Some Ramblings - The Square (2013) by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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Oscar Bait
Fall...trees start turning their colored coats inside out and eventually shed their old wear and gear clearing out their warehouses in what becomes their final blowout season... Coincidentally, it is also time when movie studios bring their artsy features out of the closet, ones that they have held out until the hoarse-y summer's din died down. So snuggle up in the fall jackets and settle down for the Oscar fare where the sensitive battle it out with the subtle, where strong stories stake their ground out in the fertile land of varied imaginations....

It would later be dubbed as the slap that was held round the world. A street side fruit vendor unable to pay the unofficial 'tax' anymore to the drive-by authority and therefore had to endure a humiliating slap in front of everyone in the market and an illegal seizure of his weighing scales, on that bright sunny morning in Tunisia, walked down to the municipal office, doused himself with gasoline and lit himself on fire. Little did anyone realize at that time that the pyre would eventually end up consuming not just his government but at least half a dozen governments in the North African and Middle Eastern regions. World events turn on the backs of seemingly inconsequential and trivial incidents. Who could have imagined that a little social networking tool invented by a geeky teenager on a cold night on the Harvard campus would become instrumental in mobilizing masses and toppling governments? But these small incidents and those nifty tools aren't the real reasons for the deposing of the dictators, they were mere triggers that lit the powder-kegs. Decades of frustration and unrest brought upon by the dictatorial regimes ruling the states with iron fists, mushrooming populations compounding the problem of stagnant employment situation, and the rise of the natural refuge of the disgruntled - radical religious ideology, all that added to the communication explosion that constantly juxtaposed the hell here with a heaven somewhere, are why the first domino in Tunisia fell, taking down along with it Libya, Syria, and the country in question, Egypt, rendering the once dreaded Qaddaffis, Mubarks, Assads, powerless, useless, and in some cases, lifeless. Though not as outwardly as these four countries, Jordan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and even Iran, have been forced to change their outlook over administration, as to place public welfare over the previous personal well-being as a national policy. The spark that breathed life in the Spring of 2011 continues to rage on in the hearts and minds of the oppressed in these regions, threatening to burn down any government that tries to douse it through forceful means.

In the current age of passive aggression and intellectual inaction, where apathy is the safe fallback for government overbearance, it is only fitting that an 'intifadah' (uprising) take root in the same place where humanity took its first step towards enlightenment and excellence millennia ago. Alas! all these uprising, revolts and revolutions are vindicated only in hindsight of history!

'The Square' (after the famous Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt) is a mute witness to the rapid upheavals in its civilian society for the past three years, first, presiding over the ouster of its tyrant dictator, Mubarak, and watch in admiration its baby steps towards democracy and being crippled for so long under the brutal dictatorship, and second, only to see it fall flat on its face getting tangled in its own legs after forces from all fronts - moderate, liberal, extreme, hardline - made a dash towards filling in the void of the political vacuum, each professing its own brand of social justice. The documentary follows the trails of a group of people from diverse backgrounds - an expat actor, an idealist student, a battle-hardened hardliner etc - as they setup shop in the square, actively participating in the events aimed at reshaping their country to mixed results. Three years since Arab Spring and the issue hasn't entirely settled when it comes to the final shape of Egypt, with the right wing Muslim Brotherhood both throned and thrown out of public office in just a matter of few months following their hard stance on transforming their racially and culturally diverse state in a monotheistic monolith; with the chameleon like army switching its colors between guardians and rulers in quick succession, raising fears of the return of the reign of dictators (or autocrats); with the people unable to decide what is it that they exactly want their state to be - welfare state, strong state, democracy, theocracy - because with the present day Egypt, unfortunately each of those options are mutually exclusive. If it is to be a democracy, a presumed no-brainer, then the Muslim Brotherhood, which indeed won the free and fair elections fair and square, should be allowed to fulfill the people's mandate, even if it calls for rapid Islamisation, imposing of the Shariah Law, even tethering its fate to Iran's.

The West (and therefore Egypt's military, receiving generous financial and tactical support from the West) cannot have it both ways - a democratic Egypt in priciple and yet an Egypt that is willing to place West's interests before its own, meaning, a puppet regime that toes the line of its masters, who constantly dangle the carrot of foreign aid. Whether this social experiment, of the country finally having an opportunity to have a say in its own fate, would eventually turn into a dream or a nightmare, a fulfillment or a disillusionment, is something that remains to be seen, but what is on full display for the entire world right now are the pangs of this hard labor so vividly caught from the vantage point of an important crossroads in the Capital city - an irony that is not lost on anyone.


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