The ahwa sketchbook (at Alexandria)
The ahwa sketchbook (at Alexandria)
"Good God! My look has changed so much," laments a revolutionary lad, decked out in a keffieh, with molotov cocktails on hand.
This cartoon by Mostafa Houssien, grand poobah of the Society of Egyptian Caricature, appears in today’s Al-Akhbar.
The top label reads ”Demonstrations,” referring to the new presidential decree prohibiting public protest. It has been met by—you guessed it—protests.
Houssien suggests that all young people protesting the government and its ban on protest are doing so at the service of the Muslim Brotherhood (the man in the mirror). They have blood on their hands.
Of course, mirrors play tricks—images in them are never what they seem. Given that Houssien frequently employs reflections, notably this famous Sissi/Nasser mirror-play, I must explore the meaning of the looking glass. It’s a tool illustrators frequently employ to connect dissimilar items.
"Made in Egypt"
"Faces and Features," a recent exhibit hosted by Egypt’s Caricature Society and the Indian Cultural Center in Cairo, was an elite affair. The Indian ambassador honored Ahmed Toughan, the octogenarian leader of the official cartoon clique, standing before his illustration of Nasser and Nehru from the non-alignment days. There were portraits of Gandhi, Taha Hussein, Omar Sharief and other folkloric heroes. But none of the faces captured the scenes that a Cairene sees while sauntering down the street, between cups of tea.
Here is an actual gallery of Cairo’s faces. The portraits above appear on the back page of Tok Tok, the thrice-annual zine of Cairo’s agitating illustrati. The tea waiter, the tailor, the shopper—the real deal, with handy guides to surprises in their pockets, dining trays, and shopping carts.
Tok Tok publishes ”real life comics,” as my friend Thalia Beaty writes on Muftah. I’m writing a profile of the magazine for the upcoming Cairo Review, so I won’t give away too many juicy details. Between the response from critics—including M. Lynx Qualey, Jenifer Evans, Negar Azimi, and Megan Detrie—it’s not a stretch to say that Tok Tok is the vanguard, the new Golden Age of Egyptian cartooning.
"So Can I Pretend to Protest?!"
Probably not, according to a new law that effectively bans public demonstrations in Egypt.
The only way to protest the law—as cartoonist Makhlouf has done—is to draw about it.
Here is background on the dangerous legislation, via Mada Masr:
The law, passed on Sunday, requires citizens to give the Interior Ministry three days’ notice before holding public meetings and electoral gatherings. Organizers must provide the place, time and reason for the proposed event, and name organizers.
The law also empowers the ministry to prevent a gathering from happening if it receives information that the protest could disturb public order. The ministry can also determine how close a protest can be held to military and security establishments, parliament, embassies, hospitals and other sites.
Prison sentences of up to seven years and fines up to LE300,000 may be imposed on protesters judged to have violated the law. This includes the broadly defined offense of disturbing public order.
Peaceful demonstrators tested the law yesterday:
Protesters carried placards condemning the military trials of civilians in the new draft constitution, an article that was approved by the committee of 50, responsible for drafting the constitution, earlier in the week. They also chanted slogans against the use of violence against peaceful demonstrators.
Only minutes after the protest began, a police officer announced by loudspeaker that the protest would be dispersed within four minutes. Some protesters moved towards the police line while others attempted to move away. Police officers then stopped traffic on the street and fired water cannons at the protesters while riot police attacked with rubber truncheons.
Watch Mosireen’s video of the violent dispersal of the nonviolent protesters.
And here is cartoonist Anwar’s “description of the new protest law.”
"Future of the City," the new issue of the Cairo Review, is now online. We travel from Chongqing to Cairo, in search of innovative ideas to improve megacities.
With urbanism on the brain, I stumbled upon some illustrations by Mohammed Shennawy, one of the creators of Tok Tok. He captures the richness of Cairo’s cityscapes, the competition between pedestrians, bikes, and cars for the roads.
What’s the deal with Cairo traffic? Can it be fixed?
Urbanist Mohamed Elshahed offers a prescription:
The first response to Cairo traffic is fixing the sidewalks—not even the highways or the roads. Because this is a city where 84 or 85 percent of the population doesn’t own cars. A lot of the trips can be done on foot if people can have a safe and wide sidewalk. But they end up taking a microbus, or a taxi, or a car or whatever, simply because they can’t walk the ten minutes because the sidewalks are in such horrible shape. I know that it looks like a lot of cars, but if it is a city of twenty million people, if there are five million cars then that’s enough to clog up the whole thing. The five million cars include company cars, buses, city buses, microbuses, and private cars. I think focusing on pedestrians and public transport will do a lot. One of the proposals that is almost always put forth, but never actually implemented, is to put more public buses on the roads. The number of buses in Cairo is so low per one thousand persons, compared to other cities like Bangkok for example, or Sao Paolo. We certainly need more public buses.
"With Respect to the Military Censor"
Tawfik, illustrator for the Egyptian comic zine Tok Tok and occasional Al-Shorouk contributor, posted this on Facebook yesterday. It’s a bold cartoon, and I don’t have much commentary to add.
The topic of censorship demands a long-form treatment, so let me continue investigating before running my mouth. As I wrote in September,
Since the military overthrow of Morsi in July 2013, familiar restrictions have surfaced. In comparison to Morsi, who preferred “clumsy litigation” and “tacitly approving” anti-media campaigns as his primary means of censoring, journalist Sarah Carr has noted the reemergence of more repressive tactics to silence reporters. The current junta is coercing journalists to follow the official script. The crime of lampooning the president endures, even as the government has removed jail terms for “insulting the president.” Meanwhile, Egyptians await a new constitution, which may expand or erase these restrictions on speech. The limits are as gray as ever.
Today is the second anniversary of the Mohamed Mahmoud Street clashes. In Mada Masr, Mohamad Adam reflects on the street and its “revolutionary romance.”
The Mohamed Mahmoud protests were the first of their kind during the revolution. The people came out against the two most important camps in the history of the Egyptian state: the military and the Muslim Brotherhood. At the same time, the protesters were challenging the state’s security arm, the Interior Ministry.
While there is uncertainty about how the events started, the incident that really provoked people’s anger was the attack by the army and security bodies on a small number of protesters, no more than 100, who had set up camp in Tahrir Square about a week before the clashes…
The history of this day will remain terrifying for the military and the Interior Ministry. It will also remain a mark of shame that pursues the Brotherhood. Its memory will remain the seed of a movement that refuses the fascism of both camps, as well as state oppression. The question remains: when will democratic powers translate their activism into a message that reaches the street and initiates a movement of a different kind?
In an attempt to reconfigure the day’s meeting, the “interim government” hastily constructed an “interim monument,” pictured in the above cartoon. Protests have since kicked off. The stunted obelisk has already been defaced by revolutionaries.
Illustrator Mohamed El Hagrasy responds by penning a satirical advertisement for the memorial: "Remembering Mohamed Mahmoud (Brought to you by the Interior Ministry)."
The officer says to the young rabble-rouser, "God rest their souls. Killing them was dead easy."
El Hagrasy submitted the cartoon to the independent Shorouk newspaper; let’s check tomorrow to see if it’s printed.
Of course Mohamed Mahmoud Street already had a memorial, many memorials—walls upon walls covered in anti-military graffiti, including remembrances for the martyrs lost in clashes. This graffiti is by definition ephemeral, an ongoing interim monument. The latest iteration: pink camouflage. Who knows what color it might be tomorrow.
As Mohamed Elshahed, aka CairObserver, wrote in April 2011, “The rush to erect a monument to mark the revolution and the martyrs in Tahrir Square is an insult to those who gave their lives for a new Egypt.”
