Kojo and Tom Sherwood chat with D.C. Council Member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large)
During the Egyptian Revolution, journalist Shahira Amin resigned from a state-owned TV network to protest its coverage of Tahrir Square protests. Film star and director Khaled Abol Naga was among the millions who participated in the protests. Today, Egypt is no longer ruled by a dictator. But some worry the political environment is becoming increasingly intolerant toward free speech and women’s rights. Kojo talks with Amin and Abol Naga about their view of Egypt from the inside.
- Khaled Abol Naga Actor, producer and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador
- Shahira Amin Journalist
Video: Inside The Studio
Journalist Shahira Amin and actor Khaled Abol Naga discussed Egypt in the post-Mubarak era and their concerns with the country’s new constitution. “We are calling for a more egalitarian, more democratic constitution. One that represents all Egyptians: secularists, liberals and women, especially,” Amin said. Naga said there’s a “big disconnect” between what Egyptian citizens want and what measures government leaders are implementing.
Shahira Amin explained her decision to resign from state-controlled Nile TV, saying its coverage was being used as a “propaganda machine.”
CNN interviewed Khaled Abol Naga in January 2012 about his award-winning film “Microphone,” as well as what has been a momentous period in his home country’s history.
In this 2011 TEDxWomen talk, Shahira Amin discusses post-revolutionary Egypt, how to move forward and how women are making a difference.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIn 2011, the Egyptian revolution was, well, televised with millions tuning in to watch as protestors took to Tahrir Square leading to the eventual ouster of President Hosni Mubarak and greater civic participation in subsequent Democratic elections. But nearly two years later many Egyptians are frustrated by the slow pace of change and riffs between ruling faction are, in many cases, as wide as ever.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHere to give us insights into the mood underground before, during and after the revolution joining us in studio is Khaled Abol Naga. He is an Egyptian actor, filmmaker and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. Khaled, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. KHALED ABOL NAGAThank you for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd joining us by phone from Houston, Texas is Shahira Amin, a freelance Egyptian journalist and longtime contributor to CNN International. Shahira, thank you for joining us.
MS. SHAHIRA AMINThank you, Kojo, good to be here.
NNAMDIYou too can -- thank you again. You're more than welcome. You can join this conversation by calling us at 800-433-8850. Khaled, I'll start with you. For many of us watching around the world from the outside the Egyptian revolution was a fast-moving apparently spontaneous uprising. But as with so many things I imagined the view from the inside was somewhat different. What was your experience of the revolution itself and how far ahead of its occurrence did you actually see it coming?
NAGAI think, Kojo, I would never be as proud as of anything in my life as much as being one -- just being one of millions in the streets in Cairo at this time. It's an overwhelming sensation feeling that suddenly you are part of something that's bigger than you, bigger than anyone, something that will change history. But at the same time it's profound at the personal level and at the -- what I call an Arab consciousness level.
NAGAIf you put things in perspective, it's not just a revolution in Cairo or Egypt. It's a revolution that happened that had a domino effect that started in Tunis, Egypt, Syria -- still going on in Syria -- and so on until the whole Arab world -- in our lifetime, there's nothing more profound that will ever live, I think, than this message made by people. The people decided to make a huge message for historians, for politicians, for the human kind that we are one.
NAGAThis revolution is about integrating the Arab world. This revolution is about enough of segregation by politicians, by religious facts, by all these kind of anti-Middle Eastern cultures. The cultures are all about integration. Egypt is all about integration historically and right now. So living these times was overwhelming. It -- I mean, my life changed and I don't like to be introduced as anything but as an Egyptian right now.
NNAMDIBut the fact of the matter is that you are a very famous movie star participating in a movement on the street in Tahrir Square in which you have porters and housewives and all of the likes surrounding you. By any measure at that time you were a person of privilege in Egypt? Why did you decided to participate?
