It was just over three months ago that we traveled to Egypt for the first time. We were there filming WE MUST GO, our documentary about the national soccer team and its American ex-pat coach Bob Bradley as they try to get back to the World Cup for the first time since 1990. Truthfully, we didn’t know too much about the country then. By no means did our short trip to Cairo and Alexandria make us experts, but it did give us all some wonderful experiences which have shaped how we’ve viewed the country.
Do we have a full grasp on the complexities of Egyptian politics? No. Not even close. Can we offer intelligent solutions to the issues the country faces? Definitely not. Can we even speak more than a handful of Arabic words? Nope. Yet, we’re compelled to reflect a bit about our experiences in Egypt as they just don’t line up with the images we’re seeing of people burning flags at the US Embassy in Cairo.
If you follow our blog, you know that WE MUST GO took us to Tahrir Square in the hours after former president Hosni Mubarak was sentenced to prison. We entered Tahrir intimidated, not knowing what to expect or how we would be received. But what we found was a passionate rally and a warm welcome. We were there to add to the country’s narrative and our mission was appreciated. Men and women stopped us, painted the Egyptian flag on our arms and thanked us for coming (and we thanked them for having us). The reception was nothing like what has unfolded at the Embassy over the last day. As the images of men scaling the walls and tearing down the US flag have filtered to us, I can’t help but think of witnessing Clay’s exchange with a man in Tahrir. At the time, we wrote:
“Many protesters spoke only Arabic, but managed to communicate even though we spoke only English. Clay had one of the most defining moments of the day, or perhaps the trip, when two young men offered to help him get a better vantage point to shoot from. They stood on top of a giant flowerpot and reached down to pull him up. One spoke no English whatsoever while the other spoke enough to get by. In halting English, he translated for his friend who told Clay to look at his face and, specifically, his beard. He told Clay that men that look like him do not hate Americans. They welcome us. It seems he was as aware of the images we see back home as we were.
For me, that experience was symbolic for our time in Tahrir. We had come to expect one thing, but found something completely different. Admittedly, this is still probably an overly naïve and simplistic view of what was happening today. There are complex political issues at play, issues which we’ve only just begun to understand. It’s impossible to grasp a new country and its people and culture in four days and we won’t pretend that we have. Are we more connected to what the people are going through? Maybe. Are we more compelled to continue to try to understand? Absolutely.”
We can’t dissect what’s happening in Egypt at the moment, we can only reflect upon what our experience was. We’d rather focus on moments like Clay’s interaction in Tahrir instead of the tense images being transmitted home and the vitriol being spewed on message boards. While the extremists are the ones the media focuses on, our experience has shown us that the country isn’t populated by flag-burning protesters who hate America, just like America isn’t full of people who believe Islam is evil.
Someone yesterday asked me if we’d be returning to Egypt amidst all of these protests. Without hesitation, I answered, “Of course.” And why wouldn’t we? Everywhere we went, we were welcomed by friendly, hard-working people trying to navigate the complexities of post-revolution life–they’re just not the ones that make the news. Naïve or not, that’s the Egypt we know and believe in. We remain as compelled as ever to try to understand what the people of Egypt are going through so we can create an accurate portrait of the country in WE MUST MUST GO.