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."
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

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt 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.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid