Citizen X: We are All Khaled Said

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Actors Youssef Sharif and Amr Youssef play leading roles in the popular series Citizen X.

By: Muhammad Abd al-Rahman

Published Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Citizen X doesn’t feature known TV stars, nor was it launched after a huge marketing campaign. But the Egyptian TV serial has succeeded in attracting viewers, especially when people sensed that it dealt with Khaled Said, the icon of the ‘Revolution of 25 January.’

“Dramatizing the story of Khaled Said on TV is an honor we do not claim,” says director Othman Abu al-Laban, the godfather of the TV serial Citizen X currently playing on Egyptian TV. The protagonist of the serial is a young man by the name of Ahmad Qasim (played by Yousef al-Sharif). Qasim is accused of being a drug dealer and later dies in a motorcycle accident. The accusation shocks everyone who is close to him. Qasim, after all, is an ambitious young man surrounded by middle- and upper-class friends and is in the process of establishing, along with his friends, a tourism project in Sinai. In the show, a video is leaked online revealing that a victim known as “X” accused of drug dealing actually died at the hands of the police, who beat him up at the site of the accident. This is why viewers felt that the story resembled that of Khaled Said, whose brutal murder at the hands of Egyptian police in June of last year became one of the key events that precipitated the Egyptian revolution. Khaled Said died in Alexandria after police accused him of drug dealing. But young Egyptians did not believe the official story and launched the web-page 'We are all Khaled Said.' The page became one of the primary electronic sources calling for the revolution. Abu al-Laban says the serial tells a story that any Egyptian before the revolution could have gone through, but he hopes this will no longer be the case now that the revolution took place. “That is why we used the letter ‘X’ to signify that anyone, and not just Ahmad Qasim, could be the victim.”

Despite the resemblance between the serial’s narrative and that of Said, Abu al-Laban confirms that the serial was not created as a reaction to the revolution. Production began before the revolution’s outbreak and was completed after it was over. This gave the work credibility because people did not feel that those behind it wanted to ride the wave of Tahrir Square. Abu al-Laban, who has previously directed four films, took on the project only three months before Ramadan, after one of his colleagues had turned it down. After Abu al-Laban finished shooting the first few episodes, directors Mohammad Bakir and Seif Yousef were recruited to work on the serial because of the time constraint. Bakir and Yousef, completed the filming in several locations in Cairo and elswhere. Abu al-Laban, however, in coordination with two directors of photography — Ahmad Jaber and Salah Yaboub — provided the artistic framework for the work written by Mohammad Nayer.

Nayer succeeded in creating a drama that reflects the crisis of corruption in Egyptian society without staying within the confines of the documentary genre. Other works, such as the TV serial One Hand, fell into this trap by using the name of Khaled Said as it told his story through unconvincing acting by its cast. Viewers did not need to watch fictitious dialogues of the Egyptian youth who read about Khaled’s murder in newspapers and decided to launch the web-page in his name. After all, these issues were discussed at length on talk shows after the revolution.

The script of Citizen X is only one reason behind its success. Another reason is the director’s vision, which makes viewers feel as if they are watching a movie each day. Contrary to what many had thought, Abu al-Laban revealed that he used three cameras instead of one to shoot the serial. The cast is experienced — many have featured in Egyptian cinema over the past five years — and has great enthusiasm for the project. Even though the work does not have a lead character, each actor excels in their role and develops the story in a way that cannot be ignored by the audience.

Critics see in the serial a good start for many actors, including Arwa Joda, Sherri Adel and Mohamad Faraj, and strong performances by experienced actors, like Mahmoud Abed al-Moghni, Yousef al-Sharif, Amer Yousef and Amir Karara. Supporting this cast are many seasoned actors, like Ahmad Fouad Salim and Fadia Abed al-Ghani who play the victim’s parents, Ali Hasanayn, who plays the role of a corrupt businessman, Zaki Fatin Abdel al-Wahab featuring as a housing minister who does not care about the interest of the people, and Tamim Abdou, the owner of an advertisement agency who is concerned about his son’s involvement in the case of “Citizen X.” As for the Jordanian actor Eyad Nassar, he achieved another success in Citizen X, after his work in last year’s serial The Group [al-Gama’a] about the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. In his current role, he plays the character of a security officer who attempts to uncover the mystery of “Citizen X,” but he is limited by red tape that prevents him from investigating major corrupt figures. Nassar returns to star in a multi-character work without losing his luster. On the contrary, he proves that participating in a successful collective work is much better than fading into oblivion awaiting a lead role, like that of Hasan al-Banna, which he played in The Group.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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