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

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu 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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid