Testimonials to the changing landscapes of short-form writing in the contemporary Middle East April, 2011
â€œOne people, one plight.â€?
Photo: Sarah Carr, January 7.
Shahadat is a quarterly online series designed to provide a platform for experimentation and promotion of short-form writing on the web, Shahadat features stories, vignettes, reflections, and chronicles written by young or underexposed writers from the Middle East and North Africa on ArteEast Online in translation and the original language of Arabic, Farsi, or Turkish. ArteEast is a leading international arts organization presenting work by contemporary artists from the Middle East, North Africa, and their Diaspora. Founded in 2003 as a New York based not-for-profit organization, ArteEast supports and promotes artists by raising awareness of their most significant and groundbreaking work and by bringing this work to the widest possible audience. We do this through public events, art exhibitions, film screenings, international touring programs, a dynamic virtual gallery, and a resource-rich website. Partnering with some of the most prestigious cultural institutions around the world--such as The Museum of Modern Art, Tate Modern, and the Sharjah Art Foundation--ArteEastâ€™s film, visual arts, and literary programs reach thousands of new audiences each year. The organization is committed to bringing the highest quality and form of artistic content on multiple platforms. Our innovative use of technology and partnerships to present programs that are highly mobile, rather than bound to a particular physical space, make us one of the most nimble, cutting-edge art organizations today. ArteEast is also consistently providing relevant context so that audiences can fully appreciate the work that is being presented. www.arteeast.org. The photographs reproduced in this issue are held under Creative Commons license or the rights were expressly granted for the purposes of publication here by the photographer. Photographers are credited for each photo, along with the date taken, if available. Dates, when printed, were provided by photographers. All dates 2011. Links to Flickr streams and other online material are available in contributor bios located on page 34. All commentary and translations are original. April, 2011. New York, New York.
Signs of the Times The Popular Literature of Tahrir Protest Signs, Graffiti, & Street Art Curated by Rayya El Zein & Alex Ortiz
From the Curators:
Watching a Revolution In the bitter doldrums of early February, I’d relish the commutes that spit me out in Harlem with time to spare. Savoring the extra minutes before having to momentarily put Egypt from my mind, I’d tap my way to the live Al Jazeera stream from Cairo and cradle the increasingly familiar, grainy image of Tahrir Square in one palm. Leaning up against frozen banisters on icy sidewalks, February sported a less brutal cold than usual. Dare I say it? Pictures, feeds, and video of Egyptian protesters somehow warmed gloveless fingers. The nomadic nature of the teach and work schedule of a graduate fellow fit the structures of changing media and a smart phone ensured I could “have” the Revolution with me, wherever I was. But evolving forms of journalism and the specific culture of Cairo’s Tahrir Square also ensured that the primary medium of the information I would receive would be visual. Indeed, the palm-sized screen not only relays information; it often relays information visually. Following political developments in Egypt became, specifically, watching them. It should be obvious that the fact that I and thousands of others watched and followed Egypt’s Revolution on computer and mobile screens does not imply that the abdication of Mubarak was a moment that owes its legacy to social media or the Internet. However, the activity of watching this political and social movement was directly related to the unique and specific culture of resistance that it embodied. The effect of the January 25 – February 11 Revolution (the symbolic success of removing Mubarak from power and the encouragement of political mobilization in half a dozen other countries in the region) and its affect (the resurgence of a communal rejection of fear and the embrace of a collective hope for a more dignified future) are almost as indiscernible from each other as the terms themselves. Assessing the framework of how the Revolution was watched becomes more grounded when we 4
consider that both protesters and Mubarak seem to have been keenly aware of the potent politics of being seen. The regime’s constant and brutal crackdowns on journalists and their equipment reflect an anxiety about the infectious power of specifically seeing resistance. And Tahrir protesters were constantly aware of the potential and the danger of being seen or remaining hidden. At night, panicked voices described what they feared others couldn’t or wouldn’t see. And in daylight, an outward, visual embodiment of resistance, a performance of defiance, was made apparent in cultural activity. When we -- abroad and in Egypt -- watched Tahrir as its peaceful occupation progressed, we were increasingly watching a particular culture of resistance. Tahrir protesters expressed this culture in a variety of ways. Protesters held signs declaring identity and resistance that display an exponential capacity to riff, elaborate on, and embellish the basic articulation of political demands. They gathered in the millions, sustaining each other with song, comedy, murals, and memorials. In these creative gestures, Egyptian protesters invited others to watch them and implicitly, to join them. Creative output actualized the political revolution. Fear is a cultural product. Pride is a cultural product. Humor is another. Which is not to say that any of these three are caused by culture, rather, that they are given specificity by collectively expressed behavior. Neither fear nor pride exists in lived situations except as enacted by human bodies. Fear is not a political tool unless someone is afraid – that is to say, unless people, subconsciously or consciously, perform fear by cowering, staying silent, or actively or passively encouraging peers to do so. Likewise, but inversely, as more than a decade’s worth of the work of activists and agitators in Egypt can attest to, “Revolution” does not happen unless it is enacted – unless people physically embody resistance by taking to the streets, unless they buoy each other’s courage with humor and music, unless they
“My name is Khaled Said.” This refers to the young Egyptian man brutally murdered by Egyptian police in June 2010. Pictures of his mutilated body and his story were behind the Facebook page “We Are All Khaled Said” that encouraged Egyptians to protest on January 25. Photo: Sarah Carr; February 15.
outwardly perform resistance for themselves and for others. Indeed, that’s what, in one sense of the word, “Revolution” is. The slow, lasting change of political systems is only sometimes related. That the ideas and emotions surrounding the Egyptian Revolution seemed to be “contagious” should not imply that one event caused another. The Egyptian protester holding a sign that said “Thanks Tunis” did not imply that the self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit-vendor convinced Mubarak to step down. Rather, what that sign acknowledges is an exchange of cultural attitudes surrounding political activity and engagement. This exchange is continuing to spark, grow, and evolve across the Middle East and it owes a considerable growth in momentum to the visibility of the culture of resistance in Tahrir Square in late January and early February. The eagerness that protesters in Cairo displayed to communicate visually to and with each other created a massive creative cultural output, one that very much deserves the careful attention of cultural critics, poets, and visual artists alike. Creative activities like graffiti and poetry, which may still be thought
of as somehow less serious than “straight” political activity, are nevertheless the outward realization of resistance, the very embodiment of “Revolution.” We have proposed in these pages a site-specific examination of a spike in one kind of cultural production, specifically literary and visual, in Egypt, in Cairo, mostly in Tahrir Square from January 25 through February 11, 2011. While the media gorges itself at break-neck speed on one after another breaking story, we look back to examine the effect of affect, or the seduction of a specific kind of Revolutionary energy as it was expressed through protest signs and graffiti in Tahrir. For weeks, Egyptian protesters gripped the attention of political and apolitical people around the world but caught politicians off guard. And for the first time in a generation, from Beirut to Madison, we are beginning to see apathy abate. Whatever the actual political reality of uprooting Mubarak’s regime, watching Egypt’s Revolution has already done something. To be a spectator, we are all the more convinced, is anything but a passive enterprise. ~Rayya El Zein, New York City 5
A Note on Translation The texts and images you see here that came out of the 18 days of the Egyptian Revolution are emblematic of a kind of popular literature heretofore unseen in Egypt – a vivaciously dynamic, active, and evolving expression of the hopes, fears, demands, complaints, anger, and energy of the Egyptian people in their quest to overthrow a dictator who had ruled them for 29 years. There were several significant challenges faced in translating such works. Each and every one of these signs, posters, banners, or street art deserves a more lengthy and detailed explanation than can be given in the accompanying caption space. This is true for both the textual content of the images, and perhaps more importantly, their contexts, temporal and cultural. For instance, several of the signs presented here contain subtle but implicit references to television programs, songs, and other cultural phenomena that are impossible for the English reader to discern but are immediately understandable to Egyptians. We should not be surprised; a new genre of popular literature inevitably builds off of the shared cultural heritage of the people composing it. Moreover, each text is embedded within a particular moment in time, either acting upon or reacting to the flow of events. As such, it is important to not only read these texts as representative of the thoughts and feelings of Egyptian protesters, but also as a concrete and immediate political intervention. In addition, the internal rhyme and rhythm of the Arabic language – and in particular the Egyptian dialect – can turn the slogans scrawled and painted across these signs into wordplay, refer to the long tradition of Arabic poetic meter, or evoke a somber and sacred line from a holy religious text. All of these linguistic specificities never quite make it through into English. That being said, something about the images you see now made them immediately understood by millions around the world as they followed news of 6
the Egyptian revolution. For example, you didn’t need to know Arabic to eventually pick up on the significance of the now-famous chant “es-sha’ab yoreed ‘isqaat el-nizam”. Rather, the signs of revolt in Egypt became discernible as soon as they were transmitted globally. In the public expressions of discontent and uprising that have occurred since January 25, 2011, people from Benghazi, Libya to Madison, Wisconsin have composed their own popular literatures that embrace, draw inspiration from, and build upon the Egyptian canon. And in post-Mubarak Egypt, the newborn legacy of unbridled and creative public expression continues to play a decisive and galvanizing role in the reimagining of a country. ~Alex Ortiz, Cairo
“Get out you moron, you blockhead, you oaf!”
Photo: Ramy Raoof; February 1.
Mass Production More than myriad examples of humor, pathos, or wit expressed in protest signs on the streets of Cairo, the archivist trolling the Internet for photographs of the revolution in Tahrir Square must first contend with myriad examples – period. Before finding the pieces that initially evoke the qualification “literature” as opposed to more “typical” protest material, the sheer quantity of photographs capturing protesters who hold signs is staggering. Technology certainly has something to do with this phenomenon. Our increased capacity to “share” through the Internet makes the archiving of one series of events the task not of a small team but of dozens. This massive body of production isn’t limited to smart phones or high speed Internet connections, however: it is not only the number of photographs of protesters holding signs, but truly the number of protesters holding signs that is staggering. At times it even seems as if the signs were printed en masse. If the production appears rote, however, it hardly suggests that holding such signs was devoid of creativity. Protesters didn’t waste space, using their bodies as canvases, hanging from lampposts, and converting symbols of power (trucks and tanks, notably) into screens for the projection of revolutionary energy. We begin to see poetry here, as anywhere, not in the message, but in its expression.
March to Tahrir Square. Photo: Ramy Raoof; January 31.
“Leave” Note: Because this word straddles both literary and spoken Arabic, we have chosen to render the demand of the protesters for the departure of former President Mubarak throughout these pages in its literal meaning of “Leave.” Another possible translation, and one that is
A gallery of protest signs in Tahrir.
Photo: Kodak Agfa, February 10.
perhaps more applicable when the slogan occurs in speech, would be “Get out.” Despite the range of registers associated with this word, it represents the fundamental and unifying demand of the January 25 Revolutionaries. Photo: Kodak Agfa; February 1.
“If you love your country, leave and have mercy on your people. Hey Hosni, flying ace, where’d you get that 70 billion?” “Free people” Photo: Sarah Carr; February 11.
Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy; January 30.
Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy; February 1.
“No to Mubarak” Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy; January 29.
“The youth will carry you out with their hands.” Photo: Sarah Carr; February 6.
Changing the Narrative The central goal of protest signs anywhere is to articulate the demands of the protester holding it. Protest signs in Cairo were no exception and a large percentage of posters, banners, and graffiti articulate the demands of protesters, from the most basic: “Down with the Regime” to the most specific (see next page). Particularly notable this year in Egypt, however, was the number of examples of protesters who articulated
demands or positions in direct response to other, presumed dominant, narratives. Protesters write over the regime’s narrative, reclaim knowledge, and actively assert their truths. Rhetoric in these examples directly challenges the narratives of state TV, presumed perceptions of the international community, or rewrites Mubarak’s personal, political, and military history. It is here that much of the protest energy begins to develop its
The street sign previously reading “Street of the People’s Assembly” now reads “The People’s Street” Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy; February 9.
own distinctive cultural imprint. The masses holding protest signs become distinguishable groups with particular defiant tones and focused irreverence. These concurrent expressions of awareness and identity accompany the defiance of breaking curfew to be present in Tahrir. They locate further development of a distinct culture of political resistance.
“A message to Egyptian television: We won’t believe your lies, you agents of the regime!!!!!” Photo: Ramy Raoof; February 1.
Left: “Leave you (bleep!) son of a (bleeeeeeeeeeeeep!)”; right: “I am Egyptian til death; Freedom for Egypt” Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy; February 3.
7c “We’re not leaving ‘til you leave; where is your dignigity? You sonofa...!” Photo: Ramy Raoof; February 1.
Left: “The people’s demands: 1) The downfall of the president 2) Dissolution of the government 3) Dissolution of the parliament and Shoura Council 4) Founding of a board of trustees 5) Amending the constitution 6) The prosecution of the government and all its figureheads 7) Freedom and dignity (Signed) the people of Egypt.” Right: “Muslims, Christians, we are all Egyptians. We want justice and equality.” Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy; February 1.
Left: “Hey flying ace, Your final mission: Saudi Arabia. Over and out” Note: This sign references an old jingoistic slogan that glorified Mubarak’s standing as an air force pilot during the October War and refashions it into biting mockery against Mubarak. Right: “No to the burning of institutions, no to destruction, no to Mubarak” Photo: Hossam; el-Hamalawy; January 29.
Left: “No to state security, emergency law, torture” Right: “We want dignity not the sustenance of torture” Photo: Ramy Raoof; February 4.
“Our demands: 1) The downfall of the president 2) Dissolution of parliament and Shoura Council 3) The immediate end of Emergency Law 4) The formation of a transitional unity government 5) An elected parliament to amend the constitution for presidential election procedures 6) The immediate trial of those responsible for murdering the martyrs of the Revolution 7) Speedy trials of corrupt officials and those who have stolen the nation’s wealth. (Signed) The protesting youth of Egypt” Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy; February 4.
“Hosni, you germ: the peasants of Upper Egypt will “I want internet!” beat you with shoes” Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy, Photo: Ramy Raoof; February 1. February 11.
“Mubarak is a liar” Photo: Ramy Raoof; February 6.
“The people know everything. All of the thugs are hired by the police and the government.” Photo: Kodak Agfa, January 29.
“No dialogue with Mubarak and his accomplices” “If Mubarak were a monkey he’d have more Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy; February 1. humanity” Photo: Ramy Raoof; February 1.
“Photo op with the Pres” the tag on the donkey reads ‘Mubarak” Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy; February 4.
Note: In Egyptian dialect, the word for “bread”, ‘aish, is the same word used in Classical and Modern Standard Arabic to mean “life”. This sign plays off of the double-meaning of the word ’aish for Egyptians. Photo: Jehan Agha.
Might of the Mundane Protest literature in Cairo was not confined to the dry or simple expression of political goals. Indeed, the culture of Tahrir Square was encouraged by a framework of assurance that increasingly allowed individuals to deviate from or embellish the basic framework of articulating political demands. Under the huge banner that shouted in bold, red text “LEAVE” (see page 10) individuals were able to hold smaller pieces that jabbed, “Leave, my arm hurts.” “Leave, I miss my wife,” etc. This kind of self-aware humor likely buoyed participants facing the simple act of endurance needed to maintain Tahrir Square. Protest energy thus fed itself; protest signs that clearly stated political demands created 16
a space within which related but less specific creative energy could flourish. To suggest that the Revolution affected the daily life of Egyptians is an understatement. However, the way Egyptian protesters incorporated aspects of basic living into protest energy is unique to this movement’s culture of resistance. Pots become helmets, and as the occupation of Tahrir Square stretched from hours to weeks – with some protesters sleeping and eating in the Square – the boundaries between public and private, and between home and politics become obsolete. This gathering of images locates a cultural production that uses
“Leave! I miss my wife; married only 21 days” Photo: Sarah Carr; February 6.
quotidian life as a further expression of political energy. The popular proliferation we saw in the first section becomes personal and with it came the bold declarations of the end of fear. The blurring of political and daily life thus furthers poetic expressions of identity and resistance.
Above: “The lovers of the day, with regards from Facebook” underneath: “The kids have grown up, Hosni!” Note: this latter sign references a 1979 play by Samir al-Asfour. Photo: Sarah Carr; February 9. Left: “My new address - Madinaty - Tahrir Square. Note: Madinaty is a planned, gated community on the northeast outskirts of Cairo. One of a string of elite gentrified housing projects in the greater Cairo area, it is emblematic of the growing class differences in Egyptian society. Madinaty (a word meaning “my city”) was built on public land bought by an NDP business tycoon below legal value. Photo: Ramy Raoof; February 4.
“Leave, my hand’s starting to hurt”
Photo: Ramy Raoof; February 8.
“Mubarak, we’re sorry; Your credit has been depleted (signed) Egypt-Phone.” Note: “Egypt-phone” is a play on a dominant mobile company in Egypt, Vodaphone. Photo: Ramy; January 31.
Have you seen this child? Little Mohammed Hosni Mubarak (age 86) has gone missing from the nation. Whoever finds him him please return him to his family in Jeddah or Tel Aviv Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy; February 1.
“Mom told me not to leave ‘til he does” Photo: Kodak Agfa; February 10.
“The unborn children in their mothers’ stomachs cry out, ‘Get out Mubarak’” Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy; February 1.
“I’m a dentist here to extract Mubarak.” Photo: Sarah Carr; February 6.
“‘I don’t know why the Revolution happened! I was “Sit-in and strike until he leaves.” in the bathroom when it started,’ says the tyrant Photo: Jano Charbel; February 11. Mubarak” Photo: Sarah Carr; February 9.
“Forgive me, Lord, for I was afraid and silent”
“Oh, President: I’m not afraid to die.”
Photo: Sarah Carr; February 6.
Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy; February 7.
Words & Images Protesters found still other ways of building upon the basic structure of articulating political demands. Images and drawings became a colorful way to embellish political positions and further satire and commentary. The presence of visual imagery may seem to be the most obvious entry to arguing that protest material becomes art, as graffiti artists and illustrators use their skills to literally bring color to the grays
of political life. But the intersection between visual urban culture and literature is an especially rich site for examining the exchange not only between politics and aesthetics but between different kinds of cultural production. The short-form literature developed and articulated in and on Tahrir Square is especially related to the visual aspects of its production. The truism about the worth of images in words is well-known. But
From left to right: Mubarak speaks “Oh, brothers, hitting with shoes is a sin”, the people of Egypt say “We’ll do you like Bush”; A palm reader, she says to Mubarak “I see in your future a long journey to Germany”; “Goddamn your house to hell, Ahmed Azz.” Photo: Jano Charbel; February 8.
these protest energies prove that the relationship between the literary and the visual is anything but linear. Furthermore, that the “equation” between words and images falls apart when the word itself is an image is not unique to Egypt or to its Revolution. Indeed, the appearance of these intersecting energies in Tahrir definitively places the cultural production of Egypt’s Revolution at the forefront of contemporary
discussions concerning changing forms of literature worldwide and the increasing “inter-disciplinary” nature of creative energies, be they primarily musical, visual, of performance, or literary. The exchange between image and word in protest signs and graffiti prove that the cultural production of Egypt’s Revolution is not only decisively aesthetic but decisively of our contemporary moment.
Left: “Leave, leave you who sold the land and the Nile”; Right: “Check, checkmate”
Photo: Ramy Raoof; February 1.
“The lesson’s over, stupid!” Note: This is a “Mubarak: Expiration date January 25, 2011” reference to a well-known play by Assayed Raddi. Photo: Ramy Raoof; February 8. Photo: Ramy Raoof; January 31.
Right: “the People”; left: “the Ruler“ Photo: Sarah Carr, February 10.
“In the trash can of history” Photo: Ramy Raoof, January 31.
Photo: Gilad Lotan; February 4.
Photo: Ramy Raoof; January 30.
The door says, “The National Democratic Prison” the bride’s dress says “Egypt” Photo: Kodak Agfa; February 1.
Left: “Me”; right: “Egypt”
Photo: Kodak Agfa; February 1.
Left “The National Democratic Party to the trashcan of history”; Middle: “The laughing cow Mooobarak”; Right: “Peoplebook.” Note: In Arabic, this wordplay on “Facebook” emphasizes the social rather than social-networking basis of the Revolution. Photo: Kodak Agfa; February 4.
Photo: Sarah Carr; February 11.
Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy; February 1.
Photo: Ramy Raoof; February 1.
Photo: Ramy Raoof; February 1.
Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy; February 3.
“The Army must choose: either Egypt or Mubarak” Photo: Jehan Agha.
Top: “Your love is freedom” Note: This is the title of a famous song by Mohammed Mounir. Photo: Ramy Raoof; February 11.
Middle: Photo: February 27.
Bottom: “We want our rights” Photo: Hossam al-Hamalawy; February 24.
Translating the Revolution If Egyptian protest energy displayed an interest in illustrating political aspirations and positions through images, a prominent strain of it again acknowledged an international viewership by attempting to illustrate demands through literal translations. Signs quipped in English, French, Hebrew, and other languages reflect a range of creative choices. These energies build upon a trajectory we have sketched above. The massive output of protest energy created space for protesters to articulate individual, personal aspects of the revolution as it affected daily life. A combination of images and translations now made those individual perspectives internationally readable. The interplay of all these energies created the specific affective dynamics of the literature of Tahrir.
Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy; January 29.
“The martyrs’ clothes”; below: “Why were they killed?” Note: The text in the bottom sign is a reference to the Qu’ran. Photo: Sarah Carr; February 6.
Productive Memory The photographs in the pages above are colored by a certain celebratory energy. Protesters seem to be almost exultant in their adamancy. But a rich and complex dialogue between loss and gain and between past and future could be seen at the heart of the expression of Egypt’s revolutionary culture. Of course “the end” of Mubarak’s regime is only the beginning of a revolutionary political process in Egypt. But even before the huge symbolic closure that came with the announcement of his resignation, the culture of the Revolution was steeped in an invested dialectic between
endings and beginnings. Indeed, an impetus for mobilizing protest energy on January 25th may be located in the commemoration of the murder of the young Khaled Said at the hands of Egyptian police. Throughout the protests, commemoration of protesters killed and wounded took on a variety of creative forms. The creativity implemented in commemorating victims of violence is a key part of the affect of the Revolution and a productive cross-section of the literature and visual imagery produced and displayed in Cairo’s streets.
Left: “We won’t wash their blood from our white coats” Note: This sign was written by doctors. Photo: Sarah Carr; February 6. Below: From right to left: “Oh freedom where are you? The blood of the martyrs lies between us”; “Martyrs’ Square”; “Oh, martyr, rest in peace we will prosecute the butcher.” Photo: Kodak Agfa; February 10. Bottom left: “No change without sacrifice” Photo: Ramy Raoof; February 1. Bottom right: “No, I’m not the hero. The martyr is the hero.” Photo: Sarah Carr; February 11.
“We demand the prosecution of those responsible for the deaths of these martyrs” Note: Each flyer contains a different name. Photo: Sarah Carr; February 25.
“In memory of the martyrs of the Revolution” Photo: Sarah Carr; February11.
“The martyrs’ blood isn’t cheap”
Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy; February 8.
Photo: Hossam; date.
Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy; February 8.
Evolution of a Revolution On March 29, 2011, accompanying an article about an explosion that killed dozens in Yemen, Lebanon’s daily English paper The Daily Star printed a photograph of a young man, his mouth wide open in a scream, holding his shoes towards the camera at arms length. On the soles of both, was written irhal that succinct repeated slogan of Arab protesters across the region since January. As revolutionary energy spreads, and in the shadow of NATO airstrikes on Libya, we are surely witnessing a channeling, splintering, and transmogrification of revolutionary energy. Within Egypt itself, the protest energy we’ve been highlighting in these pages branched at Coptic, labor, women’s rights, and anticorruption demonstrations and continues to build and expand on the examples of Tahrir. Across the region, the military responses of Muammar Qaddafi, Ali Abdullah
Saleh, Bachar al-Assad, and the Saudi-led invasions of Bahrain have had noticeable effects on collective protest energy in the region. Fear as well as resistance are showing their faces in very real ways in Bahrain, Libya, and Syria. The attention of the international community to developments on the ground, and the relationship between protesters and their governments in these places is also changing. Diminished is the jubilant anticipation of Tahrir, in Cairo and abroad, despite it being the focal point of continued protest energy, despite continued threats to basic human rights, and despite the continued dubiousness of certain claims to power. These evolutions should remind us perhaps that while a photograph may capture a moment, political and artistic energies don’t stand still.
Reflecting on the images collected above and the framework we’ve suggested here, we are confronted with the idea of having created an archive - the impetus of which was largely the production of feeling and the already dubious nature of memory and its perspective. Pursuing the question of how the idea of Egypt’s Revolution sparked imaginations across the region, we have pointed to aspects that illustrate the specificity of the literary and visual cultural production of 18 days in one city-square. We have not provided a day-today chronology of the January 25 through February 11 period nor have we attempted a historicization of these protests and their cultural production in terms of the protests that preceded them in Egypt in 2006, 2008, and 2010. Critics of this piece will already have noted that in pretending to critically 31
understand the romance with Egypt’s Revolution, this exercise nonetheless recreates it. But this central question – how the protesters of Egypt’s Revolution came to encourage others, and how that cultural production continues to affect the type of energy seen on the streets of Cairo and around the world – is only the first part of a discussion, and necessarily an archiving, of the emotional history of these events for an entire generation. A history of Egyptian cultural production related to political protests is the work of a future project. Further critical analysis of how collectively shared emotions, pride, courage, humor are capable of functioning as weapons of political resistance is the work of other scholars and critics today and tomorrow. However it happens, however protesters reach an audience, speaking up, speaking out, and building platforms for creative expression are not only contagious, they become habit. Revolutionary energy will dip, will continue to change, will encourage at times, will disappoint at others. But we are sure we have much to look forward to.
“Either I live in my country in dignity or I die a martyr in the name of my Lord.” Photo: Sarah Carr; March 10.
These students demand an end to private tutoring, the development of education and a delay of highschool diploma examinations. Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy; February 27 (the first day schools reopened after the Revolution).
Anti-Qaddafi graffiti in Tobruk, Libya.
Photo: Patrick Baz, courtesy AFP/ Getty Images, February 24.
Road east from Ajdabiya, Libya. The graffiti on the truck reads, “God is great”
Photo: Patrick Baz courtesy AFP/ Getty Images; March 21.
Contributors Kodak Agfa is Zeinab El-Gindy, 27 years old and currently a full-time blogger in Egypt. Her Flickr stream, hosting these and many other photographs may be found here. Jehan Agha is an Egyptian New Yorker who moved to Cairo in 2009. She is the Leadership and Enrichment programs manager of the Lotus Scholarship Program at the Institute of International Education, Cairo. Her 2005 Master’s thesis on identity formation in the Arab diaspora may be found here. Sarah Carr is a British-Egyptian Cairo-based journalist and writer who blogs at www.inanities.org. Her Flickr stream hosting these and many other photographs may be found here. Jano Charbel’s Flickr stream, hosting these and many other photographs may be found here.
Hossam el-Hamalawy is a journalist, photographer, and labor organizer with Egypt’s socialist movement. He blogs at www.arabawy.org. His Flickr stream hosting these and many other photographs may be found here. Gilad Lotan’s Flickr stream, hosting these and many other photographs may be found here. Ramy Raoof works on utilizing online platforms and digital devices in human rights, and helps activists to maintain their privacy and security online. He blogs at http://ebfhr.blogspot.com. His Flickr stream hosting these and many other photographs may be found here.
Photo: Ramy Raoof; February 2.
Acknowledgements The photographs included in this document were largely taken not just by happenstance supporters of political change, but by journalists and activists who have risked more than their immediate comfort to do the things that they do. Their work speaks for itself. Conversations with Tarek El-Ariss, Hatim El-Hibri, Andrew Friedman, Anmar El Zein, and others proved foundational during the process of curating this piece. Kinda Akash and Rima Farouki provided essential assistance with design and layout, the implementation of which would not have been possible without the help of Leyla Kaddoura, Nadia Farouki, and Andrew Johnston. Ahmed Shawky provided critical assistance with Arabic to English translations. Barrak Alzaid, Livia Alexander, and Andrea Aractingi of ArteEast provided key structural and organizational support. Oversights, missteps, and faults remain uniquely ours.
â€œDown with Hosni Mubarakâ€? Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy; January 29.
Rayya El Zein, co-curator, is working towards a PhD in Theatre at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Her research is increasingly focusing on theories of spectatorship and historical studies of audience behavior. She holds an MA in Performance Studies from NYU and is currently a teaching fellow at City College in Harlem. She tweets from @rayelz. Alex Ortiz, co-curator, received his BA from Brown University in 2009, graduating with a double major in Comparative Literature and Middle Eastern studies. He spent the 2009-2010 academic year as a CASA I fellow in Damascus, Syria. He is currently a CASA II fellow in Cairo. His academic and professional work include Arabic language and literature, history, journalism, and literary and commercial translation. He tweets from @cairowitness. 36
Many thanks to our generous supporters:
Title graphics by Rima Farouki.
Signs of the Times: The Popular Literature of Tahrir Examines the cultural production of Egypt's Revolution in protest signs and graffiti in...
Published on Apr 22, 2011
Signs of the Times: The Popular Literature of Tahrir Examines the cultural production of Egypt's Revolution in protest signs and graffiti in...