Civil Society and the Leftist Critique
Raymond William Baker
I took to the streets on January 16, only twenty- four hours after having attended a conference at the Cairo Book Fair where I warned against the murder of a quarter of a million Arabs. Isn't that what actually happened?
When Egyptian university students erupted in protest by the thousands, their opposition to the Egyptian role in the U.S.-led coalition's war against Iraq did not go unrecorded. Egypt's great film director, Yusuf Chahine, obsessed with images of the coming slaughter and angered by official compliance with the U.S. strategy, met them--his camera ready--on the campus and in the street. Later, Chahine wove dramatic footage of the student demonstrators at Cairo University into his arresting documentary, Cairo Illuminated by Her People. This brief film assessed the consequences of the Gulf War for Egyptians and for the Arab world from an independent, leftist perspective.
Chahine's powerful articulation of the leftist alternative to official policy, still banned from public showings in Cairo, pressed on the limits of debate in civil society. 1 All of Chahines best works, feature films such as Cairo Station, The Earth, or Alexandria, Again and Again?, commented obliquely but perceptively on the dilemmas of Egyptian society. Faced with the crisis in the Gulf, Chahine turned for the first time to the medium of the documentary to speak his truth--the truth of the independent Egyptian Left--about Egypt's role in the Gulf tragedy.
The government celebrated the outcome of the Gulf War, announcing that Egypt's strengthened partnership with the United