BEIRUT

Culture

Egypt uprising film depicts crippling social divide

(From L to R) Egyptian actor Bassem Samra, Egyptian actress Menna Shalabi and Egyptian director Yousry Nasrallah pose for a picture as they arrive at the opening ceremony of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival (ADFF) on October 11, 2012. (AFP PHOTO/MARWAN NAAMANI)

ABU DHABI: When horse and camel riders attacked protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square during last year's uprising, Egyptian filmmaker Yousry Nasrallah was struck by one of the most vivid examples of how Egypt's huge class divide is exploited by powerful elites.

Nasrallah's "After the Battle" tells the story of how one of the horsemen struggles to come to terms with his role in the aftermath of one of the most violent incidents of the 18-day-uprising which toppled former President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

Actor Bassem Samra portrays impoverished tour guide Mahmoud from Cairo's Pyramids area, who is coerced into taking part in the brutal attack on crowds of anti-government demonstrators packed into Cairo's streets that has since become known as "The Battle of the Camel".

He is badly beaten by protesters and in the months afterwards he and his family are taunted and ridiculed for allowing himself to be duped into taking part in an attack that is widely thought to have been instigated by the agents of Mubarak's state apparatus.

Nasrallah, who was born in Egypt in 1952 and whose other works include the 2009 film "Sheherazade, Tell me a Story" and "The City" which won the special jury prize in Locarno in 1999, said the men who took part, mostly tour guides from the Pyramids area, were easy targets for those who wanted to exploit them.

"They were extremely worried about their livelihood. Revolution means no more tourists, it means famine. So they were easily manipulated in that sense and pushed into battles that were not theirs," Nasrallah told Reuters.

"Suddenly the counter-revolution was personified by these people. And of course it's a pretty image, a super production, it looks like cowboys and indians, it looks mediaeval," he said in the interview on the sidelines of the festival.

But Mahmoud's lusty encounter with the wealthy and educated Reem reveals the enormous gulf separating the social classes in the Arab world's most populous country. Reem, a glamorous woman born to Egypt's social elite, is at once fascinated by Mahmoud and filled with pity for him.

"She goes there full of good intentions and she thinks that talking to poor people is like training a horse, but she discovers it's different. We've all been through it...I know how hard it is," Nasrallah said.

Since Nasrallah finished filming, he says he has watched with alarm the ascent to power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which culminated in the presidential election win by the Islamist movement's candidate Mohamed Mursi in June.

Were he to make another film now, Nasrallah said, it would be "virulently anti-Muslim Brotherhood" as he believes their ultimate aim is to institute a totalitarian state in Egypt and that Egypt's army is not willing to stop them.

"With the Muslim Brotherhood there is a real agenda of transforming the state, the state apparatus and the constitution, to allow them to keep power ad eternam ... of course I am totally against it," he said.

His views reflect widespread discontent among Egypt's liberals, who are locked in battle with Islamists over the drafting of the Egypt's new constitution, a necessity before a new parliament can be elected.

They fear Islamist influences will mean the constitution could end up curbing freedoms.

"There is no ambiguity, they have taken over the whole committee to write the constitution with Islamists and this is totally unacceptable for me," the director said.

Frustrations on both sides boiled over on Friday when opponents and supporters of Mursi clashed in Cairo in the first street violence between rival factions since the Islamist leader took office, leaving more than 100 people injured.

People were also angered by a decision on Wednesday by a Cairo court to acquit 24 former senior Egyptian officials accused of sending the men on horseback and camels to attack protesters, citing a lack of evidence, after a trial lasting more than a year.

Nasrallah, an acclaimed leftist director, said the Muslim Brotherhood had tried to monopolise the situation and that he feared for his freedoms as a filmmaker going forward.

"In a situation where you have a democratic modern state where it is possible for them to come to power and leave again, where there is a constitution that allows this kind of movement, then I would be more liberal towards them," he said. "But right now I cannot be liberal, they have to be opposed very clearly."

 

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