Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Egyptian Cartoonists Divided

Bob Mankoff in The New Yorker.

Valérie Châr-Aux-Boeufs and King Tucky, Facebook, July 4, 2013

The cartoonists of Egypt have been as divided as the rest of the country about the military’s removal of President Mohamed Morsi from power on July 3rd.

Until recently, cartoonists at independent newspapers were not shy in depicting the excesses of the military; Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood appeared as bumblers. In the past week, though, they have been supporting the military, which has arrested dozens of Islamists, with images of Brotherhood cadres armed to the teeth, defying military authority and inciting violence.

To take one example: in January, 2013, the Al-Masry Al-Youm cartoonist Doaa El-Adl drew Morsi at a podium alongside a blank speech bubble that dwarfed him in size. This week, El-Adl repurposed the same cartoon—with the speech bubble packed with firearms and a grenade.

The cartoonist Shafik Salah said by phone that editors at Freedom and Justice, the daily newspaper of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party, “aren’t in prison, but they don’t have a place” to work—the offices were shut down by the military. The paper has shrunk from fourteen to eight pages, and editors are also recycling cartoons. In one of Salah’s cartoons from April, republished this week, a white bird (labelled “the revolution”) pops a hole in Mubarak’s floating device, marked “the counterrevolution.” In a cartoon by Hazem Wahba—published twice this week—a mustached man says, to his two bearded friends, “Hold out and be strong, brothers. I swear that victory is soon, and don’t be sad. God is with us.” In the upper corner of every page of the paper, the words “The Legitimate President” are printed.

Freedom and Justice isn’t widely available anymore. When I asked a news vendor for a copy on July 2nd, as the military countdown ticked, he laughed and replied, “It’s not here and it’s not coming. Ever again.” The state-owned publisher refused to print the July 4th edition.

Whatever their position on the new government, cartoonists are acutely aware of the possibility of military censorship. In the period before Morsi’s election, at least three artists told me that they received personal phone calls from military officers telling them to tone down their work. “The claim was that such a cartoon hurts the military council and affects their performance,” Amro Talaat, the head of caricatures at Al-Tahrir newspaper, an opposition daily, told me in May. The military “is sensitive toward cartoons, as it is more effective. You may attack them in an article, but not in a cartoon.”

What follows are seven cartoons and a Facebook meme (shown above) that provide a broad picture of how Egyptians see the military’s power play.

Andeel, Al-Masry Al-Youm, July 8, 2013

Officer: “I am killing him because he’s a terrorist.” Bearded man: “I am a terrorist because he is killing me.” The cartoonist, Andeel, depicts the viciousness on both sides of Egypt’s fault line. He plays on the stereotypes being employed by politicians and artists, all the more so since the shootings at the Republican Guard headquarters on Monday, in which the military fired upon rows of Morsi supporters at a sit-in, according to eyewitnessesWendell Steavenson has noted that there were reports of gunfire on both sides. But the violence was asymmetrical, with the Army doing most of the shooting by far. Fifty-one demonstrators, a single member of the military and two policemen were killed—one perhaps by the Army, the Times reported.

Amr Talaat, Al-Tahrir, July 7, 2013

The woman asks, “Where to, Mikhemar?” The bearded man, a caricature of an Islamist holding a Molotov cocktail and rifle, replies, “To explode the country. Will keep you posted.” This strip, entitled “Simple”—an insult directed at Islamists—is intended to depict the Muslim Brothers as violent. The man’s name, Mikhemar, is a traditional Upper Egyptian name—it’s meant to exhibit the provincialism of Islamists. In the latest outbreak of street violence, both Morsi’s supporters and opponents have fallen victim.

Shafik Salah, Freedom and Justice, July 5, 2013

“Happy, boss?!” says the unidentified thug to former President Hosni Mubarak, who is shown behind bars. Throughout the past year, Muslim Brotherhood media has depicted dissent against Morsi as driven by remnants of the Mubarak regime. Even now, the Brothers remain defiant. Every day this week, its Freedom and Justice newspaper has featured a full-page portrait of Morsi, waving proudly, with the large caption “The Legitimate President.” In the upper-left corner is a photo of the artist, Shafik Salah, a common practice in Egyptian newspapers.

Doaa El-Adl, Al-Masry Al-Youm, July 4, 2013

“The Final Speech.” In a national address on July 2nd, Morsi claimed that he would hold onto power even “if the price of upholding this legitimacy is my own blood.” Cartoonists like El-Adl—and much of the nation—interpreted this as the Brotherhood’s call to war. This week, following Morsi’s ouster, her cartoons have been celebratory. Corresponding with me on Facebook, she emphasized that she believes the military’s action was “not a coup” but a “revolution.”

Makhlouf, Al-Masry Al-Youm, July 7, 2013

“We are defending democracy… you infidels!!” Just as the Brotherhood dismisses anti-Morsi sentiment as a Mubarak conspiracy, cartoonists on the other side are depicting the Muslim Brotherhood as rampaging fundamentalists. “The aim here is to dehumanize and deny agency, much in the same way the Muslim Brotherhood dismiss their opponents as kuffar (infidels),” Sarah Carr, a British-Egyptian journalist, explained in an article for Mada Masr, an independent online newspaper in Cairo.

Amr Okasha, Al-Wafd, July 7, 2013

The title here reads “Without Comment,” but the cartoon itself, by Amr Okasha, the assistant managing editor of the daily newspaper of the liberal nationalist Wafd party, asserts full support for the military’s expulsion of Morsi. That the uniformed man is saluting a citizen underlines the fact that many Egyptians see the past week’s events as a popular uprising, supported by the military.

Tawfik, Facebook, July 8, 2013

“Thank you, youths. We will not come to you,” says the wolf in military attire. The protesters, depicted as googly-eyed naïfs, brandish signs of the Rebel movement, which launched the initial demonstrations against Morsi on June 30th. The cartoon is labelled “Massacre of the Republican Guard”; that, and the blood on the wolf’s uniform, refer to the attack on Morsi supporters outside the Guard’s headquarters on Monday.

Tawfik is an illustrator for the independent Al-Shorouk newspaper, but this cartoon did not appear in print, likely because of its provocative depiction of the military. During the military’s rule in 2011-2012, editors at independent newspapers, under pressure from officers, typically withheld cartoons that were forthrightly anti-military. But in cyberspace, there are no red lines for cartoonists.

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