Halifax filmmaker weathers the storm in Egypt

Jacob Boon
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NSCAD professor is trying to keep his family safe while visiting his turbulent homeland.

Abouamin and his father stand Tahrir Square, Egypt last year. 

Halifax seems a world away from the ongoing crisis in Egypt, but local filmmaker Tarek Abouamin is caught in the middle of the storm.

An artist and professor of film production at the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design, Abouamin has been living and working in Halifax for the last 18 years. But he still considers Egypt, the country of his birth, to be his home.

The only member of his family living in Canada, he returns every Christmas to see his relatives. This is the second time he’s vacationed back to Egypt in the summer.

"The plans were to hit the beach and have a good time with my nieces and nephews," he says, via a phone call from Alexandria.

Those plans have changed. Since arriving on August 6, Abouamin has been left helpless to watch the increasingly violent protests erupting across his home.

Yesterday, a riotous mob attacked the mall Abouamin, his cousin and her two small children were shopping at. The situation devolved into “sheer panic,” but the family was able to carefully exit the building and get to a nearby relative’s house.

"Later on, I would discover the same mob murdered a taxi driver a couple kilometres from where we were," Abouamin says."

The conflict started on July 3, when the Egyptian military deposed president Mohammed Morsi, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood party. Since that date, violent clashes between the government and the Muslim Brotherhood have left several hundred dead.

Though Alexandria has not been as hard hit as Cairo, Abouamin says the turmoil is everywhere one looks. During his phone call, military helicopters passed overhead. An hour before, he heard gunfire erupt from the neighbourhood where he grew up.

"It's been an intense sense of anxiety,” he says. "The fear, you can smell it." 

Remarkably, in the midst of all the fear and violence, Abouamin says he's had a strange feeling of peace. He's spent much of his time remaining positive, trying to keep up the spirits of his family.

"We're sitting in the living room, playing with the kids and watching the news," he says. "I've lived in Halifax alone for so many years. I'm just happy to be around my family. You know, Hell or high water."

Abouamin’s artistic work has been showcased both in Nova Scotia and at home in Egypt. A retrospective on his photography was displayed at the Cairo Opera House in 2009.

The documentarian also spent his time in Egypt in 2011, shortly after the resignation of president Hosni Mubarak, to chronicle the spirit of his homeland during that revolutionary period.

Over 100 of the 8,000 images he gathered, many from anonymous Egyptian photographers, were turned into his “Preparing for the Dawn” exhibit. He also used crowd-sourced footage to help complete his short documentary, 18 Days.

This time, surrounded by an "ugly fight" steeped in violence, Abouamin says he's keeping his camera down.

"I have no choice but to play it safe. I have no backbone – no credentials. I can't go out on the street and pull out a camera. My NSCAD ID isn't enough."


Organizations: Nova Scotia College of Art Design, Muslim Brotherhood, Cairo Opera House

Geographic location: Egypt, Halifax, Alexandria Canada Cairo Nova Scotia

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