FILMS > 10 DOCUMENTARIES > Egypt: We Are Watching You

About this film:
Producer:   Alan Hayling
Director:   Leila Menjou and Sherief Elkatsha
Editor:   Pierre Haberer and Angie Wegdan
Duration:   post-production
Country:   Egypt

In his 2005 State of the Union address President Bush cited Egypt as the country that would pave the way for democracy in the Middle East. Three women, unable to sit by while their country is on the brink of drastic change, start a grassroots movement to educate and empower the public by raising awareness on the meaning of democracy. They name their campaign - “we are watching you.” This film follows the highs and lows of the first year of their movement in Egypt. Insisting that only the people can make change happen, their goal is to educate the Egyptian public on what it takes to build the most basic pillars of democracy: basic human rights, freedom of speech and the establishment of an independent judiciary. Egypt: We are Watching You highlights the importance of ordinary citizens participating in shaping and securing their democracy.

Why bother to vote? - Join the debate
Since 1981, Hosni Mubarak has been the president of Egypt. Mubarak has been voted into office five times. But in elections where he was the only candidate! Mubarak’s government has a bad human rights record. Some even say Egypt is led by a military dictatorship. However, Mubarak has insisted that he is committed to democratic progress. And in 2005 Mubarak actually said that Egypt would hold multi-candidate presidential elections, for the first time since 1981. What he failed to mention was that the new law excluded the opposition leaders from running. Thus, in 2005 Mubarak was re-elected.

If there is no real competition and if we know who is going to win, then why bother to vote?

Directors Biography
Sherief Elkatsha was born in the USA, but raised in Cairo, Egypt. A graduate of Boston University, with a BA in Film Production, he has worked on numerous television productions, from music videos with Wyclef Jean and the The Roots, to Discovery Channel’s Eco-Challenge. His documentary Butts Out, which follows smokers and their difficult and comical struggles to quit, won the Best Documentary Award at the 2006 New England Film and Video Festival. In 2006 he was selected for the Berlinale Talent Campus.

Leila Menjou was born in Cairo and obtained a degree in directing from the Cairo Film School. She has worked on numerous movies, including the acclaimed Mothers of the Desert, which opened at IDFA and won first prize at the Timbuktu Film Festival.

Film Context
In 2005, Mubarak announced that Egypt would hold multi-party presidential elections in Egypt. The elections were given strong support by the U.S. government. The vote was marked by violence and fraud; it was boycotted by large parts of the opposition because they believed it was run unfairly. The voter turnout was remarkably low – according to the Carnegie Endowment it was a mere 23 percent. Regardless, the U.S. Government described it as a “victory”. Mubarak won a fifth term in office and very little was done to address the unfair aspects of the elections. In response to indifference about government and democracy three Egyptian women formed Shayfeen to educate the people about democracy.

Political History
Egypt was under monarchic rule until 1952 when Gamal Abdel Nasser came to power. Nasser was president from 1954 until he died of a heart attack in 1970. Nasser was a proponent of Pan-Arab nationalism, socialism and the non-alliance movement. He is famous for leading Egypt into the Six Day War with Israel in 1967, which Egypt lost.
In 1970 Anwar Sadat came to power. Sadat is most famous for signing the first peace agreement between Israel and an Arab country. The peace agreement was signed in 1979 and is believed to have been the reason for his assassination in 1981. Since then Mubarak has been in power.

Mubarak has been liberalising Egypt’s economy with the help of his current economically liberal cabinet, who have made big plans for far-reaching reforms. However, despite these efforts, unemployment and low standards of living are still prevalent.

Mubarak maintains friendly relations with the West, especially America. Egypt is the third largest recipient of aid from the United States, following Iraq and Israel. Meanwhile, Mubarak has resumed relations with the rest of the Middle East after a long isolation due to the signing of the peace treaty with Israel, which was perceived by many as a betrayal of the Arab people. Egypt currently plays a large role in the Middle East both as a regional media powerhouse and as an influential mediator in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The Political Scene
Egypt has a semi-presidential system where the president is both the head of state and the head of government. Mubarak is the leader of the National Democratic Party, which has been the dominant party in power since its formation in 1978. In recent years the Muslim Brothers have gained significant power in Egypt. The Muslim Brothers are the largest and most powerful Sunni-Muslim organization in the world and are present in several Arab countries. The group promotes the idea of an Islamic state ruled in accordance with the Quran and Sharia law. However, since the 2005 elections, Mubarak has made it more difficult for political opponents to gain influence.

World Relevance
In 2005 civil liberties in Egypt were extended to the public but since then partially revoked. For years civil society has come under pressure from the largely undemocratic state, the rise of religious groups and the vast influence of foreign patrons that have different interests in the political direction of Egypt. Egypt: We See You shows the struggling voice of civil society as it is in Egypt and many other societies across the world.

Looking Ahead
In recent years Egypt has seen a rise in protests, mainly organized by students, intellectuals and political activists. However, with Mubarak only about halfway through his fifth term, some worry that there is relatively little chance of democratic change in Egypt. Islamic groups are gaining popularity and the Egyptian population is becoming more sceptical of the extensive aid they are receiving primarily from the United States. So how will Egypt’s political climate change in the coming years? Only time will tell.

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Egypt: We Are Watching You online:
BBC Country Profile: Egypt
Learn more about Egypt and the political and economic context for the movie

Al Ahram
Weekly online English language newspaper.

The official website of the organization Shayfeen, that the documentary Egypt: We are Watching You follows.

Stomping on Democracy in Egypt - Lindsay Wise, Time Magazine Online

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