Omar Robert Hamilton: ‘the biggest challenge now is keeping the momentum up’


Egyptian/British film-maker Omar Robert Hamilton, who can be seen in the above video speaking at a Democracy Now! event with his mother Ahdaf Soueif was in Washington DC on 25 January when Egyptians took to the streets but after four days he flew to Cairo to take part in, and document, the Revolution.

For four days I sat, paralysed, in Washington DC. From 25 January, the day the Egyptian revolution began, my life was no longer my own. For four days I watched Al-Jazeera, feeling incredibly proud and wretchedly guilty. While my mother was tear-gassed and my cousins raced medical supplies to field hospitals and my friends were arrested and dumped in the desert, I was sat watching television.

I try to be useful, but standing outside the White House and pressing re-tweet every other breath just doesn’t do it. On Saturday 29 January – the day after the people beat the police and central security forces in street battles across three cities – I get on a plane.

Earlier that month Hamilton had been in Sudan, filming a documentary in the northern Sahara and emerged from days in the desert to the news that Tunisia’s Ben Ali had stepped down.

Two days later I was driving through downtown Cairo, looking anxiously for signs of a domino effect. There were none. In the evening I was sat in the same faux Parisian bar I always sit in, with the same friends, everyone jokingly asking if a revolution had been sighted.

I left for America, to a job in DC. Two days later Tahrir Square was flooded with people, and my paralysis set in.

Hamilton, the producer of the Palestine Festival of Literature, who is currently in pre-production on his third short, Though I Know the River is Dry, says by the time he got to Egypt the internet had been shut down and new media "felt important in getting messages out to the world" rather than for internal organisation:

Twitter felt useful to try and counter the panic that was being spread abroad. Though, at the same time, one of the most gratifying things about the Egyptian revolution was that it was irrelevant what Western leaders did or said. In the middle of Tahrir square, Cameron and Obama’s words felt more out of touch than ever. So we weren’t appealing to Western public opinion, just keeping people informed.

An account by Waleed Al Musharaf of the 2 February attack on protesters by pro-Mubarak supporters Justice makes for a clear blue sky was one of the most significant articles he read during that time and "alone makes him one of the most significant literary voices to emerge from the revolution" says Hamilton.

Inspired by the "collective, organic, open-source, inclusive, revolutionary body politic that was lying dormant in the Egyptian people" Hamilton believes the biggest challenge ahead will be "keeping the momentum up" and wants to return to Egypt to live:

When I first got to Tahrir from America, Egypt’s transformation was revealed in an instant, as an old man arched down, one hand holding his weight on his knee, the other sweeping up a small pile of trash. Without fuss, without ego, he was just doing his bit. And so was everyone else.