COURTESY NOUJAIM FILMSEgyptian activists Khalid Abdalla

COURTESY NOUJAIM FILMSEgyptian activists Khalid Abdalla

‘Square’ brings Egyptian revolution in focus

Immersing viewers in the thick of Egypt’s recent revolution, “The Square” brings clarity to the chaotic whirl of politics and emotion that sparked the fall of two oppressive regimes.

Sizzling with urgency and vital with ideas as it chronicles events that could easily seem too familiar, it is a remarkable documentary.

Filmmaker Jehane Noujaim, whose excellent “Control Room” presented an Al-Jazeera newsroom reporting on the Iraq War, offers another frenzied Middle East setting — Cairo’s Tahrir Square — in this fly-on-the-wall-style depiction of intimate encounters and momentous events transpiring there.

She begins in January 2011, when protesters of different stripes are, as one puts it, “willing to die” at the hands of the brutal army as they unite in the square to call for an end to Hosni Mubarak’s reign.

Mubarak resigns, to jubilation. But solidarity shatters when a deal made with the army allows the Muslim Brotherhood, represented by Mohammed Morsi, to take power in a June 2012 election. When Morsi assumes dictatorial powers, protests lead to his ouster. Further terror takes place when post-Morsi troops kill hundreds of pro-Morsi protesters.

Noujaim focuses on three figures. As in “Control Room,” she has chosen articulate, interesting, likable subjects as anchors: Ahmed Hassan, a 20-something secular activist, radiates idealism and enthusiasm; Khalid Abdalla, a London-raised actor (“The Kite Runner”) in his 30s, wants to use his media savvy to bring the democracy movement global attention; and Magdy Ashour, a Muslim Brotherhood member in his 40s, believes in an Islamic state but disapproves of how the Morsi government uses religion as a political tool.

With this trio, and supporting players including a young female filmmaker and a tortured-by-police singer, Noujaim can’t possibly capture the full psyche of the revolution. Nor does she include much background detail about the leaders the rebels seek to bring down.

Yet the film is a skillfully made, stirring picture of a revolution in progress and a dazzling celebration of the rebel spirit.

Whether with overhead shots of the massive protests, footage of army tanks running over protesters, or a scene in which Abdalla argues over whether a citizen should vote in an election containing no acceptable candidates, Noujaim keeps audiences rapt, even when they see what’s coming.

Were this fiction, there would likely be a rosier ending, but the triumphs, exhilaration and hope Noujaim captures are real and uplifting.

Election-related events in Egypt this week indicate the struggle is hardly over, and perhaps Noujaim will make a follow-up to “The Square.” Her subjects are worthy of another visit. In the meantime, this documentary stands as exceptional viewing.


The Square

Starring Khalid Abdalla, Magdy Ashour, Ahmed Hassan, Aida Elkashef

Directed by Jehane Noujaim

Not rated

Running time 1 hour, 44 minutesartsJehane NoujaimKhalid AbdallaMoviesSquare

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at

Just Posted

San Francisco Police officers speak with people while responding to a call outside a market on Leavenworth Street in the Tenderloin on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
SFPD makes the case for more officers, citing Walgreens video

Most of us have seen the video. It shows a man filling… Continue reading

A 14-Mission Muni bus heads down Mission Street near Yerba Buena Gardens. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Pandemic experiments morph into long-term solutions for SF transit agency

The streets of San Francisco became real-time laboratories for The City’s public… Continue reading

Unable to connect to GPS server ‘’
Debate reignites over San Francisco’s first public bank

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, momentum was building for San Francisco to… Continue reading

Apprenticeship instructor Mike Miller, center, demonstrates how to set up a theodolite, a hyper-sensitive angle measuring device, for apprentices Daniel Rivas, left, Ivan Aguilar, right, and Quetzalcoatl Orta, far right, at the Ironworkers Local Union 377 training center in Benicia on June 10, 2021. (Courtesy Anne Wernikoff/CalMatters)
California’s affordable housing crisis: Are labor union requirements in the way?

By Manuela Tobias CalMatters California lawmakers introduced several bills this year that… Continue reading

Mayor London Breed spoke at the reopening of the San Francisco Public Library main branch on April 20. (Sebastian Miño-Bucheli/Special to The Examiner)
SF reopening more libraries through the summer

After a handful of San Francisco public libraries reopened last month for… Continue reading

Most Read