Creative Chaos

 I just saw the movie that everyone is talking about in Cairo these days: Heyya Fauda (It’s Chaos). It’s the latest by Youssef Chahine, but unlike a lot of his work lately, it’s eminently entertaining. It’s also very political. The film opens with actual footage of the many street protests and altercations between demonstrators and riot police that shook Cairo in the last few years. One of the main characters is a police officer who steals, bullies and tortures his way through the film. In one scene, the officer re-enacts a well-known joke about President Hosni Mubarak: he buys something and of course is told it’s free for him, but he says no, he insists on paying. “How much is it?� The scared storekeeper says: “25 piasters for you, ya-basha� (a few American cents). To which the officer replies: “No, no. Here’s a pound. Give me four.�


The movie also has the almost obligatory allegory of Egypt as a victimized young woman, as well as explicit nods to (if not outright mentions of) the president’s national party, the tension between the police and the judiciary, and what Chahine clearly views as the hypocrisy of the Muslim Brotherhood. It all ends with a cathartic scene in which a great throng of Egyptians attacks a police station. It’s as riveting as revenge fantasies generally tend to be.


The movie has been predictably championed by the opposition press and criticized by state hacks. It’s not a masterpiece—it has some pretty unconvincing moments—but it has strong performances and great momentum. What I found most interesting is the way it manages to be a commercially successful thriller (the screening I saw was packed) with some substantive political content. I was genuinely surprised that some of this stuff made it past the censors. People laughed loudly at all the jokes about police prevarication, clapped at some moments of revolt, and by the end were calling for the odious police officer to off himself, already. 


Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.