'We Are Egypt' Details How the Revolution Happened and Why Opposition Parties Are Still Fighting

We Are Egypt makes us confront the ghastly way so many world leaders talked about Mubarak's regime as a strong ally and centerpiece of the Middle East while dismissing the concerns of the vast majority of Egyptian citizens.

We Are Egypt

Director: Lillie Paquette
Cast: Esraa Abdel Fattah, Basem Fathy, Mohamed El Baredei, Ashraf Balba, Gamila Ismail, Noam Chomsky
Distributor: Disinformation
Rated: NR
Release date: 2013-04-09
"The Egyptians will hope forever."

-- Omar Sharif

Director Lillie Paquette's new documentary, We Are Egypt, takes viewers into the heart of Egyptian opposition politics in the year before the revolution that led to the resignation of dictator-president Hosni Mubarak. A thoughtful exploration of opposition in Egypt, Paquette's passion for the project is evident from the opening voiceover. It is this passion that is both the strength and weakness of a documentary that has been praised for allowing the everyday viewer to understand how the revolution 'happened' and why opposition parties are still fighting.

Perhaps the most compelling testimony in the film is offered by April 6 Youth Movement activists who have been organizing inside Egypt since 2008. The interviews with these young figures will certainly resonate with the audience because the activists tend to display a melancholy sort of attitude toward their country's future—they see that some progress has been made, but they are doubtful about whether or not they will ever be in power. It's a sort of existential distress that has become all too familiar around the world.

Two young democracy activists in particular, Esraa Abdel Fattah and Basem Fathy, are featured prominently throughout the documentary. Esraa even talks about receiving training in the US geared at teaching opposition leaders about managing media and public perception in a democratic opposition movement. It is this US involvement, we learn, that drove Paquette to make the documentary in the first place.

Paquette had previously worked for a Washington D.C. non-profit that dealt largely in State Department funding for media and civil society development programs. This is generally the sort of information about directorial motivation that one would find in an interview about the film's making but not in the film itself. Unfortunately, Paquette speaks about her concerns in the voiceover narrative. Her deep involvement is commendable on one hand, but on the other makes it seem like she has an agenda here that has shaped how the film was put together. It's unfortunate that these concerns must confront viewers because Paquette has done an excellent job of talking to so many key players in the revolution and even a few in the Mubarak regime.

What We Are Egypt manages to do, with a great deal of gravity, is make us confront the ghastly way so many world leaders—President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton among them—talked about Mubarak's regime as a strong ally and centerpiece of the Middle East while dismissing the concerns of the vast majority of Egyptian citizens. Viewers are left to wonder what price stability carries and, perhaps, whether or not they would be willing to pay that price were they Egyptian. Images of protesters on the street yelling "We are poor, but we will not be sold!" are followed by images of Mubarak with Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama.

These extremely powerful images are complemented by interviews with a wide variety of Egyptian figures, including beloved actor Omar Sharif. The interviewees speak eloquently for themselves and express a variety of viewpoints on reform in Egypt and the future of the country. Unfortunately, heavy voiceover narration between these segments once again raises the problem of a strong directorial agenda. Of course, these agenda assuredly exist in all films, and they're not necessarily bad. But they are often expressed in more subtle ways through editing, timing and scoring. This softer, hands off approach allows us to become involved in the subject without feeling that we have been manipulated.

Though We Are Egypt has its problems, it will likely be viewed in the future as one of the most important media artifacts created in the West about the 2011 revolution. Paquette manages to cover a lot of ground both geographically and ideologically, offering viewers a primer on Egyptian politics that is generally pleasant to watch and that allows us to build relationships with many of her subjects. The film has the feel of something that will work particularly well in schools and universities, where it's sometimes-droll voiceover style will join seamlessly with the lecture atmosphere.

The special features included on the We Are Egypt DVD are a mixed blessing. While the material provides a window into the lives of Egyptians and offers a glimpse into how the country has changed since the January 2011 revolution, the presentation of the featurettes is made clunky by the presence of Paquette offering narrative with her laptop in front of her. While viewers will certainly value her voice and insight, her continual appearance in this section is akin to an author reading aloud the parts of a book that didn't make the editor's cut. Polishing these featurettes as mini-documentaries might have allowed the special features the same power as the full-length film with which they are packaged.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.