Jon Alpert, co-director and producer of the new HBO documentary, In Tahrir Square: 18 Days of Egypt’s Unfinished Revolution. He is the co-founder and executive director of Downtown Community Television (DCTV) in New York City.
Matthew O'Neill, co-director and producer of the new HBO documentary, In Tahrir Square: 18 Days of Egypt’s Unfinished Revolution. He works at Downtown Community Television (DCTV) in New York City.
Sharif Abdel Kouddous, independent journalist based in Cairo. He is a correspondent for Democracy Now! and a fellow at The Nation Institute. He is featured in the new HBO documentary, In Tahrir Square: 18 Days of Egypt’s Unfinished Revolution, airing on HBO2 at 8:00 p.m. EST on Jan. 25.
Jacquie Soohen, co-producer of In Tahrir Square and co-founder of Big Noise Films
Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous is the central character in the new HBO documentary airing tonight, "In Tahrir Square: 18 Days of Egypt’s Unfinished Revolution." The film chronicles the uprising though the reporting of Kouddous, and it looks at what the protest meant for his uncle, Mohamed Abdel Quddoos, a longtime Egyptian dissident who was arrested dozens of times by the Mubarak regime. We’re joined by Kouddous in Cairo, as well as the team behind the film: Jon Alpert and Matthew O’Neill of Downtown Community Television; and independent filmmaker Jacquie Soohen of Big Noise Films. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Sharif, I want to turn back to some of your original reports that first aired on Democracy Now! during the Egyptian revolution last year.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: In the middle of Tahrir, there’s a patch of grass where people have spent the night here for days. They’ve camped out. You can see some tents. Many have just slept out into the open. There’s rugs. And even though tens of thousands have been here refusing to leave Tahrir Square, there’s very little trash around. People are still picking up. And they are resolute. There’s people handing out water. There’s people handing out food. They’ve kept the place organized and clean. People are so determined to use this as their protest space here in Cairo.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Days later, Sharif reported on the violent crackdown on anti-Mubarak protesters inside Tahrir Square.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: We’re in an alleyway around the corner from Tahrir. And right over here is the hospital where many wounded are being cared for. [...] Inside this hospital, we see many wounded, different kinds of injuries—broken bones, broken hands, broken legs, many head injuries from rock throwing. And over here there’s a whole section for medical supplies that have been brought in. Some have been—many have been donated from people coming in to support this movement and support the struggle against Mubarak’s regime. It is quite a well-functioning clinic, but many, many have been wounded.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: The protests continued to grow in Tahrir Square, leading up to Hosni Mubarak’s resignation.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: So, I’m standing on a stage here, one of the many stages here in Tahrir. There’s just a sea of people behind me, as you can see. They’re giving the peace sign. They’re giving a peace sign for freedom. They’re waiting for Mubarak to leave. There’s electricity in the air tonight. And you can see Tahrir is just packed with people. Shoulder to shoulder they’re standing.
HADLI: My name is Hadli, and I’m one of these people who are here to support the roses that came up in the Egyptian soil. And we’re here to protect them and to protect the revolution. And I’m one of the believers that we should never have any new leaders. The people is the leader. The young people are the leaders.
AMY GOODMAN: Democracy Now!'s Sharif Abdel Kouddous is the central character in the new HBO documentary, _In Tahrir Square: 18 Days of Egypt's Unfinished Revolution_. The film chronicles the uprising through the reporting of Sharif and looks at what the protest meant for Sharif’s uncle, Mohamed Abdel Quddoos, a longtime Egyptian dissident who was arrested dozens of times by the Mubarak regime. This is an excerpt from the documentary that’s airing tonight, recorded as Sharif reported near Tahrir.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: There’s the sound of gunfire in the air. The military has fired shots. The army is stationed in tanks just at the foot of the bridge. It’s really surreal to see this part of Cairo look like this. The Mubarak forces seem to be pulling back. They’re running back. People are cheering. They’re cheering as they retreat.
PROTESTER 1: [translated] I have a right to elect someone who will represent me in parliament, not someone who rules with thugs.
PROTESTER 2: This country should change! This is enough, enough playing games with us! We need freedom!
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt from the new HBO documentary, In Tahrir Square: 18 Days of Egypt’s Unfinished Revolution. The film premieres tonight on HBO2 at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. The film was produced by Jon Alpert, Matt O’Neill of DCTV, Downtown Community Television, as well as Jacquie Soohen of Big Noise Films. Jacquie spent much of the past year in Egypt. All three filmmakers are joining us here in New York, with Sharif Abdel Kouddous himself in Cairo.
I want to start with Sharif in Cairo. Sharif, the experience of being covered covering the revolution?
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, it was interesting. It certainly didn’t make things easier, but I think it really helped me also come to terms with how the revolution was affecting me personally as an Egyptian citizen, to, while I was covering the revolution, also kind of look within myself and how it was affecting myself. And you see at the end of the movie, I kind of break down and cry on the last day when Mubarak steps down. So, it was an interesting experience for me, but it was great having Jon and Matt and Jacquie here with me.
AMY GOODMAN: Jon Alpert, talk about why you chose to do this documentary, to head to Egypt and cover Sharif covering the revolution.
