In Egypt, “Every joke is a tiny revolution”

Egyptians have always been known for their sense of humor across the Arab world. From our movies to our witty theatre, to the new emerging stand up comedians, to the ongoing jokes that are circulated all over Egypt, we are known for managing to turn pretty much everything, including our revolution, into a witty joke.

Some could see jokes coming up during a time of crisis like the January 25th revolution as disrespectful, or even shallow, but actually humor is so stemmed in our culture as Egyptians, that we use it as a way to express our feelings, raise awareness, disseminate information and have a giggle on current events. Even if consciously this is not necessarily the objective when one comes up with a joke or shares it.

Walking through Tahrir Square, one can’t help but smile and even occasionally laugh out loud at the signs many Egyptians would make. It would be challenging to translate these jokes here, since most of them stem from our culture and sayings. I can tell you however, that the night Mubarak stepped down the first text message I got said “After the ‘Friday of Victory’ in Tunisia, and the ‘Friday of departure’ in Egypt, Gaddafi decided to cancel Fridays in Libya”. You get the gist I guess.

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Another joke that became quite popular was “The man behind Omar Suleiman” since when Mubarak stepped down, his newly appointed vice president was the one who delivered the news in a thirty second speech, and for some reason a man was standing behind him. Jokes related to this man was all Egyptians could talk about for a few days after that, most jokes relating to the current events. As an example, Egyptian state media, was very biased towards the government in its reporting. They were hardly reporting about the protests. On January 26ht, El Ahram Newspaper, the state newspaper had its main story of the struggles in Lebanon, and when discussing what happened on ‘National Police Day’ which was chosen as the day of protests because the Egyptian Police are famous for their corruption, brutality and torture of people they detain, showed a photo of kids giving flowers to Police and thanking them for their efforts. Egyptian TV was failing to deliver accurate information about the protests taking place all over the country, and was focusing on how there are theives and looters attacking businesses and houses, how former president Mubarak hired a new government and the initiatives they were taking and about how if the protests don’t stop we will hit economical crisis and live in danger and chaos. When the pro-Mubarak protests started, even though they were a few hundred people (and most of them paid or hired) state media was portraying it as if they were as many as the people demonstrating to bring down the regime. When the thugs were attacking protesters in Tahrir Square, Egyptian state media made it seem like there was a civil war going on to give the impression to the people watching from their homes that the country was breaking into a war and that only the government could save it. The state media has been criticised endlessly, and were even forced to change their agenda and start reporting on the protests happening. Till now most average Egyptians, even after Mubarak stepping down, are having a hard time trusting any media coming from the government. One of the jokes that came up about the man behind Omar Suleiman was “Egyptian TV denies that there is a man standing behind Omar Suleiman”.

Ever since the “Friday of Anger” which was on January 28th, when the Egyptian government shut down the internet and mobile phone lines, the Egyptians took the streets all over the country. As the protesters took the streets yelling they wanted the regime to be dissolved and saying over and over again that this was a peaceful protest, they were attacked with expired tear gas, illegal rubber bullets, and live ammunition. Hundreds died and thousands were wounded, some of them with deadly injuries up till now. At the end of this day, there was a presidential decree, that the Central Security Forces, the ones responsible for “calming down” protests to retreat and the Army to take the streets. That night the entire police force was off the streets for the next two days. This led to many lootings of businesses, burning of official buildings and police stations, and most famously the Egyptian museum. There is still a trust issue between the Police force and the public up till now, which the ministry of interior is trying to fix, but so far the public does not seem to be responding since they are not seeing many actions of prosecuting the people responsible for all this violence besides the ex-minister. Every friday after this one had a name, and there was an ongoing joke by the third Friday (the one Mubarak actually stepped down in) that it would be called “**** don’t you get it? Friday”.

Egyptians will continue to make jokes, and if anything this revolution sparked inspiration for political comedy that had been less mainstream in the past due to immense fear from the government. One of the many barriers that were broken when we took the streets on January 25th and changed our country and the world forever.

As George Orwell once said, “Every joke is a tiny revolution”.


* This post was published in Argentinian newspaper Reporte Global on Feburary 23rd 2011

* To illustrate on Egyptian sense of humor in the revolution here is a great report on BBC Arabic


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