His takeaway is one that bears repeating today:
No great monument in history was created so hastily after the events it marks. Great monuments that last hundreds of years are telling not only of great events but also of the systems of urban planning from which they emerge. And so I propose creating our Tahrir monument from the bottom, by restructuring the system that manages our city and the institutions that make great cities what they are. Only then will a meaningful monument be erected in Tahrir.
In Search of the City
As we put to bed the Fall issue of the Cairo Review—a special report on cities—I haven’t had time to scour through the Egyptian press for cartoons.
In the meantime, here are some postcards I illustrated for the CairObserver, a blog on urban Egypt.
Back to you soon with more cartoons—and city stories from our forthcoming issue.
Last week, all eyes were glued to President Mohamed Morsi’s trial, though only a segment of the proceedings aired on state TV, without sound. Nearly every political cartoon made a crack about the ousted Islamist. The image of Morsi in a courtroom cage was ubiquitous—but none of the jokes were all that memorable.
Making fun of Morsi while he was in power led to some amusing punchlines (see some of my favorites here and here). Since then, the state has decimated the Muslim Brotherhood and incarcerated Morsi. As unelected authorities make policy, making fun of the underdog isn’t that funny.
That’s why I was drawn to this cartoon by Nagah Ahmed and Ibrahim Ahmed in Al-Tahrir. They depict Mubarak on the throne, then in jail; ditto Morsi. But the message has more to do with how authority corrupts rather than the personalities in question.
The throne itself is the menace: "You want a piece of me?"
Morsi’s abuse of power aside, there is much to be said about the institution of the presidency in Egypt: what is it about the throne that encourages leaders to overreach? Or put another way, why is a throne used to represent an elected office? In the U.S., the Oval Office is a frequently employed metaphor for the executive, but scarcely have I seen presidential power depicted as a throne (even amid the NSA revelations).
Also, in the cartoon above, note how Mubarak looks rough and tough on the throne but enfeebled in the cage. In contrast, Morsi looks rather weak in both scenes.
Why has one man been photoshopped so many times? The man in question is Sami Al-Anan, a general whom Morsi dismissed in August 2012.
Al-Anan has since resurfaced as a presumptive presidential candidate, though the date of elections remains well in the horizon. Al-Watan, one of Egypt’s least reliable papers, claimed that Anan is running for the presidency, though he’s denied the allegation.
According to Middle East Monitor, “Egypt’s armed forces issued a statement warning Egyptians not to be confused by Anan’s efforts or to allow them to impact the armed forces safety and the national security at such a sensitive time.” That hasn’t stopped the buzz: there is a serious Facebook page supporting his nomination, and satirical ones, too.
So what accounts for the delicious internet meme?
First of all, we know that memes catch on like wild fire in Cairo. With basic Photoshop skills, everyone’s little brother is a political cartoonist. (One Facebook page has over 30 staff members—imagine how much photoshopping they can get done in a single day!)
Second, I imagine that Al-Anan’s role as a senior member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has made him a compelling target. Making a Facebook meme of the country’s more popular and powerful generals is a taboo at the moment, but someone like Anan a relatively easy fall guy.
And finally, the photo of him reading the newspaper is too perfect. It evokes the subtlety of a presumptive candidate sneaking into the race from the margins.
For further background, Kristin Deasy reported on Al-Anan last year:
The 63-year-old, whose background is in military air defense, was appointed second in command of the army following the ousting of former President Hosni Mubarak by popular protest last year…
With Anan’s resignation [in August 2012], the United States’ military lost a “favorite,” according to the New York Times, describing him as “a crucial link for the United States as it navigates the rocky course ahead with Cairo.”
He is someone to watch as the presidential election heats up. Or more likely, he’ll be reading a newspaper in the corner of a cafe, watching you.
What next for Bassem Youssef? I spoke to PRI’s the World yesterday about how the Egyptian comedian angered everyone with his season premiere.