JON ALPERT: Well, actually Sheila Nevins of HBO is a fan of Democracy Now!, and she was watching Democracy Now!, saw Sharif and said, "Oh, my goodness, this is a really charismatic, interesting, intelligent person," and called—sort of put together a dream team of me, Matt, Jacquie and Pat McMahon, the editor, and said, "Why don’t you guys try to capture what’s going on by following Sharif?"
AMY GOODMAN: Jacquie, as you look at these images right now, you were right there in the thick of things, when the camels moved in, when the thugs were attacking those in Tahrir. Talk about that experience as you were holding the camera.
JACQUIE SOOHEN: It was amazing to be in a place where I had been years before and see what was going on. You could never have imagined what happened in the streets those days. But the most amazing thing, I think, was the feeling of being in Tahrir Square, which is what the film captures, I think is what it does best. And that’s what people are celebrating today, and celebrating with the idea that this revolution hasn’t stopped, it’s continuing. And the violence that we saw in January and February was intense. But what has happened since, like Sharif mentioned, in October and November and December, it’s gotten even worse. And people are still out in the streets. They’re still fighting. Tahrir lives on.
AMY GOODMAN: Thus, Matt, the subtitle about the "unfinished revolution." At the beginning, you had your camera confiscated, is that right?
MATTHEW O’NEILL: Yeah, we didn’t know what was going to happen when we got there. And when Jon and I came through the airport, we had a strategy. And I had a little, tiny consumer camera that I took apart, wrapped the camera in my underwear, and put the other pieces in other parts of my luggage, so I’d looked like a tourist. And Jon, acting sort of as a decoy, had the big camera with the big reporter bag. And we both tried to go through in separate lines. And Jon had his camera taken away. And I had my camera looked at, and as I insisted I was just a tourist, let through.
AMY GOODMAN: Typical tourist with a camera in your underwear.
MATTHEW O’NEILL: That’s right. Where else to store it?
AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, as you can—if you can describe, even as we’re talking now, because you’re live, you’re right there. We’re talking anniversary, going back a year, but this is a revolution that continues. What is happening right now as you look outside?
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, Amy, I was on a march earlier today. There’s massive marches coming from working-class neighborhoods across Cairo that are still arriving in Tahrir right now. It really is a massive, massive presence, I think a testament to the fact that many believe the goals of the revolution are still unfulfilled. The chants are still the same, of "bread, freedom and social justice." But one chant that has really—signifies, I think, the clarion call of the revolution is "Down, down with military rule." That is really the vigorous chant that people say right now, because the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, as Jacquie mentioned, really has cracked down very hard on dissent, and especially in the past three months. They’ve used live ammunition, birdshot, astonishing amounts of tear gas on protesters. They have beaten many people. Many are blinded.
And there’s one man called Ahmed Harara who has really become a symbol of the revolution. He lost his left eye on January 28th in the uprising against Mubarak, from being shot by rubber bullets. On November 19th, in the uprising against the Supreme Council, he lost his right eye. And he’s now completely blinded. And he’s become really a symbol of this ongoing struggle against the military here in Egypt.
AMY GOODMAN: Jon, you have been covering revolutions for years, I dare say decades, Jon Alpert, one of the leading documentarians of our time. How did the Egyptian revolution—how do you fit it into this story?
JON ALPERT: I’ve seen good revolutions, I’ve seen bad revolutions. I like seeing successful revolutions. And those 18 days showed us that when people band together, their strength is astonishing. And they moved an immovable object that people said couldn’t budge. And they moved it. That doesn’t mean the work is done, but it’s really exciting. And I’m—I think—we also really admire Sharif and his family, the commitment, what they’ve done to educate us about the revolution. And I’m just curious, Sharif. You could have come back. You could have come back with us. Jacquie and Sharif chose to stay, but you’re still there, Sharif, at some danger to yourself. And why? Would you tell us what’s inside you that makes you want to stay there? Why did you change your life? And what did the revolution do to you?
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, I think it—it gave me hope in my country, one that I grew up in here, where I grew up really under one president, with really no hope for change, and seeing millions of fellow citizens come to the streets, most of them much braver than myself. Many of them have died. Many of them have been injured. I’ve had friends who have lost eyes. I’ve seen people killed in front of me. And what’s amazing, I think, about this revolution and is really inspiring is when there is violence against protests, more people come in solidarity to the protests. They don’t run away. Actually, more people come to defend this right of dissent. And so, it’s been a very incredible year for me to rediscover a country that I grew up in. And I am very inspired every day by struggles that continue on the streets, in the labor movement, in the media. And it still has a long way to go, but I’m very, very confident of eventual success. It may take a long time, but I don’t think people will ever back down again here for a while to come.
AMY GOODMAN: Sharif Abdel Kouddous, I want to thank you very much for being with us and for bringing us the story of your country as it unfolds. Sharif joining us from Cairo, Egypt. And thank you so much to Jon Alpert, to Matt O’Neill and to Jacquie Soohen, who co-produced the new HBO documentary, In Tahrir Square: 18 Days of Egypt’s Unfinished Revolution. It airs tonight at 8:00 Eastern Standard Time on HBO. Tell your friends. And I look forward to moderating a panel with you as we watch it live on HBO tonight. For folks in New York, at 87 Lafayette Street at 7:00, join us for a very interesting discussion. Sharif will be joining us from Egypt.
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