Graphic Novels and Comic Books in Post-Revolutionary Egypt: Some Remarks

in La rivista di Arablit, a. V, n. 9-10, dicembre 2015, pp. 23-37.

The Egyptians are well known for having a propensity for irony and sarcasm, and, indeed, it is no accident that they are also known as awlād al-nuktah (children of jokes). But Egyptian humour, displayed in magazines, comics and popular stories, is never without significance. It offers an important occasion for reflection and criticism. It comes to create through irony a moment of sympathy amongst people afflicted by the same sufferings. Humour takes on almost a therapeutic function. This accounts for the abundance of jokes circulating after periods of crisis, and it is in this sense that al-nuktah (intended as a time for irony) is an indicator of the ḥālah (situation) of the country. An Arab saying goes, more or less, like this: “Situations of great suffering call for laughter”. Thus, irony seems to be the psychological unlocking of repressed anxieties. It makes it possible to exploit whatever amount of ridicule there is in the enemy that is the object of humour. But humour can never become a remedy. It is an ephemeral escape from a no way out situation. In the conviction that revolutions, very much like irony, speak the language of the people, i.e. ‘āmmiyyah, we believe that the Egyptian riots which began on January 25th, 2011 are no exception. In this sense, “Tūk Tūk”, the comic by Muḥammad al-Šinnāwī, certainly stands out amid other satiric publications. Issued every three months, it was first published on January 9th, 2011, precisely on the eve of the Egyptian uprising. Does this publication confirm the theory, already advanced on other occasions, that movements immediately preceding or following popular riots are characterised by a proliferation of publications in dialect and with ironic overtones? Could “Tūk Tūk” represent a display of the fears of common people, like some of the satirical magazines that were published in the late 19th and early 20th century? Does “Tūk Tūk” reflect a new perception of reality surrounding Egypt’s less privileged social classes?

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Francesco De Angelis | Arabic Language and Literature Researcher, Language Mediation and Intercultural Communication Department, University of Milan.