News / Middle East

In Uncertain Times, Egyptian Comedy Thrives

This cartoon by Islam Gawish makes fun of President Hosni Mubarak being declared "clinically dead."This cartoon by Islam Gawish makes fun of President Hosni Mubarak being declared "clinically dead."
x
This cartoon by Islam Gawish makes fun of President Hosni Mubarak being declared "clinically dead."
This cartoon by Islam Gawish makes fun of President Hosni Mubarak being declared "clinically dead."
TEXT SIZE - +
Kate WoodsomeMohamed Elshinnawi
Egypt’s revolution may be over, but the political humor that energized the protests is gaining new momentum, with a new generation of satirists using comedy to speak truth to power.

When Egyptian authorities declared former President Hosni Mubarak "clinically dead,” political cartoonist Islam Gawish knew he had a punch line in the making.

Gawish drew a cartoon depicting a mother trying to wake up her son. The mother says, "Get up, your father wants you outside." The son responds, "Tell him I'm clinically dead."
 
"When the news came out, a lot of people didn't understand what that meant. Some of them would know clinical death, but not 'death bed,' so I tried to explain the difference to people in my cartoons, and it made a lot of noise," Gawish said.

While Mubarak was in power, Gawish used to hang anti-government cartoons on walls and buildings instead of risking arrest by joining street protests. With the rise of social media, his subversive drawings are now being posted on virtual walls, with his loyal fan base sharing them through Facebook and Twitter.

"If I take my political cartoon to a state-run newspaper, it would be censored and would never get published,” he said. “On Facebook, there is no censorship, so whenever I put something there, a large number of people will see it."

Laughtivism

Gawish is part of a growing global movement using humor for very serious ends.
 
Humor as a political tool is called “laughtivism,” a phrase coined by Srdja Popovic, the founder and leader of the student movement that brought down Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. 
This graffiti near Cairo's Tahrir Square depicts the ruling military council as controlling the presidential elections. (Reuters)This graffiti near Cairo's Tahrir Square depicts the ruling military council as controlling the presidential elections. (Reuters)
x
This graffiti near Cairo's Tahrir Square depicts the ruling military council as controlling the presidential elections. (Reuters)
This graffiti near Cairo's Tahrir Square depicts the ruling military council as controlling the presidential elections. (Reuters)
 
“Laughtivism derives its power from the ability to melt fear, the lifeblood of dictators, build the morale of groups, and cut to the core of out of touch leaders,” said Popovic.
 
Popovic’s Center for Applied NonViolent Action and Strategies has taught activists from Egypt and 49 more countries laughtivism and other techniques honed during the Serbian revolution.
 
Laughtivism is “an activity that is designed to put the authorities in a position so that no matter how they respond, they cannot win,” Popovic said, recounting the time the Serbian resistance placed Milosevic’s face on an oil drum in a crowded street with a bat, for passers-by to abuse.
 
“The comical image of two police officers wrestling a barrel with the president’s face on it into the back of a cop car was all over the papers the next day,” he recalled.

Popovic says today’s mass movements, like Egypt’s Arab Spring, are willing to use techniques that would never have been considered by the revolutionaries of the 1970s and ’80s, who took themselves more seriously.

“As time goes on, these movements cannot afford to fall out of the media spotlight, and therefore out of the public’s consciousness, so if they are going to stay there, they will need to be creative,” said Popovic.

"An expressionist photo of Maspero." Maspero is the Egyptian TV and Radio building, seen here with Mubarak wrapped around it. (Islam Gawish)"An expressionist photo of Maspero." Maspero is the Egyptian TV and Radio building, seen here with Mubarak wrapped around it. (Islam Gawish)
x
"An expressionist photo of Maspero." Maspero is the Egyptian TV and Radio building, seen here with Mubarak wrapped around it. (Islam Gawish)
"An expressionist photo of Maspero." Maspero is the Egyptian TV and Radio building, seen here with Mubarak wrapped around it. (Islam Gawish)
Egyptians don’t seem to have a problem with that. They've been using humor to get around censorship since a 1952 military coup ousted the monarchy and squashed freedom of speech.

Last year's revolution has given birth to countless creative forms of protest. Among the most successful are the fake TV news program "Al Bernameg" and “El Koshary,” a satirical online newspaper similar to the popular U.S. publication “The Onion,” which makes fun of real life with ironic headlines and stories.

"Al Bernameg"’s Bassem Youssef has been compared to Jon Stewart, the host of "The Daily Show," a satirical American TV program that draws laughs with exaggerated news stories mocking ludicrous political and social situations.

Youssef says he writes his material based on Egypt’s political events, a creative process inspired by the Arab Spring as it was sweeping into Egypt last year.

“The best thing to dismantle a dictator and his fascist regime is to mock him, when you do that the fear barrier starts to break down. So political jokes and humor is the first defense line against dictatorships,” Youssef said.


Scoffing at SCAF

While Mubarak is out of power, Samer Shehata, an associate professor of Arab Politics at Georgetown University in Washington, says there is still a place for comic relief.
"With our blood, we draw a portrait of the nation." (Islam Gawish)"With our blood, we draw a portrait of the nation." (Islam Gawish)
x
"With our blood, we draw a portrait of the nation." (Islam Gawish)
"With our blood, we draw a portrait of the nation." (Islam Gawish)

"Humor, political jokes and particularly graffiti have been effectively used, especially the latter by revolutionaries, against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF),” Shehata said. “It is harsh, biting and particularly effective at exposing some of the lies of the SCAF and their allies - presenting a more critical perspective on current political events.”

Shehata says now that Mubarak is out of office, state media has a “different master” -  SCAF, which has curbed the powers of Egypt’s new president.

Gawish says that makes it difficult for artists like him, who like to make fun of everyone, to work in traditional media.

“The state-run newspapers would like the cartoons not to touch politics. The opposition newspapers would like all cartoons to be criticizing the government all the time. The political Islamic newspapers would like you to do anything but criticize political Islam. They would like you to draw cartoons that show they're the only right people,” he said.

Social media offers a new space to commentators like Gawish. A field once dominated by professional satirists and artists is now crowded with amateurs armed with computers, Photoshop and a quick wit.
This cartoon depicts President Morsi strangling his critic, an average Egyptian represented by the Yao Ming smiling face meme. "I got you," he says. "You were the one mocking me."This cartoon depicts President Morsi strangling his critic, an average Egyptian represented by the Yao Ming smiling face meme. "I got you," he says. "You were the one mocking me."
x
This cartoon depicts President Morsi strangling his critic, an average Egyptian represented by the Yao Ming smiling face meme. "I got you," he says. "You were the one mocking me."
This cartoon depicts President Morsi strangling his critic, an average Egyptian represented by the Yao Ming smiling face meme. "I got you," he says. "You were the one mocking me."

One of the images frequently used online is a black and white drawing of Chinese basketball player Yao Ming, which is already a popular meme in the West used to dismiss someone else’s comments in online discussions. Creative jokesters have co-opted the contour drawing to represent the Egyptian people, placing it in humorous situations, often pairing it with captions skewering Egypt’s authorities.

“What attracted Egyptian youth to use it heavily was that his facial expressions were exactly that of an Egyptian young person’s normal expression,” Gawish explained. “It gives you exclamation, sarcasm, so it was easy for young Egyptians to use him to express their own feelings.”


Many Egyptians, young and old, are feeling befuddled with the political situation. Given the continued mystery surrounding Mubarak’s health, a parliament in limbo, and the military and president competing for power, political humorists like Gawish won’t be lacking for material any time soon.

You May Like

Algerians Vote in Presidential Election

There were few media reports of protests and clashes around the country, but so far no significant violence More

Sharks More Evolved than Previously Thought

The discovery could “profoundly affect our understanding of evolutionary history” More

Pakistan Military Asked to Protect Polio Workers

Request comes as authorities say a Taliban ban on vaccinations in 2012 and deadly attacks on anti-polio teams have prevented thousands of children from getting inoculated More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Nancy mohamed from: BOSTON >>US
July 09, 2012 7:42 PM
Nice report about ISLAM, he deserve to represent the new generation of Egyptian artist !,i am one of his followers, he is awesome and serious about his job!


by: Hussain from: Cairo
July 09, 2012 5:19 PM
Egypt is a comedy in itself...

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid