Steven Sheehan’s review published on Letterboxd:
2014 has started off with a number of strong releases and Jehane Noujaim's The Square is another to be added to that list. We are brought down to ground level into the heart of the 2011 Egyptian revolution, part of a movement dubbed the 'Arab Spring'.
The surge of change that initially began in Tunisia has spread across the Middle East ever since, Egypt the second country to rise-up against their dictatorship rule. This powerful insight brings us unerringly close to the blood, tears and pain of a revolution. A people who found power amongst themselves from a courage to challenge a rule that had dominated their lives for too long.
Tahrir Square is the place in question where you would have undoubtedly have seen news reports of the mass demonstrations taking place. What started from a determination to remove President Mubarak from 30 years of oppressive rule became a continued fight against those who filled his empty post. Watching these scenes brings home the feeling of solidarity felt by everyone present, whatever their religious or cultural beliefs.
That dictatorship was replaced with promises of change by the incoming military who failed to deliver anything close to such statements. Within months the protests began again in the square unhappy at the lack of change in the regime. The military began to infiltrate and violently shut down the calls for change determined to proceed with the planed elections. The Muslim Brotherhood came to power led by Mohamed Morsi, with feelings of resentment that they had sold out the revolution to gain control.
Noujaim focuses on Khalid Abdalla, a British-born Egyptian now living in his parents homeland, Ahmed Hassan, a young man who throws himself into the depths of the struggle and Magdy Ashour, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood conflicted with his duty towards his religion, his party and his fellow revolutionaries. This offers a wide-ranging view across the myriad of emotions running high throughout the struggles, all of the ultimately wanting the same thing.
Magdy in particular had suffered persecution before the revolutions due to his membership of the Brotherhood. With the Brotherhood in power his family feel a sense of security. He stood side-by-side with those who have sacrificed any sense of stability in an attempt to create a new beginning for Egypt. There is pressure from his Muslim peers, from his non-religious comrades and his own family to protect. With the recent ousting of the Brotherhood this past summer the country is once again in turmoil and a grim footnote at the end of the film leaves concern for Magdy and many like him.
There will be no quick fixes for a country that has found inspiration in their own ability to speak up but without a real sense of direction. The revolution opened up the gates to change, new ideas - a tantalising look into the future under a more balanced democracy. What it lacked - and possibly still does - are leaders, people who can represent the ideology of the masses. The Square is not only a compelling look at a population literally giving their life for change but a reminder of the freedom we all take for granted.