2011 § 5 Comments
On 25th January thousands of Egyptians gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, sparking what we call now the Egyptian Revolution. Only a few hundred meters far from the world-famous square, the people from popular neighbourhood Bulaq joined protesters, finding in demonstrations something more than a glimmer of hope. Through their voices, ‘Bulaq’ portrays their collective struggle against eviction and social marginalisation, whose destiny seems to be strictly intertwined with the hesitant fortunes of the Egyptian spring.
The idea of Bulaq materialized in 2009, when the two directors Davide Morandini and Fabio Lucchini travelled to Egypt to carry out Research on political organisation in Cairo’s informal neighbourhoods. They both came back to the city after the so-called revolution and started to develop the subject of their documentary film while working as researchers and journalists. Matteo Keffer, a young Swiss-Italian Filmmaker and friend, joined them in June to shoot their first film.
Moved by insatiable curiosity and an extreme commitment to social justice, the three make up a young team bringing together different skills and experiences, ranging from filmmaking, investigative journalism and social research. Therefore, Bulaq attempts to investigate into one of the many social movements that supported the demonstrations leading to Mubarak’s dismissal. By portraying the reality of a historical, popular neighbourhood besieged by investment companies and property speculation, Bulaq aims to shed light one of the decades-long social struggles hiding behind the fulminating 18 days of the Egyptian Revolution.
The principal photography was carried out during 8 difficult days, juggling between the strict surveillance of the security forces monitoring their movements and the people’s distrust of cameras and journalists, fomented by an unprecedented xenophobic campaign mounted by national media throughout the uprisings. This propaganda wanted, and still wants every foreign journalist or filmmaker to be looked at as a potential threat to national integrity during this very erratic, historical moment.
This documentary attempts a portrait of a contested space in central Cairo. Bulaq Abu el-Ela is a neighbourhood laying just few hundred meters from the world-famous Tahrir Square, symbol of the recent Egyptian Revolution. Since 1979, people in Bulaq live in loom of eviction: Egyptian security forces demolish houses and transfer inhabitants to one of the new towns built at the outskirt of the city, in the middle of the desert, as the old regime had planned to carry out massive plans of so-called urban development known as Cairo 2050. According to this plans, popular neighbourhoods in Downton Cairo like Bulaq would be demolished to leave room for the construction of touristic facilities and 5-star hotels.
Since last February though, the revolution gave inhabitants of Bulaq a hope that their housing rights be respected, and that the new democratic government would give up with demolitions. In fact, Bulaq is close to Tahrir Square, and the neighbourhood was directly involved in the popular uprisings that brought to Mubarak’s dismissal. Hundreds of demonstrators stormed into the neighbourhood, seeking to hide from security forces brutalizing protesters. Women from Bulaq responded offering food and opening the doors of their endangered houses to young revolutionaries. Therefore, this documentary also portraits the ways in which the fortune of this popular neighbourhood intertwine with those of the so-called revolution, telling of some of the intimate aspirations that still bring people to take the street and protest for the right to live a life worth living.
Bulaq was awarded with the first Prize at the first edition of the Festival of short reportages “Pillole di Attualità” in Rome, in September 2011. Here is a collection of snapshots and backstage pics, enjoy it!
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Country: UK | Italy | Egypt
Language: Arabic (English Subtitles)
Filming Locations: Cairo, Egypt
Aspect ratio 16:9 HD (letterbox)
Runtime: 25 min (original version)
Sound Mix: Stereo
Color: Color (HD)
2011 § Leave a Comment
È improvvisamente riesploso lo scontro fra cristiani copti e musulmani ieri notte nel quartiere cristiano del Cairo. Durante una sparatoria fra un gruppo di fondamentalisti islamici e alcuni residenti del famoso quartiere a maggioranza copta, almeno dodici persone sono rimaste uccise e 150 ferite. Secondo quanto denunciato dai residenti del quartiere, alle radici dell’attacco ci sarebbero voci che vogliono una donna copta tenuta in ostaggio in chiesa perché pronta a convertirsi all’Islam. I preti della chiesa di Santa Mena avrebbero così pensato di impedirle la conversione, impedendole di venire allo scoperto.
Si è riacceso così un conflitto che sembrava sopito, dopo che quasi due mesi fa dieci cristiani erano rimasti uccisi in scontri settari nel quartiere popolare del Moqattam, a est del Cairo. Quella notte, un gruppo di fondamentalisti aveva attaccato una chiesa, aprendo fuoco indiscriminatamente sui passanti indifesi. Ma questa volta non tutti sono convinti della matrice islamica dell’attacco. Tamer, uno dei residenti del quartiere, giura che è stata tutta opera di alcuni teppisti, volenterosi di sollevare il caos per le strade del quartiere. Questi cosiddetti ‘teppisti’ (baltageya) ricoprono un ruolo famoso in Egitto: sono quei gruppi di malintenzionati al soldo dei potenti, il cui mestiere è provocare il caos su commissione e che arrivarono all’apice della loro (im)popolarità quando comparirono sulle prime pagine dei quotidiani internazionali dopo aver attaccato i manifestanti di Piazza Tahrir a dorso di cavallo e cammello, il 29 gennaio scorso.
Ma non è la prima volta che scontri di matrice religiosa vengono confusi con faide di altra natura. Molti in Egitto pensano che le esplosioni che distrussero le due Chiese di Alessandria prima delle celebrazioni per il Capodanno copto siano state opera dei servizi segreti volti ad aumentare la tensione nel paese, più che opera di un isolato gruppo di fondamentalisti islamici con pochissimo seguito in tutto l’Egitto.
La dissoluzione dell’ Amn ed-Dawla (l’odiato corpo dei servizi segreti) e la recente incarcerazione e condanna a 12 anni per l’ex ministro degli Interni Habib el-Adly non hanno fatto che dare più adito a questi sospetti. Già le manifestazioni (annunciate come anti-cristiane) che hanno bloccato per quasi una settimana la città meridionale di Qena non hanno tardato a rivelare la loro matrice non-religiosa. Lì i manifestanti hanno spontaneamente allentato la tensione quando un gruppo di fondamentalisti ha provato a rivendicare la paternità delle manifestazioni, sviando l’attenzione dai veri motivi proteste e attribuendo loro una matrice religiosa fuori contesto. Alla base di quelle manifestazioni, infatti, c’era la volontà di voltare pagina e lasciarsi alle spalle la corruzione e l’emarginazione dell’Alto Egitto voluta dall’Ancien Regime della cricca mubaracchiana, ancora rappresentata dal neo-nominato governatore Mikhail malvoluto da tutti gli abitanti della città, sia Musulmani che Cristiani. In un paese che ancora deve recuperare dalla grave crisi economica e sociale in cui è piombato dopo la storica rivoluzione del 25 Gennaio, al nuovo governo spetta l’arduo compito di stare al passo con le aspettative di un popolo che ha capito di essere in grado di poter cacciare un dittatore.
Più che odio religioso, sembra che alla base di questi scontri ci sia la quasi totale mancanza di forze di sicurezza a garantire l’ordine pubblico per le strade del Cairo post-rivoluzionario. Più di tre mesi fa ormai, la polizia si è vista obbligata a passare il testimone all’esercito, il giorno in cui le forze dell’ordine sono state surclassate e pubblicamente umiliate dalla folla di manifestanti accorsa a Piazza Tahrir per chiedere all’ex Presidente Hosni Mubarak di abbandonare il paese. Mentre in questi giorni la polizia fa solo gradualmente ritorno ai suoi presidi, il ruolo dell’esercito rimane limitato alla protezione di obiettivi sensibili, lasciando l’amministrazione dell’ordine pubblico alle ronde volontarie dei residenti di quartiere e al buon cuore della popolazione civile. È anche questa più o meno voluta mancanza di controllo a lasciare che le intenzioni molto poco religiose di un manipolo di estremisti si mischino a cose molto ma molto più grandi di loro.
il sito del Sole
2011 § Leave a Comment
The first May day in post-revolutionary Egypt saw hundreds of thousands of people gather in Tahrir Square. The crowd asked for the new government to guarantee reforms that would provide workers with basic rights.
But Magdir, a 45 years-old worker for a Cairo construction company, did not rally in Tahrir. He spent his Mayday working with his colleagues, re-painting the facade of a building only few blocks away from the world-famous Square where demonstrators had gathered.
“There is nothing to do there,” Magdir told Bikya Masr while holding a blue rope in his right hand spattered with yellow paint. Magdir raises his head, peering at the paint basket hanging at the opposite end of the rope. There, his workmates Ahmed and Abdallah sink their rollers and attentively paint the facade of a nineteenth century downtown building.
Ahmed and Abdallah stand on the same wooden beam, leaned on by two motorbike tires, each of them hanging from a rope they previously fixed on the top of the building. The two swing together at roughly 20 meters from the floor, giving a brush to the facade every time their fluctuation takes them close enough to the building.
“Thank God we work six days a week,” continued Magdir, “and on Friday I stay at home, play Playstation or football with friends.”
Magdir used to be a migrant worker. He worked as a cook in Jordan, as a waiter in Syria and as a builder in Saudi Arabia. When he found wife in Egypt and planned to settle down, this job was the best he managed to get.
However, he regards this as a lucky catch somehow, as his and his colleagues’ daily salary range between LE60-80 daily ($10-15), exceeding the monthly LE400 ($68) set by Egypt’s current legislation as minimum wage.
This is another reason why they might not have joined Tahrir’s protesters. There, demonstrators called for the government to immediately raise minimum wages up to LE1,200 ($200).
Until October 2010, minimum wage in Egypt was set at LE35 monthly ($6). It was then raised just over the World Bank’s Moderate Poverty Threshold ($2 daily) following unprecedented protests.
But many look on with nostalgia at the earlier stand, as employees would openly negotiate salaries with their own employer. As the minimum wage was set at a higher rate, many ended up with earnings lower then they would expect before the reform.
