This documentary has had a long and painful gestation period, so it is fitting that Samaher Alqadi’s film focuses on her pregnancy and the birth of her new child. The film’s catalyst was a shocking event that was filmed in Tahrir Square, where a friend of Samaher was raped by a group of men. This event sparks the fury of Cairo’s women and the film follows many of them as they take to the streets, demanding that their voices be heard and that they are treated with respect.
Alqadi, who dresses in western clothes, endures endless come-ons from men when she is out and about. ‘Let me feel your tits’ and ‘fancy a quick fuck?’ accompany the groping and stalking. This is what women dressed like Alqadi put up with on a daily basis in Cairo. When interviewed, many men and women – and even little girls – tell her that she is bringing shame onto herself. One man admonishes her and says that with the internet and porn, men are in a state of arousal and her outfits are just asking for trouble.
Yet Cairo is also a city of brave women who have created a sisterhood. They are filmed discussing ways to protect themselves but also ways to educate themselves and their fellow Egyptians. A beautiful young woman talks of the terrifying night in Tahrir Square, of her bravery in rescuing a friend and of the virginity test that awaits any woman who complains of sexual assault, a test that will dishonour her and jeopardise her future marriage prospects.
Alongside the footage of meetings and protests are black-and-white scenes of the heavily pregnant Alqadi in which she converses with her dead mother, a woman who was not enlightened and who disapproved of her daughter’s education. Alqadi relives painful memories and in the end makes peace with her mother and herself.
There are plenty of time parallels in this film: it begins two years after the January 25 2011 revolution, and it is on this anniversary during protests against Mubarak’s successor, that Alqadi’s friend is raped. Alqadi’s mother died in March 2013 and the film earned its world premiere in the same month at the 2021 Berlinale. It is fitting that the film made its debut just before International Women’s Day, for it is a tribute to the courageous women of Egypt, who are fighting for their rights to be treated as equal citizens. The road to equality will be arduous, but Alqadi’s film shows that these women are more than ready for the journey.