The Concept of the Tip of the Iceberg Applied to Qinawi


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The world we live in is nothing if not full of unique people with varying personalities and traits. The same goes for the books we read if not more. Throughout an average lifetime, one encounters many books and movies where the characters in question are more than what they seem, which is where character development steps in to add value to each character with each passing paragraph.

In the cinematic production, Cairo Station, Qinawi represents a concept I like to call ‘the tip of the iceberg’. Qinawi is a homeless crippled man who is found by newsagent Madbouli sleeping around the station. Madbouli almost adopts Qinawi as his son (deeming him so in many instances). He gives Qinawi a job at the newsstand and also ventures out to find him a shack in which he can take shelter. The aim of this essay is to explore if Qinawi possesses a deeper, more complex character, and if so, to what extent.

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Our introduction to Qinawi from the start is unusual. His exposition is brief and allows for the viewer to almost completely fabricate one’s own viewpoint of him. However, as the story begins and the plot progresses, we begin to become more and more familiar with Qinawi’s character and his complexity is revealed gradually as the events of the movie come to pass. From the moment Qinawi is introduced, it becomes fairly obvious that he is slower than your average human being, both mentally, and physically. He appears to be extremely simple minded, not being able to focus on more than whatever topic or concept is on his mind at the whim of the moment.

From the moment he is introduced, it becomes fairly obvious to the viewer that Qinawi is unsatisfied and desperate for interaction with the opposite sex. This can be seen clearly by the wistful looks and glances he gives each and every attractive lady he passes by, as well as, his shack walls are plastered with cover girls from magazines. One of his most intense and important interactions throughout the production is with one of the main characters; Hanouma. Hanouma is a pretty woman on the verge of marriage with station worker; Abu Sireh. She is independent to an extent, and is the informal leader of the group of women that work illegally around the station; filling up glass bottles with cold water and selling them to train customers. Naturally, her charisma, personality, and especially her good looks attract Qinawi and make him want her, even lust for her.

Qinawi tries his best to flirt with Hanouma, and at the beginning he seems to be succeeding, even though it is fairly obvious to the audience that she is leading him on either intentionally or unintentionally. During this interaction we begin to see more of Qinawi’s deeper side, and we find that he is more and more mentally unstable as we go along the story. We can see Qinawi’s mind unhinge itself from logic and rationality more and more as he is lead on by Hanouma, and when she finally rejects him and tells him that she is getting married to Abu Sireh, he loses his mind with anger and begins screaming at her.

I think at this point in the story that we can actually begin to see Qinawi’s character unfolding and emerging. It is when Hanouma rejects him that he begins to show signs of violent intent towards her. He has malicious intent flare up in his soul to kill Hanouma for disrespecting him, leading him on, and toying with him.

Another important aspect that plays up to Qinawi’s character development – in my opinion- is the way everyone else sees him. From the minute he is introduced to the ending of the production he is treated differently and segregated solely because he has a disability – something that he has no control over. We see multiple times him being he subject of taunting and teasing from his fellow station-workers, deeming him unworthy of normal women’s attention and advising him to ‘find a woman of his own state’, in other words, a cripple like himself.

Due to the treatment he is subjected to by his peers, it becomes logical that Qinawi does not understand the social cues that everyone else does. He does not fit into society; he has always been an outcast, which only endorses his mental state of constant confusion and sometimes anger. His mental state is definitely simple. However, an argument can be made that under the façade of his simplicity, his thought process goes deeper. However, he does not know how to deal with these thoughts and feelings, therefore, I believe they consume him and occupy his brain constantly, making him unaware of reality. We can see many instances in the film where he simply forgets to continue delivering his newspapers and gets lost in thought or just sits in some random place smoking and staring at women around the station.

While Qinawi’s physical disability is clear from the beginning, viewers are not presented with any evidence of him having a mental disability or abnormality other than him being slower mentally than the average human being. Moreover, throughout my research of the production, I’ve been able to extract a mental pattern from his behavior. Qinawi has consistently thrown tantrums when things don’t go his way; breaking and trashing his home- the shack, trash-talking the kids in the station, screaming at Hanouma on several occasions when she doesn’t agree to his desires, and finally and most importantly, his whole murderous streak where he plans to kill Hanouma and hide her body in crate and ends up killing her friend mistaking her for Hanouma. Due to this and other observations, I’ve been lead to believe that Qinawi in the basic essence does not have a mental disability, however, his mental development and saturation have not surpassed adolescence. In other words, his mind is still that of a child or teenager. Weather this is due to his disability itself, or to the way he’s been treated and segregated throughout his life due to said physical disability; his mental process is definitely not that of a mature adult

Moreover, his undeveloped language can also count as evidence for my observation. While Qinawi does not speak in a disfigured manner, his sentences are often incomplete; his words are simple and few, he often chooses not to speak, and he sometimes spoke in segments of sentences that were almost incomprehensible.

Due to his segregation, his disability, and probably his overall state of being, Qinawi appears to be extremely shy and unsure of himself. In most instances where he actually conducts conversation, he is quiet, and he does not make eye contact. The only instances we see where he talks freely and with confidence are when he is trying to woo Hanouma, and we can see his efforts becoming more concentrated as she leads him on, twice. This does not do any good for his self-esteem, and it definitely only ensures his social segregation and prevents him from ever fitting in properly.

It has been established that Qinawi is an abnormal human being, with a physical disability and mental slowness, he is cast out from society, never fitting in, and never finding what he desires; love and acceptance. I believe that this list of traits is the main reason that causes his character to be so complicated. I believe that Qinawi has so much more to offer than what can be initially seen on-screen. And while he gets some character development during the film, one needs to actually delve into his character, taking into account his history, his economic state, his social state, and his mental state in order to adequately establish a good analysis of him.

Taking everything that has been mentioned into consideration, it is not surprising that his mental state deteriorated completely in the ending of the movie and he lost the brief sense of rationalism and logic within him. I believe that everything he goes though on a daily basis, the poverty, the segregation, the crippled state he lives in, and his lustful, unrequited passion for love, accompanied by his weak mental ability and his simplicity ultimately become too much for Qinawi to handle. His mental deterioration process began with Hanouma rejected him, and only escalated further as the movie progressed, escalating his actions and their consequences in a direct manner. I believe that by the end of the film, he completely gave up on trying to think rationally. He acts without thinking of the future consequences – presumably because his little mental capacity prevents him from doing so- and he ends up paying for those consequences.

All in all, the concept of the tip of the iceberg definitely applies to Qinawi, there is so much more to him than meets the eye, and his character is practically screaming for recognition. Qinawi is an embodiment of helpless struggle, as he wants so much more from life than he is getting, but he doesn’t even know it. He is a perfect example of the result of all the negative concepts that society employs which create exiled, and damaged people, like Qinawi.

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