Instead, Magdir’s concerns depend on another topic. “His father died two years ago,” says him pointing at his young apprentice Amr, “he fell from the beam. Gone.” Lacking alternatives, Amr took his father’s place in the company and is now learning from his colleagues how to swing on the beam.
“It takes an iron heart to get up there,” intervenes Mohammed, one of the company’s veteran. Mohammed has been going up on the beam for more than thirty years. He now enjoys the petty tasks reserved to an experienced assistant like him.
He does not know how and when, but Magdir considers a trade union the only way out from their unlucky position.
He and his colleagues think many steps forward have been done towards the creation of a safer working environment in the last years. Nonetheless, as a consequence of the complete lack of public subsidies and the dangerous working conditions, their job is often not worth doing.
Independent trade unions outside the management of state-led Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) were formally banned under former President Hosni Mubarak. After the February 11 collapse of the regime, the ETUF’s 54 year-long monopoly was interrupted by the creation of a range of new associations, covering all sorts of categories including those previously discriminated by the ETUF like farmers and fishermen.
Lack of coordination and know-how are not the only obstacles between workers like Magdir and trade unions.
The Cairo Land Center for Human Rights (LCHR) recently warned of an ongoing genocide in the Egyptian village of Musa, as remnants of the former regime deprived inhabitants of current water and food supplies, as they discovered farmers were planning to institute a trade union to cover their interests.
As the battle rages on on Tahrir’s international stage, and newly-formed trade unions endorse interests of industrial workers (see those in Shebeen al-Kom or Mahalla), those like Magdir have a much longer and tougher battle ahead of them.
Abdallah and Ahmed slowly reach the base of the building and finally hop off the beam. Abdallah says he does not fear his job, but hopes he will soon have enough money to give it up. He wants to buy a Toyota and work as a microbus driver.
this was from Bikya Masr, photos by David Chierchini © 2011-2012
2011 § Leave a Comment
As night approached and the minaret of al-Hussein Mosque flushed with orange and red, hundreds of tiny lights hanging on the building facade suddenly lit up. The final “leyla kabira” (big night) of the Mulid of Hussein, Cairo’s most famous religious festival, was about to begin.
Thousands gathered in the old Cairo neighborhoods of al-Azhar and Hussein to celebrate in defiance of the low expectations following recent political instability and economic crisis. Believers coming from as far as Aswan, near the Sudanese border, pitched their tents in the alleys of the Islamic neighborhood and built stages to host religious chants and sufi trance dances.
People feared that police’s drawback from the street and midnight curfew would impede the realization of the 5-day long utopia, were believers dance and sing together until late in the night, living a lifetime experience through the sharing of food, drinks and messages of peace. The Army’s sudden but timely decision to delay the curfew to 2AM eased the pressure on partakers and the few policemen guarding the celebrations easily dealt with the peaceful crowd of thousands.
Hammam comes from Aswan and works as a builder for a construction company. He dreams about traveling to Europe and find a better-paid job. Nonetheless, he and his family did not hesitate to spend part of their savings to organize a week-long expedition to Cairo every year and take part in the fascinating mulid. They offered tea and sweets to passer-by throughout the night.
As a main event of the final big night, famous sheikh Yassin exhibited in front of a crowd of a few hundred before the Hussein mosque and squeezing into the next square. The celebration went on in the alleys behind the mosque until 4AM, in complete defiance of the curfew. No clashes were recorded.
The mulid of Hussein celebrates the birthday of the Propet Muhammad’s Grandson, killed in 680 AD during the battle of Kerbala. His be-headed body was buried in the same city, while his head was carried in triumph to Damascus and successively transferred to Cairo, where it is now preserved in a silver shrine.
“The martyrs of Islam never die,” says Ramadan, pointing at Hussein’s tomb inside the homonymous mosque.
“There is still blood flowing in their veins when they are buried, and their bodies never age. For ever.” Ramadan comes from Mansura, in the Delta. He wishes to come back to Cairo in three months, in order to celebrate the other big mulid of Sayed Zeynab.
The Mulid of Hussein is only one of more than three thousands similar celebrations held in Egypt every year. There are Christian and Jewish as well as Muslim mulids; the celebrations stand as proof of the plurality and uniqueness of Egypt’s cultural and religious tradition.
Some argue that such celebrations date back to Pharaonic times, and therefore are among the few manifestations of true Egyptian identity. Nowadays, they constitute a fundamental part of Sufi Islam.
For this reason, mulids came under strong criticism from secular and muslim reformist authorities, who see in these celebration a display of backwardness or wrong religious practice.
“Some people try to drive the Brotherhood and Sufis apart to serve their personal interests,” declared Mohamed al-Shahawi, head of the International Sufi Council, responding to a proposal to ban Sufi dhikr dancing.
Opposite views came to a dramatic confrontation in 2009, following a mulid ban issued by the Ministry of Health and supported by the head of the Supreme Sufi Council. According to official communications, the gathering of people would have increased the danger of a swine-flu epidemic.