NAGABecause there's something much more important than me, than my status because there's something much more important going on. When I stood next to a bank manager or next to a porter or a guy who was cleaning cars in the streets, something happened that none of us looked at the other as who he is. But what they are doing right now in this role, we were all equal. And this sensation nobody -- I call it like an awakening DNA in the Egyptian culture, It's almost the DNA just woke up and made people feel that this is the time or otherwise it won't work any other time. It was a clock.
NAGAAnd I believe -- we all ask this question. Seven thousand years of civilization. Where did it all go? We keep asking that question. The Egyptians ask that question. People around the world ask that question. Well, inside. I say it's inside our DNA. And there was a moment that that was proven and that's the revolution. Right now the second part of the question I think I'm going to ask -- I'm going to answer after we talk to Shahira because it will take longer to explain.
NNAMDISure. Shahira, at the height of that uprising you quit your job as Deputy Head of state-owned NOW TV. And, well, could you tell us why you decided to do that and how that decision changed both your career and your life in the time since?
AMINI did it because, Kojo, I wanted to go to Tahrir and cover the protests as a journalist. History was being made in my own backyard and I was told I wasn't allowed to take a camera crew there. My boss told me to go cover the pro-Mubarak rallies instead. And of course I didn't want to do that. And they were giving a biased picture of what was happening. They -- as you know under a repressive regime state TV is usually the mouthpiece of the government. And Mubarak had tight control over the media.
AMINSo I just wanted to be there with the people as an Egyptian. It was an all-peoples movement, as Khaled said. And we all were tired and wanted change. So I decided -- I told my boss, I'm with the people not the regime. And I thought it would be the end of my career but actually my career took off when I quit. I'm not an independent journalist. I have a free voice and I am able to speak the truth without fear. That is what the revolution has done for me.
NNAMDIAnd you were able to be and participate in Tahrir Square not just as a member of the Egyptian public participating. You were also -- despite the fact that you'd left your job, seeing it through the eyes of a journalist, correct?
AMINOf course. Now I'm able to go to the million-people marches every Friday and give a voice to these people. So it makes me feel good that I am able to -- you know, to convey the message to the public, the truth.
NNAMDIAnd getting back to you, Khaled, you said you were going to mention the second part of my question later, how far ahead of time did you see it coming. Artists like you were actually sounding alarms well before people took to Tahrir Square. How does your film "Microphone," for instance, highlight some early warnings of growing unrest that were in some cases quite literally written on the wall?
NAGALiterally written on the wall. Actually, that's the reason why we started "Microphone." We came across a graffiti in Alexandria and the film director Ahmad Abdalla and my co-filmmaker basically he sent me an image of it and he said, look at this progressive, very interesting sarcastic graffiti on the wall. We're usually used to writings on the wall but not graffiti, and especially very progressive graffiti. And that was the sign of a young generation underground movement going on in Alexandria. And we wanted to cover that.
NAGAAnd the movie was made and it was all about underground music bands, graffiti and so on. But to answer your question, it's one word really, Kojo. It's by being honest. Artists when they are honest and depicting any story, even if it's a story about a certain character doing whatever, you -- if you're honest doing that you're actually without knowing portraying not only the character but the whole environment, if you're telling a real story. And we were telling a real story about all those underground music bands and artists and youth.
NAGAAnd without knowing we actually kind of predicted the revolution. Even some graffiti said revolution is coming. But we didn't mean it. We didn't mean it literally but, as I said, you can't help but portraying the whole environment if you're honest to the...
NNAMDIWell, let's listen to a clip from the aforementioned "Microphone."
NNAMDIObviously I like it, but what am I listening to?
NAGAWell, this is the hip-hop band Y-Crew. Y-Crew is a band where the -- they're very bold. We chose actually the less bold songs in the film. I have to tell you most of these songs we found online and that's why we made "Microphone." They didn't make any of these songs for the film. And that was a song saying, you know, you want--you cannot crush us. You cannot crush this thing. And they don't -- they're not really saying what it is exactly but they feel repressed. They feel the oppression and they feel that this is the way of the youth wave and you cannot crush it. It will live forever.
