featured the character of Asser Yassin as a prisoner who faced life alone during the revolution, where madness took control of Egypt’s streets.

The film was only screened for a week in Egyptian theatres, despite it taking several international awards, including at the London and Toronto International Film Festivals.

The documentary “Athar El-Farasha” (“The trace of the Butterfly”) by director Amal Ramsis, features the death of Mina Daniel in the Maspero Massacre, and the changes in the way his sister, Mary, lives when she started fighting the SCAF rule ever since. The documentary was produced in 2014, and won several awards. However, it has yet to be screened at any theatre in Egypt.

“I believe we have a huge problem regarding films discussing politics in Al-Sisi’s ruling time,” said art critic Tarek El-Shenawy.

As cinemas are supposed to reflect the scenes of people’s lives, this is apparently not the way the reel is spooled under Al-Sisi.

“Censorship would never approve any film or a series which might negatively criticise the conditions in Egypt nowadays,” El-Shenawy added.

From 'The Trace of The Butterfly' Facebook Page
From ‘The Trace of The Butterfly’ Facebook Page

El-Shenawy sees the dramas currently shown on TV and theatres as nothing close to politics or discussing any political scene, just as it was under former president Hosni Mubarak, the president people once demonstrated against for being unfair and oppressive.

In Mubarak’s time, not one film in the 30 years of his rule discussed the issue of his son Gamal’s succession, despite it being the main thing most people thought and feared at the time. Most of the films implemented the idea of the perfect, pure-hearted president who only tends to please people and achieve their demands.

One of the examples for that was the film “Tabakh El-Rayes” (“The president’s cook”), featuring the president as a person who has no idea of the corruption happening in the country. The only thing he wants is the people’s pleasure, and to provide them a well-off life.

“Gawaz be Karar Gomhourry” (“Marriage according to a presidential order”) in which the writer showed the president helping a poor man achieve his dreams and attend his marriage upon the couple’s request.

According to El-Shenawy, as dramas never featured Mubarak negatively throughout the time he was president, they would continue not to do so now under Al-Sisi.

“Yes, drama should be open to discuss all opinions and the two sides of the coin, but the officials misunderstand the meaning of freedom,” Al-Shenawy said.

During the time of the 25 January Revolution, many films showed the whole political scene as it was from their points-of-view. Films like “18 days” and “Ba’d El-Mawkea’a” (“After the battle”) were two of them. The directors showed Tahrir Square through the eyes of the people who went down during the 18 days of the revolution, asking for freedom and the felling of Mubarak’s regime.

Street screening by Kazeboon at Al-Mamarr Square, Ismailian, 2012
Street screening by Kazeboon at Al-Mamarr Square, Ismailian, 2012

Several documentaries showed the military’s violations through to the time of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). The “Kazboon” (“Liars”) campaign was one of the strongest and most effective campaigns in that period, when they held several gatherings open to the public to show documentaries about SCAF violations and the brutal ways of police forces dealing with people.

The documentaries would be screened in public showing citizens being hit cruelly by military forces, sit-ins forcefully being broken-up and in an ”inhuman” way.

Under Morsi, a series called “Al-Daeya” (“The Preacher”) was screened, showing the hatred people had for Islamic ruling.

The series was severely critical of the Islamist parties during the time in which they participated in the country’s political scene. It featured the “fly-on-the-wall” scenes of their rulers as they took the decisions that the rest of the party would follow.

El-Shenawy believes that airing such a series at all while Morsi was still president is not a sign of the freedom the Muslim Brotherhood encouraged. Instead, it was more of a sign of the weakness they suffered from in controlling the whole country, including the censorship.

“The series is a strong indicator that Morsi wasn’t controlling the country well,” he said.

After the 25 January and 30 June Revolutions, a large number of people dying whilst asking for freedom, a year of Al-Sisi’s presidency, and with fewer films tackling politics, hopefully one day things will get better and we’ll reach the point where we freely say what we want on drama, El-Shenawy concluded.

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