By Michelle Brooks
As the dust begins to settle in Cairo the people of Egypt are jubilant at the success of their 18 day revolution in effecting regime change and toppling the government led by Hosni Mubarak for 3 decades. Now, as they prepare to play the long game waiting for free elections in September, the people, the revolutionary council and the ruling military must walk the tightrope of civic peace. Throughout the peaceful protests, distinctly multicultural and bursting with references to gender equality, poverty, religion, state-led violence and political freedom the activists displayed visual representations of the state through the lens of the working classes. Why do I mention this? Amidst the macro-scale geopolitik at play and the roar of the oppressed and unheard there is also subtle resistance at work here. The use of imagery on banners and placards and voices on facebook became the ‘weapons of the weak’ (Hammett 2010:6) , weapons that became available in the face of unequal access to public resources, corrupted state-owned t.v./radio/newspapers. The script and symbolism in the banners, facebook pages and tweets began the process of self-assertion of nation and in the interim, this meant a disconnect with the previous regime. It is a media that can reach beyond borders and through societal strata, one that the ageing clunky oppressor was ill-equipped to outrun. Increasingly there is a call for a more critical reading of the role of visual metaphors in the construction of ‘nation’ and the sentiment behind national identities (Dittmer 2005:628). In the image below, the use of comic book imagery is clearly anything but innocent or child-like, indeed it is a powerful and effective political tool in it’s cause of freedom from tyranny.
Throughout the protests, the activists have repeatedly expressed their unity, Christians protecting Muslims as they prayed from pro-Mubarak forces and clearly chanting ‘Egypt for the Egyptians’. There are many accounts of people watching events unfold around the world on T.V.’s, computers and listening to radios choked by the solidarity of this multicultural society overcoming everyday, that which so often divides and disables cohesion in the western world.
Indeed there is no doubt that these events have been an outstanding victory for the people of Egypt, for human dignity in the Arab world and for freedom of expression more widely. However, in time the ousting of the autocratic leader may prove to have been the easy part. The vision of Egypt as portrayed by the government was one of submission and secularism, there was no room for dissent or protest and public displays of religiosity were banned, all under the state of emergency since 1981 (but periodically dating back to 1967). With two thirds of the nation under the age of 30 for many this is the only Egypt in living memory, an Egypt ruled by a military government whose hand reaches into every area of governance, commerce (from petroleum to bakeries), media and education. It is difficult therefore to imagine the magnitude of the economic and political loss in status to the military if it is replaced by a civic democratic system of governance based on merit and a public mandate. Whilst these concerns are bound to dominate in future months, we will remember for some time, the courage of the Egyptian people, oppressed and thwarted for too long, circling in squares and squaring the circle.
Hammett, D. (2010) ‘Resistance, Power and Geopolitics in Zimbabwe’ Area no. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2010.00980.x (early view) [online] available from: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1475-4762.2010.00980.x/abstract
Dittmer, J. (2005) ‘Captain America’s Empire: Reflections on Identity, Popular Culture, and Post-9/11 Geopolitics’ Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 95: pp626–643 [online] available from: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8306.2005.00478.x/abstract
Read about Egypt protests on Al Jazeera [online] available from: http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/