NAGAAnd then they go funny using different languages because the police would never understand someone speaking in French example. (speaks foreign language) . And that's cute. I mean, it's their -- they're making fun and sarcastic. And actually you know, Kojo, when the youth goes back to this sense of sarcasm and have this funny, sarcastic feeling -- and that's a very Egyptian thing -- that was the sign that they will win. That's when this happened in Tahrir and people started holding those very funny slogans. I knew then the revolution will win.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones, here is Margaret in Alexandria, Va. Margaret, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARGARETHi, thank you for having me. I'm on the executive committee that plans the annual Alexandria, Va. film festival every year. And this year we have a film made by first-time filmmaker but accomplished scholar and author Frederick Stanton. It's called "Uprising" and it has some never-before-seen footage with interviews including four Nobel Peace Prize nominees, several Egyptian presidential candidates.
NNAMDIAnd what is the film about?
MARGARETWell, it's about the Egyptian uprising. It's called "Uprising" and Mr. Stanton will join us on November 17 for discussion of this. But he's gotten some great footage so we hope to see you out there.
NNAMDIThank you very much for sharing that with us. In case you're just joining us, we're talking with Khaled Abol Naga, an Egyptian actor, filmmaker and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and Shahira Amin, a freelance Egyptian journalist, a longtime contributor to CNN International. Inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Call in with your questions about life in Egypt before, during and after the revolution. If you've traveled to Egypt recently or in the past we're curious to hear your impressions of the country, 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIShahira, one of the stories out of the uprising that shocked a lot of people here in the U.S. was the sexual assault of CBS correspondent Lara Logan while covering protests in Tahrir Square. Just yesterday President Morsi acknowledged that there is a widespread problem with sexual harassment in Egypt. Where is the disconnect, if you will, between the impulse on the one hand to protect women and on the other hand these attacks that we're hearing and reading about against women?
AMINSexual harassment, Kojo, is not new to Egypt. It's quite common practice on the streets of Cairo. But there seems to be a rise in the number of incidents and this could be due to the fact that more women are now coming forward to report these incidents. In the free Arab post revolution environment it's no longer a stigma or a taboo and so they're speaking out about it. But what we are not used to and what is new is that these attacks are now involving mobs of men, a crowd of men coming together, frenzied men to carry out the assault. And this is a level of violence that we have not seen before.
AMINAnd Egyptian women activists are now campaigning for a law criminalizing sexual harassment because we certainly need one. Lara Logan was the first -- she was assaulted in Tahrir Square the night Mubarak was toppled but there have been several other incidents since. And if you ask me personally I think that it is the State carrying out these attacks to stop women from going out to Tahrir Square because you saw the violence, how the military soldiers attacked the girl in the blue bra in December when one of the female protestors was stripped and beaten by the soldiers savagely.
AMINThis was state violence against women. It happened on the 8th of March when women were celebrating International Women's Day. So I believe that these are State security people who just want to silence the voices of women and keep them away from Tahrir.
NNAMDICare to comment on that, Khaled Abdul Naga?
NNAMDIThank you. Abol Naga.
NAGAI know my name is difficult. You know...
NNAMDII'm getting it. I'm getting it.
NAGAYeah. Yeah. You're getting it. You know, I'm usually called in airports like when they call your name, and it's Naga, and usually they decide I'm Japanese and they say it in Japanese. So I'm used to all that.
NNAMDIWhich is probably why I was saying Naga before.
NNAMDIBut it's Khaled Abol Naga.
NAGAAbol Naga, yes. So I totally agree with Shahira. We've seen in 2005 early on the plot of having the secret police attack women in demonstrations to basically put them back to where they came from, and use fear as a tactic, again and again and again. But what did the revolution do? It's not really major change. It's not really toppling Mubarak, it's not really getting rid of (word?). Again, look at the Arab -- whole Arab awakening picture.
NAGAIt's not getting rid of those dictators or changes in the governments because nothing really changed. Even if you have Islamists in the government, they're doing the same old thing, and even now with Morsi in power, with the Muslim Brotherhood in power, they're still doing the, you know, the same economic tactics, the same things, the same things that they were basically condemning Mubarak for doing.
