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#iREP2017 Film Review: Egypt’s Modern Pharoahs

Egypt’s Modern Pharoahs. Jihan El. Tahir.Director. 173mins In Egypt’s Modern Pharaohs Tahir chronicles, using the leadership styles of four prominent leaders who were crucial to the rise of Egypt’s nationhood shortly after independence from imperial powers. In three distinctive parts or episodes the documentary focuses on the individual visions and objectives of General Mohammed Naguid, Gammel Nasser, President Sadat and Mohammed Mubarak. In this documentary, El-Tahir gestures towards chronicling the rise to ‘’stardom’’, and fall/demise of each of these leaders during a time of transition in Egypt to a full democracy. But the various transition rose against the complex issues of various groups such as the Islamic Brotherhood, Radical Islamic Fundamentalist group, students protestants, and also the civil rights movements. Each regime had its own visions, derived extensively from either socialist or capitalist ideologies. But such visions seemed to emerge with tense opposition from a larger chunk of the citizenry. The interest of the leaders were put above the well-being of the whole nation. These visions led to the several uprising, snowballing into dangerous insurrections that gradually turned a once hopeful nation into a police state. Opposition to these governments were brutally smashed, outspoken critics were incarcerated unjustly, military prominence was kept at bay. These vestiges of history as documented in the film has led to the current state of the Egyptian nation. Jihan El. Tahir’s style of presentation is obviously unique as she employs a composite media structure that enables the viewer to recognise her personal signature as a documentary filmmaker. Her gift of underlying truth and fact is constantly privileged by her personal styles- of providing series of interviews with key players, shakers and removed observers of Egypt, still pictures of the presidents that form the subjects of this film-juxtaposing dialogues, conversation and speeches were significant for appropriate visual interpretation. In addition to the above, there are also numerous still pictures of uprisings and all manners of insurrection between and among groups. There are also footage of events which incredibly sustains the flow and narrative of the themes such as footage of the wars between Israel and Egypt; followed by the wreckage the wars left behind in Egypt. The point which Tahir makes in Egypt’s Modern Pharaohs much like any of her other films is that the structure of governance has always been the same, and does not change. The transition which the people of Eygpt constantly and periodically anticipate every moment are thus the same and not different from any previous government. Her position, therefore, is that the meaning or subtext of democracy in Egypt is that which depicts absurdity, and has come from a history of political instability. During a question and answer session after the screening of the film, she expressed her concerns pointing to the crux of the matter that, African leaders were never originally dictators as it was clear to all that they fought tirelessly for the freedom of the people. They also contributed immensely to the liberation of the people of Egypt from colonial rule-which lingered for no less than seventy four years. But a more crucial question which lurks on margins of the film is “how do our liberators become dictators?” This is an important question because it privileges the depressive realisation that all African leaders began with an ideal vision, and somewhere along the line ended up becoming extremely brutish and intolerant. They promised and failed to deliver the much needed nationhood and national solace desired. Jihan El Tahir has given us yet another film to think about. Africa as a continent is always in transition, as seen from the perspective of the filmmaker. Female filmmakers are registering their voices and they are constantly heard. Their presence are felt at the threshold of this crucial moment in the annals of African cinemas. Jihan El Tahir presence in the production of African documentary films is phenomenal. Her style creatively produces that sense of the archival language, which has permeated every single thing she has touched in a most idiosyncratic of ways. Tunde Onikoyi iREP Media Team