And here’s a great cartoon that appeared in yesterday’s Al-Shorouk by Mostafa Salem:
"I’m very very anxious."
"No, Bassem Youssef."
Tawfik drew this for the independent Shorouk on September 2. I’m posting it now in response to Secretary of State John Kerry’s public remarks in Cairo on Sunday. He uttered the word “roadmap” no less than seven times during his brief press availability. (Kerry is looking forward to the “road ahead,” too.)
What does that roadmap entail exactly? Tawfik draws it as a labyrinth. Note that the man entering the maze is shoeless, his clothes tattered. Also the maze’s endpoint doesn’t exactly have roses and a celebratory cake.
Tawfik is a harsh critic of the regime and has published stinging anti-military cartoons on Facebook—not in print. He also draws for Tok Tok, Egypt’s finest comic zine.
His cartoon raises big questions about the General Command of the Egyptian Armed Forces’s July 8 statement. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights calls it a "roadmap to crisis," in part because it lacks “a consensual plan that can be a subject of serious political discussion regarding its course of action and goals.” The road to democracy lacks a vigorous debate about the future of the republic.
For envoys and spokespeople, the word “roadmap,” is a helpful buzzword—calling the current situation a “democratic transition” is a mouthful. (Indeed Kerry also said “transition” six times and “democracy” nine times). Of course what America’s top diplomat didn’t say was anything about deposed President Muhamad Morsi, held incommunicado since July. The absence of any mention of his trial, slated to begin a day after Kerry’s stopover, is glaring.
Washington—if you’re listening—can I ask you a favor? Please cut “roadmap” from your talking points. Unless you can articulate what that roadmap is, even if it’s a labyrinth, then the word means nothing.
Here’s a round-up of reactions from Egyptian cartoonists to CBC’s cancellation of The Program, Bassem Youssef’s weekly political satire show. Dozens demonstrated outside of Radio Theater when his show was filmed on Wednesday evening. That episode never aired. Liam Stack reports:
…CBC’s board of directors decided to suspend the program after discovering that Friday’s episode, which was prerecorded, contained content that violated an agreement made by network executives, Mr. Youssef and his producers. The statement said Mr. Youssef would remain off the air while CBC “solved the technical and administrative problems specific to the program.”
CBC’s statements failed to mention that Bassem had played with fire in this season’s premiere. He angered supporters of the military by joshing about “Sissi-mania,” though many critiqued the humorist for not going far enough.
To cartoonists across the spectrum, something smells fishy. Andeel notes the establishment’s fear of humor; El Hegrasi gives Bassem a funny face; Mohamed Sabry singles out the regime for Bassem’s censorship.
Barbatoze drives home the point that laughing at Morsi is appropriate, but to most citizens the military is off-limits.
Mustafa Hussein, who draws for the widely circulated, semi-official Al-Akhbar, dresses down Bassem. “The people,” were pleased with his Morsi jokes. Insulting the junta, however, is “bad luck.”
Amro Selim’s cartoon for Al-Shorouk blames CBC, the station that pulled The Program. A volunteer (or a drummer for the new government), says, "It’s not enough to stop Bassem Youssef’s Program. I think you should also change the channel’s logo. How does that sound??"
Selim told me earlier this year: “The second Bassem says something, Egyptians laugh.” For more, here’s my profile of Bassem at Salon.
Mohamed El Hagrasy captures a scene many Cairenes are familiar with: clashes on the Qasr El-Nil Bridge, which links downtown to Giza. A salesman screams ‘simit,’ peddling the Egyptian equivalent of a bagel, amid a pitched battle between riot police and hooligans.
A cartoonist for the independent Shorouknewspaper, El Hagrasy has been posting vivid illustrations of daily life on his new Facebook page, Hagrasian Chronicles. Pop culture icons find their way into his cityscapes: Goofy smokes a shisha; a snake charmer joins the Avengers.
'Like' his page on Facebook for drawings of Cairo at its most cartoonish.