Drug abuse in suburban Egypt tackled in short film

Jonathan Spollen
5 Min Read

A worn-out looking man in his early 30s fumbles around for a lighter in the front room of his diminutive apartment.

It s noon, it s bright outside, and the sunlight coming in through the window accentuates the bags under his eyes and the age lines on his face.

It is the opening scene of the 20 minute-long documentary “An upright citizen from Maadi, showing at El Kotob Khan bookshop, and we are being introduced to the film s subject Yehia, a recovering drug addict from the wealthy Cairo suburb of the program’s title.

Written and directed by two of his close friends, the documentary follows Yehia on a tour around his hometown, taking in the places where he hangs out, and the places he used to buy his drugs at.

I m 33 and I ve done nothing with my life, he tells the camera. Time is precious, but for the last 10 years it just disappeared like a dream.

Like his friends, most of whom graduated from university and now have families and steady jobs, Yehia enjoyed the plentiful privileges of a youngster growing up in Maadi.

He never had to worry about money, he attended a good high school, and looked set for a career in the higher echelons of the Egyptian army as he set off for military college aged 18.

But Yehia was unsettled. The rigidity of sleepy suburban life, the social pressure to achieve, and a troubled family life got to him during his teens.

The drugs were a form of rebellion, recounts the film s writer, Yasser Abdel Latif. He was dissatisfied with the lifestyle [in Maadi], with the bourgeois expectations, and with his social class.

Yehia began with drinking but before long was experimenting with drugs like tranquilizers and hash. After being kicked out of military college at 20 his drug use, which progressed to stronger substances like ecstasy, resulted in hospitalization after he collapsed on a train from Cairo to Sinai.

He has struggled with his addiction to this very day.

From the moment I wake up, I think about drugs and where I can get them.

My mother tells me I m not her son, he continues. I feel so alone, like there is no one who wants to help.

In its depiction of Yehia s life the film also takes a swipe at the cheerful facade that governs suburban life.

Behind the happy families and picket fences, says Abdel Latif, there is actually quite a big drug problem in places like Maadi.

Certainly among our generation it was a problem…people were taking ecstasy, speed, uppers…

But while they moved on, Yehia kept using.

With its intensive one-to-one approach and an eagerness to portray grim environments – there is footage aplenty of run-down alleyways and graffitied walls – the film takes its subject matter a little too seriously.

While Yehia s experience makes for a touching story, it could in no way compare to the life-consuming nightmare of say a heroin or crack addiction.

Had Yehia been mainlining “junk these past years rather than popping pills, odds are he would not have been around to make this film.

Yehia in fact, says director Nader Hilal, is now in rude health. He is off drugs and alcohol completely, has a steady job and is married with children.

The filming of his story was Hilal and Abdel Latif s first production; and the duo, who comprise “Crow Films, use their own equipment to film, and attend to the technical details at an editing suite in Hilal s house.

Their second film, which documents the lives of those living in Cairo s graveyard residential area the “City of the Dead, is due to be released shortly.

“An Upright Citizen from Maadi was playing earlier this week at Kotob Khan bookshop in New Maadi, and was followed by a discussion with Hilal, Abdel Latif and Yehia.

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