NAGABut what really changed happened on the first day already, people. You cannot use fear anymore in Egypt or the Arab world, and that it is. I think we're entering a new age where the most repressed part of the world is moving up like the Arab world, but same thing happening here, that even Americans now will not be triggered or used by fear-mongering messages from their government or politicians to green light war on Iraq or Afghanistan. This won't happen again.
NAGAThis is an age, I think we're living in, and I think now even women in Egypt will not be -- will not be afraid of going and demonstrating any more.
NNAMDIThere are a lot of people on the phone who would like to talk with you. We have to take a short break first, but if you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. If the lines are busy you can send an email to email@example.com, or send us a tweet @kojoshow. Have you been keeping an eye on news out of Egypt? Our guests are Shahira Amin and Khaled Abol Naga.
NNAMDIHe is an Egyptian actor, filmmaker, and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. Shahira is a freelance Egyptian journalist and longtime contributor to CNN International. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about Egypt in the post-Mubarak era with Khaled Abol Naga. He is an Egyptian actor, filmmaker, and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and Shahira Amin. She joins us by phone from Houston, Texas. She is a freelance Egyptian journalist and longtime contributor to CNN International. Shahira, right now one of the big stories out of Egypt is work on a new constitution. Where does that effort stand and what are the main points of contention?
AMINWe are very concerned because the constituent assembly, which is the panel tasked with writing the constitution was actually selected -- its members were selected by the now dissolved parliament, and we believe that it's not representative of Egyptian society. There are 100 members on the panel, 60 of them of Islamists. So conservatives and just six women are on that panel. So we are calling for a more egalitarian and a more democratic constitution, one that represents all Egyptians, secularists, liberals, and women especially because the main -- the biggest bone of contention is the rights of women.
AMINWe've seen that in the article on gender equity they have put a provision linking general equality with Islamic jurisprudence or Sharia law, and that is subject to many interpretations. You know, the Sharia law -- a strict interpretation of Sharia can be disastrous for women because it can push them back. It can, uh, yeah. It'll just basically hinder women's rights.
NNAMDIKhaled, after the uprising and subsequent election, what is the climate on the ground now when it comes to the relationship between Egypt's leaderships and its people? I saw where you recently wrote for CNN about a disconnect if you will between the issues being debated and the ones the average Egyptian is most concerned about.
NAGAAbsolutely. You can even use what we were just talking about, the constitution and the assembly writing the constitution, the draft for it, is a perfect example of what's going on. There is a big disconnect of what people and their aspirations there is and what the government and people in power are trying to do. Again, this is a joke. For a constitution draft -- we met them by the way as part of the child rights help and we're trying to sit with them as a UNICEF representative talking to them about what are the rights that are going to be in the constitution and drafting them and giving them advice about that.
NAGAAnd they sat for hours taking notes, but then they felt something was wrong. How come we don't have feedback from them, and I had to, you know, open up a subject or two. For example, Egypt is one of the three or four countries in the world that still have FGM applied practice to a lot of women, young girls, female genital mutilation (unintelligible). And I thought, maybe I should open that subject, because I knew that Islamists are a bit confused about that, especially in Egypt, because they use it as a political message that changing that would mean we're going non-Islamic, for example, or western, which is so stupid.
NAGAA lot of Islamic countries don't have this practice. It's just a -- it's a political thing. So they're politicizing this, and they're not even paying attention to little girls who are being basically butchered. And I had to open the subject, and it ended up with a big fight, basically. The woman -- the only woman who was there who kept saying I'm not Islamist, I'm not (word?), she ended up saying, I don't want to talk about that. I said what are we going to talk about? We're talking about child rights and Egypt has this huge problem, and we have to face it and we have to maybe talk about, and we talk about the child protection in the constitution.
