Abu Bakr Shawky

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Synopsis: An inside look at the events surrounding the 2011 uprising in Cairo.

You are studying film at New York University. Did you go home to Egypt to shoot the revolution or were you there when it started?

I’m a student at New York University. I’m in my second year in the graduate program there. I was in Egypt on winter break. The revolution occurred on the 25th of January. I went to the airport to come back to NYC on the 23rd. I knew there was going to be a protest but I didn’t know it was going to turn out to be a revolution. However, there were no flights to go back home to New York City. I was hoping to get out on the 27th but that day the army moved in and all the tanks starting rolling into Cairo. Then, all flights were cancelled. No one knew when the flight restrictions would be lifted. So I was there for the whole revolution. I filmed throughout this period.

You are still there now covering the revolution. Do you hope to turn this short into a feature film?

I don’t know yet. If I was to turn this into a feature, I wouldn’t make it about the revolution itself. I would make it about what led to the revolution over the past few years. The corruption over the past two or three years had become so very extreme.

Tell us about the corruption beforehand? Have you been investigating that and are there people who want to come forward and talk to you about it?

Oh, of course. Right now, one of the good things in Egypt is that everyone is free to talk about what they want, especially the people who have been silenced over the past 30 years. There is definitely a lot of material there and a lot of the secrets are coming out as well, like the rigged parliamentary elections that the government did not even care about covering up. It was being set up for Mubarak’s son to take over in the next election in November. Of course, that’s not happening because of the revolution. This is great material to work into a feature.

There is a sign seen in the film that says “Forgive me, God, for so long I was afraid to speak up.”

The older generation in Egypt is ashamed that they have been living under this regime for so long. They are ashamed they didn’t speak up for such a long time, and this was one of the sentiments of the revolution. These people grew old under this regime and they really couldn’t live the life they wanted to live. And now they have to leave it to their sons and daughters to go into the streets and fight for their rights. This is one of the things I tried to get across and that sign does it.

What’s the general feeling in Egypt now?

At this point, there is a lot of insecurity. Over the last 30 years, there was very strong repression of both the Liberalists and the Islamists. Suddenly, you get complete freedom and both of these groups emerge. So, of course, there are going to be clashes. There is a big fear that this current political discourse is leaning toward more religious-based political reform and this is not what the revolution is about. For all the people that went into the streets in the beginning—and that was pretty much everyone from all walks of life--it wasn’t about religion. It was about the Egyptian people and their rights. People are working very hard to see that Egypt does not turn into another Iran.

What do you hope people take away from this film?

If the person watching this film has no idea about Egypt or Islam or Arabs or anything that’s going on in Cairo and if that person is touched and feels connected to the idea that people need to speak up when they are oppressed, then I think my job as a filmmaker is done.

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