858: An Archive of Resistance
When the streets of Egypt were flooded with protesters calling for the fall of the Mubarak regime, the images on state television were of empty streets, a country under control. As the revolution grew in strength, so the state media scrambled to fabricate facts and incite against the revolutionists.
In the first days of the uprising, a media tent was established in Tahrir Square. Hundreds of videos were collected from dozens of people, men and women, young and old, who had filmed key events on cell phones and wanted to contribute to the digital memory of the moment, in particular to document police abuses and the killing of protestors.
Internationally, the media frenzy subsided after Mubarak’s fall, and the cameras moved to cover other revolutions in Syria and Libya. Within two weeks of the Army’s promise to protect the revolution, it was attacking protesters in Tahrir. With the media, both national and international, absent, the only images captured were by the protesters under attack.
The Mosireen Collective came together in early 2011, its members part of the protest movement. We filmed and collected footage from across Egypt, in factories, hospitals, unions, and morgues. We held trainings in street media in Cairo and across the country. In our workspace we hosted events, discussions, and film screenings. We weren’t neutral observers, but actors within a wider struggle. We participated and documented at the same time. We were engaged in a battle of narratives, of revolution against the counter-revolution of the Army, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Old Regime.
The military coup in the summer of 2013 changed everything. After the massacre at Rabaa al-Adawiyya we were paralyzed. Draconian laws, an arch-conservative judiciary, a resurgent and vengeful police force, and an acute societal depression cut down our ability to work. Filming was more dangerous than ever, and we were adrift between the two poles of the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, which dominated public discourse. Oversaturated with images of violence and embracing the military’s promise of impending calm, the public became less interested in Mosireen’s work. Our role became uncertain, and soon we stopped working entirely. We needed to take a break to deal with the feeling of defeat, to find a way to work with the new political reality.
After years of work and the effort of hundreds of people, we are finally able to present the 858 Archive. 858 is an initiative to make public all of the footage shot and collected since 2011. Some of the footage has been seen before, in videos we edited and uploaded to YouTube. But much of it is being made accessible for the first time. This is the raw, unedited footage shot and gathered over the years.
On launching, the archive has 858 hours of indexed, time-stamped video material along with thousands more photographs and documents. Together they present thousands of histories of revolt told from hundreds of perspectives.
While the regime is using every resource to clamp down on public space and public memory, the time has come to excavate and remember and re-present our histories. The uprisings that began in 2011 changed the world forever, and their visual memory can serve purposes as yet unknown within struggles both local and international.
There are 858 hours of video on launch. This number will only grow as we connect with more filmmakers and archives and documentarians. In particular it is critical to expand the depth of material from outside of Cairo.
858 is, of course, just one archive of the revolution. It is not, and can never be, the archive. It is one collection of memories, one set of tools we can all use to fight the narratives of the counter-revolution, to pry loose the state’s grip on history, to keep building new histories for the future.