Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Private Revolutions: Young, Female, Egyptian [2014]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13 / R)  Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars)

IMDb listing (S. Hallesleben) review* (C. Moll) review*

Islamic Arts Magazine (K. Šurković) review
Middle East Eye (M. Gadzo) review (Salanak) review

Private Revolutions: Young, Female, Egyptian [2014] (written and directed by Alexandra Schneider) is a truly well-conceived and well-executed documentary by the AUSTRIAN film-maker who follows the lives/fortunes of four young women in EGYPT over the course of two years following the ARAB SPRING.  The film played recently The film played as part of the 14th Annual Chicago African Diaspora International Film Festival hosted recently by Facets Multimedia in Chicago and cosponsored by ArtMattan of New York.  The film is also currently available for streaming through the VOD service on for a reasonable price.

There is _so much_ that film-maker Alexandra Schneider _did right_ in making this documentary, beginning with simply her focus.  Instead of focusing on the "macro-politics" of the Arab Spring in Egypt - the overthrow of Mubarak, the subsequent election of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi to Egypt's presidency and his subsequent overthrow - she simply focused on the lives / fortunes of four young women each with her own story and priorities coming out of said story.  And _their stories_ cumulatively provide us with a fascinating and honestly _fair_ means of assessing the relative success / failure / progress made by the upheavals of the 2011 Arab Spring in Egypt.  For ultimately it does not really matter who lives in the Presidential palace or wears the Presidential sash.  IMHO what matters more is if regular people are able to find happiness and to live generally fulfilling and largely unencumbered lives. 

So who are the four young Egyptian women that Schneider chooses to follow (for two years) in her documentary?

There's Amani Eltunsi a young, initially smiling, 20-something, single, educated Egyptian feminist.  Western dressed, she's introduced to us as running a small Cairo feminist book store (honestly could have been in Greenwich Village) and an internet radio station.  She holds book discussions in her store on various feminist awareness raising topics ranging from those that Westerners would easily recognize/identify with (like discussions over questions of divorce or domestic violence) to those that generally shock most Westerners but _remain_ "a part of life" in Egypt / much of the Arab / Saharan world (like female circumcision - Amani herself had been circumcised as a nine year old.  Why?  "Because that's simply how it was when I was growing up."  Would she want this for her own daughters?  "NEVER!")  Honestly, Mubarak and _all_ the stagnation that he stood for, could not have fallen fast enough for her.

There's Fatema Abouzeid, similarly initially smiling, similarly _educated_ (completing a degree in Political Science during the course of the filming of the documentary), similarly 20-early-30-something, BUT hijab-wearing, married mother of three and from a family of active members of the Muslim Brotherhood in which she herself seemed to wholeheartedly believe.  

There's Sharbat Abdallah, 30-something, similarly hijab-wearing, similarly mother-of-three, less educated than the other three, but perhaps more all the more strident in her participation in the street protests on Tahrir Square that brought Mubarak down (and in as much it was not _insanely_ dangerous to do so, she'd return to the streets to protest the subsequent Morsi (Muslim Brotherhood backed) government and even the Military Dictatorship that followed) and SHE'D BRING HER KIDS ALONG, an activism that her husband did laugh at her for (but also did not impede her much either).  By midway through the documentary, Sharbat was filing for divorce against her not particularly supportive (but perhaps more-than-anything, seemingly somewhat "inert" husband ;-)

Finally, there's May Gah Allah, NUBIAN (hence from Southern Egypt, from an ethnic minority more related to the Sudanese than to the more Arab related people of Cairo), a similarly, and here ever-smiling, Western dressed, 20-something activist, who was using the window opened by the Arab Spring to promote some cultural development projects for her (Nubian) people in southern Egypt.  

These then were the four women in the documentary, and, interestingly, the different macro-political events that occurred in Egypt over the course of the two years in which this documentary was filmed -- from the fall of Mubarak to the fall of the Morsi (Muslim Brotherhood) Presidency to the rise of the new Military Dictatorship -- did have impact on two of the women's lives while it had no particular effect on the other two.

The election of the Muslim Brotherhood backed Morsi resulted in the previously ever-smiling / engaging Fatema Abouzeid to suddenly "drop out of the project" (without much explanation, 'cept a strong indication by her/herself that her participation in the film-maker's project had "caught notice" and was no longer being looked-upon favorably from "above."

Then if Amani Eltunsi did not much like Mubarak, the year that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were in power in Egypt proved _much more frightening to her_.  HER BOOKSTORE WAS BURNED DOWN (seriously) and her INTERNET RADIO STATION WAS HACKED.  She ended-up _leaving Egypt_ for Dubai for the duration the Morsi's Presidency and only cautiously returned to Egypt some months after the return of Military Rule.

But it would seem that the lives and projects of the other two, Sharbat Abdallah and May Gah Allah, did not seem to face much disruption.  Again Sharbat eventually filed for divorce against her husband and May seemed to march along, even with some somewhat entrenched local opposition, with her Nubian-oriented development plans.  Perhaps the "instability" existing "at the top" made both of their lives somewhat easier (for the moment ...)

It all makes for a FASCINATING documentary and one that I'd certainly recommend to ANYONE seeking to study / understand local community level activism.  Again, "big things" were happening "far above" and "far away" but what were the "down to earth" impacts (both problems and opportunities) for "regular people" down "at ground level"?


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