NAGAAnd it ended up with them standing up saying, the Prophet FGM'd his daughters, and all this rhetoric that came out from nowhere, and I knew it then, this is a joke. They left the room. We left our notes, and we all smiled because we knew this will never pass. In Egypt today, there is not one person who is weak enough to let that happen, a woman to be veiled or, you know, told what to do, and not one strong enough to dictate people what to do.
NAGAAnd that is the big change, and that is why even the Islamists now in government are still using this whole old routines of Mubarak that will never work. It will never work.
NNAMDIShahira Amin, we're hearing Khaled talk about how the country has changed, and you lived out of the country for a while. How does the Egypt of your youth compare with the Egypt of today?
AMINIt's a very different Egypt, and that's why we had the revolution. We wanted a secular civil state. Thirty years under Mubarak have brought the country down in every way possible. I think he was more Islamist than the Islamists because he opened our satellite space to Saudi-financed satellite channels, conservative channels, and I think he wants...
NAGAI would go there to say fundamentalist channels.
AMINYes. He wanted to keep the people occupied with religion to keep them away from politics I think. And so over the last 30 years it's a country that I don't even recognize as my own. I could walk on the streets and not be harassed, and now I'm concerned about my daughter walking on the street. A lot of things have changed and hopefully, you know, we are still hoping that the revolutionary goals will be met and that we can correct the wrong path that we've taken.
NNAMDIAllow me to have some of our listeners join the conversation because I think they share your concerns. We start with Brady in Charlottesville, Va. Brady, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BRADYHi. I think we're all glad to see the back side of Mubarak, but there's a saying I've been thinking about that in a largely fundamentalist Islamic country, there is a danger that after a revolution there will be one election and then no more. I just wonder about how your guests feel about the future of voting in Egypt.
NNAMDIFirst you, Khaled.
NAGAAs I said, Brady, the big change is that -- happened with the people, and that's what everyone in power so far is missing it. The point is very profound, it's very -- it's very clear to every Egyptian today, but Mubarak took so long to get it, and that's why he's now in jail, I think, and so with his sons. So with like four or five governments we had in between in the interim. So with the military now out of the picture. So with the Islamists now having the chance to be in power.
NAGABut guess what? Every day we wake up thinking what a crisis. What did we do? What the hell did we do with the country? We brought the country to give it to the Islamists now? By afternoon we think, oh, my God, that's even the best thing that ever happened because now we cannot go lower. They cannot claim they didn't have the chance to be in power and fix things, and they're still using the same old techniques, and they're still knowing that there is no going back in controlling the people.
NAGAAnd that will never happen, and that's why till today, mostly in the Muslim Brotherhood now in the government, they never -- they cannot close bars, they can never veil women, they can -- they know that if they start dictating people how to live, it's the end again for them. It's another revolution. So it will never happen, and that's the whole thing. They are missing a historical chance to join the revolution, to become part of this change instead of being harassed and repressed by the regime before, and now jumping in very proud being in power after this, but not really listening and understanding the -- the historic lesson.
NAGASo to answer your question, yes, you are right. They might try to do that, but guess what? It will never happen.
NNAMDIBrady, thank you very much for your call. You both -- that is you, Khaled, and you Shahira, work in field where you confront freedom of speech issues head on. Starting with you, Shahira, have you noticed a stark difference in the hurdles you face or restrictions placed on your work under the new regime?
AMINOn the contrary, Kojo. As I said before, under Mubarak it was just one voice, just the voice of the ruling national democratic party. Even the few the independent channels that we had adopted the state line because they belong to wealthy businessmen with close links to the regime. So they were worried about falling out of favor with the regime, but what has happened since the revolution?
AMINWe've had a plethora of independent channels and publications being launched and, you know, we have -- it's a diverse atmosphere, a much much freer atmosphere. As Khaled said, the fear barrier has been broken and this is irreversible. So I see now a lot of journalists standing up against censorship and, you know, I'm really very happy. The one fruit of this revolution has been the revolution in the media in Egypt.
