Waked didn’t realise it when he left home, but he was actually going to work. That very day, in the Square, director Ibrahim El Batout pitched him an idea for a film, to be shot against the political uprising around them, and within an hour, they’d shot their first scenes.
Amr Waked stars in 'Winter of Discontent'
“The streets were already packed, we’d had 17 days of rebellion,” Waked remembers now. “There was a need to do something bigger, the most we know how to do. This creative group of people were looking for an opportunity, all of us, and Ibrahim opened the door.”
The result is ‘Winter of Discontent’, a political thriller out this week in the UK, having debuted at Venice Film Festival, set against the whirlwind protests that became the Arab Uprising of Spring 2011.
The film explores the lives of three people, each one involved differently with the Egyptian revolution: activist Amr (Amr Waked), journalist Farah (Farah Youssef) and state security officer Adel (Salah Al Hanafy).
As the stories of these three characters unfold, intertwining with the pivotal events that changed the face of Egypt and the Arab world, we are propelled headlong into the surreal atmosphere of terror and uncertainty that characterized the last days of Mubarak's rule.
In real life, Waked, who, despite an international film career ('Syriana', 'Salmon Fishing in the Yemen'), lives only 10 minutes’ walk from Tahrir Square, had already become the first celebrity to put his name alongside those of the protestors. While we are used to people such as Hugh Grant and Steve Coogan putting their heads above the parapet and George Clooney being voluntarily arrested in Washington, this seems a more daring act in the volatile atmosphere of Cairo. What prompted it?
“It was spontaneous. I’ve been fed up with Mubarak for a very long time, I’d read about the elections of 2010, the allegations of rigging, and when I saw that announcement about 25th Jan, about a protest against the brutality of police, I thought it better to join it.
"I'm educated, well-travelled, and whenever anybody brought up the subject of Egypt, I'd get a crick in my neck through shame. That we were living in this situation, without doing anything about it. Why would you?
“My own brother had been kidnapped from Shubra (another region of Cairo) on the 25th January. I didn’t know where to find him, I didn’t know what had happened to him. Eventually, he was released three days later. He’d been interrogated, but no explanation was given.”
Waked seems philosophical about such a family trauma, even when it’s suggested the cause could be Amr’s own fame.
“It’s probably because of me,” he muses. “It’s the fifth time he’s been taken, it’s something we’ve had to get used to.”
And now it’s 2013, more than two years later, and even a casual glance at the headlines provides a more sombre update than the tentative optimism of the film, something acknowledged by its star.
“We knew it wasn’t a happy ending,” he acknowledges. “That’s why we had a martyr and all of these statistics. That nothing changed after Mubarak’s fall.”
Despite this, Waked is convinced that events are moving in the right direction.
“I like what’s happening now,” he claims, emphatically. “A lot of people dying, which is obviously horrible, but I mean politically, the downfall of the Muslim Brotherhood is a big sign that fundamentalist political religion will collapse all over the Middle East and the World. Organised religion should have nothing to do with politics.
“Liberty, independence is worth a lot, and I think for what we’ve taken, we’ve paid little so far.”
While director Ibrahim El Batout says he is happy that at last people, both at home and abroad, are talking about what is required for Egyptian democracy, for Waked, the message of the film is a simpler one…
“It’s that resilience of humanity, human values, are the most resilient throughout history.
“You can think you can oppress it, but one day it will turn around and slap you a big one on your face, and there will be nothing you can do.”
'Winter of Discontent' is in selected cinemas from today. Watch the trailer below...