Arab Spring began in December of 2010 when Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, lit himself on fire to protest the unfair treatment he received by the corrupt government. The succeeding Tunisian Revolution resulted in the overthrow of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, but it also marked the beginning of change across the Arab world.
From Morocco to Oman, the Middle East was – and continues to be – shaken by Arab Spring, a number of rebellions to reform and overturn the outdated political order. These movements have had some success, but others have been steeped with new problems.
In From Queens to Cairo, a documentary by Sherif Sadek, we see the effects of Arab Spring in Egypt. Sadek and his production company, Akhnaton Films, trace the journey from Queens to Cairo in the year following January 25, 2011.
January 25, 2011 was a day to be celebrated in Egypt. Egyptians gathered in Tahrir Square and protested the corrupt rule of Hosni Mubarak, who had controlled Egypt as president from 1981 to 2011. With charges of abuse of power and corruption, Mubarak stepped down from power on February 11, just 18 days after demonstrations began in Tahrir.
Sadek, though born in Cairo, lives in Queens now with his wife and two children. Having a profound love for his homeland, he desired to return home and take part in the demonstrations. Ultimately, this was not possible, but he made it back to Cairo for the one-year anniversary of the protests in Tahrir.
There is a large Egyptian population in New York. In From Queens to Cairo, Sadek shows people gathering in New York City in protest, spreading from Queens to Times Square. They gathered together and called for an end to the harsh Mubarak regime. Chanting in both English and Arabic, people in New York urged for changes in their homeland.
Sadek, as the center of the documentary, serves as a representation for all New Yorkers who went to Egypt – he is intrinsically connected to Egypt and Egyptians, but he also recognizes the benefits of living in New York. At one point, when he and his wife discuss the benefits of educating their children in Egypt, such as a greater emphasis on language and science and proximity to family in Lebanon, they come to the conclusion that education in the U.S. is more agreeable due to the political climate.
From Cairo to Queens features all different types of people. Viewers meet protestors, both male and female, who explain the need to continue the fight after Mubarak was removed from power. They sought to create change in Egypt, and they did not hesitate to stand on street corners with signs. Viewers meet some opposed to the revolution, who claim that it dramatically hurt the lives of those in the lower classes because they could no longer earn a sufficient income. Viewers also meet people calling for change, refusing to be silenced, and vowing to create a better Egypt for their children.
The documentary utilizes images from Sadek, as well as press images from Egypt and the U.S. One minute the viewer looks at Egyptians gathering in Queens, and in the next he sees Egyptians marching in Tahrir Square. Using both English and Arabic, viewers are immersed in the world of this Egyptian-raised New Yorker as he travels to understand himself and his country.
The film, as a whole, is poignantly anti-military. This is not surprising because the current leader, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, is known for his harsh stance against the protesters and the entire protest movement – which is currently silenced under his firm persecutions. As a New Yorker, Sadek has the freedom to express himself in ways that are not available to the Egyptian public, and this comes across though his opposition to the military regime.
The film ends with hope, on January 25, 2012, as Egyptians march in Cairo in celebration of the events the year before. Unfortunately, much has changed in Egypt since 2012, including the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and Muhammad Morsi, and now the militarist regime under el-Sisi.
Ultimately, the audience is left feeling in awe. Viewers from around the world can see the hopes and struggles in Egypt, which were shared around the world. Where Egypt will go is uncertain. What is certain is that Sadek’s documentary expresses the difficulties of being an Egyptian in New York, especially at a time when his homeland is in chaos. Sadek makes it clear that though he and his family live in Queens, he considers Egypt to be his homeland. He is inherently connected to what happens there, and he cannot divorce himself from the challenges and victories of his people.