On Sunday night I observed the Mansoura Kazabun campaign’s film showing.
For the uninitiated, the campaign’s title, Kazabun, means “liars.” It’s a reference to the many denials made by military officials regarding army complicity in violent crackdowns of demonstrators. The word “kazabun” appears to have been picked up as the campaign’s mantra after it appeared on the front cover of Tahrir News, lingering by itself in bold, and framing the now infamous photo of a woman in a blue bra being beaten during protests in December.
Over the past month the campaign has taken to the streets in various cities, its signature event a public showing of film clips that weave in and out of interviews with military officials, brutal army violence at demonstrations, badly wounded victims, and grieving family members. There is no standard film shown at the events; organizers pick from various clips of differing lengths posted on the campaign’s YouTube page. In this way, one film showing is often different from the next.
Sunday night’s showing in Mansoura came with context. One day earlier, the governor of Daqahlia (the province for which Mansoura is the capital) issued a statement banning the showing of the film absent his office’s permission. A few days earlier the Cairo arm of the campaign reached new galling heights when it broadcasted its clips directly on the government’s state media building, Maspero. Not wanting to be out bad-assed, the Mansoura activists wheeled their projector out to the governor’s own building and literally set up shop on his steps.
The governor’s ban warned that any projector used for the film display would immediately have its electricity supply cut off. The campaign plugged directly into his building.
Organizers told me they had twice before been attacked by “thugs” during events; they claim these men had been sent by the police, but it’s worth noting that Kazabun participants have become targets elsewhere by citizens who simply disagree with their message.
There were at least two plain-clothed officers in the crowd on Sunday; I actually spoke to one, who, oddly, seemed to have given up on the farce that people didn’t know who he was working for. He approached me to make sure I was there taking photos, as opposed to…I’m still not quite sure. At this point several activists had a good laugh talking to him in front of me and explaining he was with the police, even introducing each of us to each other formally. He didn’t deny his work. It was all a bit weird, but oddly harmonious with the night’s theme: a giant middle finger raised at authority. There were no attacks or attempts by police to stop the event.
Some of the film clips are powerful the way something sad that also draws you in is. The other layer to this is watching other people watch the film, which is affecting the way it might be to observe a mother learn her child has been killed.
Forty minutes into the event there were tears. As a pseudo-journalist, I had a strong urge to tape the group of women just beside me who were profusely crying; this was overcome by a stronger urge not to be an asshole. A guy in his early twenties, sobbing even more uncontrollably, was pulled away from the crowd by two friends.
It’s not difficult to see why the governor banned the film, however myopic and ineffective the decision. When not pointing out military contradictions, the clips are profoundly emotive, layering testimony of victims’ families with sad music and macabre imagery. It isn’t just about truth-telling, many of the clips feel engineered to pull tears the way Saving Private Ryan’s final graveyard scene does.
But this is sadness packed with a very different agenda. Immediately after the film was through, where a moved crowd might applaud at having been touched by great art, the film had its intended effect: the crowd began the chant that has become so commonplace it risks soon losing its edge: Yeskut Yeskut Hukm Al Askr (down with military rule).
Maybe this then, is the purpose of the Liars campaign. Not to raise awareness, as the campaign claims, for things that most, if not all, people viewing the film already know, but to infuse life into protests that risk falling flat from exhaustion.