NNAMDIKhaled, how is it working out in terms of censorship? I read where there was a rejection by a censorship committee of filmmaker Amr Salama's script for a film on sectarianism, but that that stirred a new wave of controversy underscoring the fact that people are not going to take these things lying down, as you say. What is the environment in terms of censorship?
NAGAAmr Salama is a friend of mine, by the way. I know the story of this film. It's the story of a little kid in school who's Copt and his understanding of why do we have to go to different classrooms in the religion class. And it's a very cute story. It is such an endearing story, and we were really surprised that it got rejected during Mubarak's time. And after the revolution, Amr Salama reapplied and it got rejected again.
NAGAAnd that was -- that was a sign that, you know, nothing changed in the government, and even worse. So we thought, you know what, we should take this -- this is why it's in the media now. We took this to the media. We said, listen, we did a revolution about freedom, and the first thing we chanted was (speaks foreign language), freedom. And we have to change this.
NAGASo we took this to the media and making this big story out of it, like where did we go with censorship. And that, I think is confusing the people in the government right now. It's like they don't know where to go. For example, the Cairo International Film Festival scheduled very soon, I'm going to be one of the jury members there, was supposed to be after the revolution not under the control of the state. It was going to be an independent body and we already had this done for a year, and it was going in the right direction.
NAGABut then suddenly with Morsi's new government, the minister of culture decided to change that and take it back under the control of the government, and we didn't like that. So half of my colleagues said we boycott the Cairo International Film Festival, but I decided to go and be there and say it in the media every single day. This Cairo International Film Festival, the festival has to be -- go back to the people and we're going to just keep saying that until it works, and believe me, the minister of culture, and Morsi now, for the first time ever, being democratically elected, fear public opinion.
NNAMDIAllow me to go back to the phones. We're running out of time very quickly, but here's Shareen in Washington D.C. Shareen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SHAREENHi. My name is Shareen and I am with the Arabian Sights Film Festival, which is presented by the Washington D.C. International Film Festival.
NAGAHi. Great. I was just going to mention the Arabian Sights Film Festival in D.C. for everybody.
SHAREENThank you. Well, I guess I just beat you to it. Well, we are going to be presenting "Asmaa," which, by the way, is an Amr Salama film.
SHAREENAnd Khaled is going to be conducting the Q&A following "Asmaa." We're very pleased to be having Khaled. It's going to be presented on Friday, November 2, and "Asmaa" is one of -- is a film, it's...
NNAMDIWe're running out of time, and the festival runs through when?
SHAREENIt runs through Sunday, November 4.
NNAMDIAnd where is the film being presented?
SHAREENOn Friday November 2, and...
SHAREEN...Sunday, November 4 at National Geographic.
NNAMDIThank you very much for sharing that with us. I think we have time to get Ken in New York in before -- Ken, you got about 30 seconds, go ahead, please.
KENKhaled, Ken from Share the Mic. It's -- welcome to the United States.
NAGAHey Ken. Hi, how are you.
KENProbably don't have too much time, but...
NNAMDIWhat is Share the Mic?
KENOh, it's -- that's not important. But Khaled, I think it might be important for the listeners. Here it's very hard for an American to distinguish between the religious, the political and the historical significance of...
NNAMDIYou got ten seconds.
KEN...what you've done. Could you comment on that to make it clear for an American how one could view Egypt outside of the...
NNAMDIIn a very, very -- in one word, Egypt has changed forever, but not only Egypt, the whole Arab awakening. And it's all about unity. It's unifying awakeness of human race rising up for freedom. Khaled Abol Naga is an Egyptian actor, filmmaker, and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. Shahira Amin is a freelance Egyptian journalist and longtime contributor to CNN International. We'll try to put the news about the film festival at our website, kojoshow.org. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
Kojo and guests explore what you can learn about D.C. by riding its bus system.
T.C. Boyle's latest novel explores the darker side of the American ideal of freedom, from a woman who follows the extreme libertarian "sovereign citizen" movement to a disturbed young man who models himself on the pioneer John Colter.
It's your turn to discuss these topics or whatever is on your mind.