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Translating Egypt's RevolutionThe Language of Tahrir (A Tahrir Studies Edition)$

Samia Mehrez

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9789774165337

Published to Cairo Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.5743/cairo/9789774165337.001.0001

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Signs and Signifiers: Visual Translations of Revolt

Signs and Signifiers: Visual Translations of Revolt

Chapter:
(p.103) 3 Signs and Signifiers: Visual Translations of Revolt
Source:
Translating Egypt's Revolution
Author(s):

Lewis Sanders IV

Publisher:
American University in Cairo Press
DOI:10.5743/cairo/9789774165337.003.0004

Abstract and Keywords

Reads and translates the throng of revolutionary banners and signs whose visual immediacy both established the demands of protesters and responded to the emerging political discourse as it unfolded thereby becoming, in and of themselves, a translation of the awakening of public consciousness and a remarkable and fearless articulation of the right to language. The authors trace how these visual public signs inscribed a narrative of resistance that drew on various symbols and layers of historical, cultural, and political memory to write the story of a people in revolt. As the authors correctly point out, “a palpable sense of guilt, responsibility and complicity underwrote many of these banners, drawing on a collective memory of censorship and participation in silence, and paving the way for a new moral economy.” Through a translation of the unprecedented politics of display in Tahrir that combined humor, satire, and creative energy, the authors show how Egyptians used their individual and collective bodies as canvases to represent the demands of the revolution, to dismantle and expose a history of empire and global complicities, and to celebrate solidarities, exceptional valor, and enormously tragic sacrifice.

Keywords:   Humor and satire, Revolution banners and signs, Political translation, Intertextuality, Roland Barthes, Censorship, Martyrs, Cultural memory, The people's ownership of Tahrir

Beginning on January 25, 2011, thousands of ordinary Egyptians occupied Tahrir Square, in downtown Cairo, marking the beginning of the initial eighteen-day countrywide revolt that resulted in the successful removal of former President Hosni Mubarak. They have returned to Tahrir on several occasions since, demanding an end to injustice and corruption, and an opportunity to participate in the rebuilding of a democratic nation. The uprising unleashed a seemingly endless array of banners and signs, many of which were long, elaborate, and constantly changing. This awakening of individual and collective spirit—a rebirth of public consciousness—was reflected on countless banners. Egyptians articulated in written form extended expressions of what could only previously be spoken, thought, or felt. This was notably conducted in a distinctly visual and visible manner, as protesters proudly presented themselves to photographers—journalists and others alike—to be recorded. The signs featured and translated in this chapter are mainly from Midan al-Tahrir. This is not to suggest that the midan was wholly representative of the revolution; rather, Tahrir became a magnet for creative expression due to its occupation by protesters over extended periods of time. Furthermore, our selection of images is by no means an attempt to outline a chronology of the revolution, which, at the time this chapter is being written, is still ongoing.

International media, such as the UK Telegraph's feature,1 have focused on signs in English, and there are now several books and websites that have translated signs for the English reader.2 We are not seeking to merely add to this body of work, but to engage the material on a deeper level. Given that the signs historicize events in such a unique way, our translation (p.104) of these banners, and their respective referential worlds, engages and excavates the discursive significations of the uprising within its social context. The banners were themselves a translation of the demands and desires of revolution, in that they constructed a narrative of resistance that drew on various signs and symbols to articulate the story of a people in revolt: their history, their present, and their will to change the future.

Generally, the role of the protest sign is to articulate the demands of the individual holding it. However, the ways in which Egyptians also used these tools as a means of responding to and challenging dominant narratives, relating to one another and galvanizing support, reflected conscious participation in a specific culture of resistance.3 Many signs functioned as organizational tools. They enabled protesters to communicate with one another, and made the aims of the revolution an ever-present, explicit call to action. This played a role in preserving the internal coherence of the uprising, as well as allowing for diverse, individual interests to be expressed. The dualism was complementary. On the one hand, the signs were wholly about self-expression and an outpouring of emotion: rage, hope, pride, desire, and grief. On the other hand, they functioned as a communication tool within Egypt and to the outside world, as well as a means of organization and motivation within the mass of voices.

Tahrir was not only a stronghold for those that occupied it throughout the uprising; it became a home for those who would return daily to take part in protests. The sense of collective energy in the midan was incredible. There was no hierarchy among protesters, and lateral connections between people required a significant degree of organization. On several occasions a contribution box was passed around for people to give donations. Those needing money for food, blankets, medicines, or even cigarettes were encouraged to take from it. A free clinic, school, hospital, open-air kitchen, and other services were set up and run cooperatively in a remarkable display of burgeoning participatory democracy. This is not to suggest that Tahrir was a new or shocking spectacle of nonviolent resistance and mutual aid; rather, it was the natural expansion of decades of survival through a culture of cooperative resistance, akin to the subversive appropriation of the outskirts of districts by rural migrant communities. The outworking of this concept in Tahrir enabled many protesters to return daily, or to remain in the midan, for the duration of the eighteen days, providing them with the space to create these unique displays of visual civil resistance.

(p.105) Translation as Revolution

For many around the world who followed the Egyptian Revolution on TV or online, visual images and signs enabled them to ‘watch’ events as they unfolded. Protesters seemed to possess a conscious understanding they were on display to a wider audience. This is especially true in the case of signs in multiple languages, as well as the urging of foreigners to “tell people what you've seen.” However, this newfound ‘permission to speak’ was no simple task. Who was the readership targeted by these banners: the state, the media? And if so, which media, and why? Which banners spoke to an international audience, and what did they have to say? Which ones focused on protesters, or other Egyptians? In short, how did these banners function to render the Tahrir uprising intelligible in multiple contexts and to various demographics?

As tweets capture a thought or demand in 140 characters or less, so signs were used to put out a concise message, which spread and was often repeated in chants and refrains or on other banners. The signs evolved over time, becoming more elaborate, more demanding, and more humorous in the weeks and months that followed. Initially they seemed to be about individual expression and were addressed to fellow Egyptians and the regime, but as time passed and there was a growing sense of the world's eyes on Tahrir, they increasingly communicated a globally conscious message.

The self-translating nature of this decentralized, spontaneous uprising, networked by social media and televised across the world, naturally implicates its readers. We have therefore consciously situated ourselves as committed political subjects, not as divorced observers or scribes. Our task as translators is to grapple not just with the concrete developments that prompted the daily occurrence of new and diverse banners, but also with the referential world that guided these increasingly creative responses, giving them their own specific character and energy. This requires an honest and comprehensive engagement with everything from the religious and national imagination, to popular culture and patterns of humor. Engaging culture and cultural references is never an easy task, but the complexity of the question is taken ever more seriously by the translator. In postcolonial translation, especially into a dominant language (in this case English), the translator is required to be continually self-critical, in order to avoid a native valorization of the source language.4 Maria Tymoczko developed this concept through her studies of early (p.106) Irish texts in English. In Postcolonial Translation, edited by Susan Bassnett and Harish Trivedi, Tymoczko focuses on texts emerging from colonized or oppressed peoples. She speaks of missing or “silenced” voices and the need to cite translation within specific sociopolitical situations, where several parties have a vested interest in the production of texts. She warns about the temptation to search for an equivalent, or similar phrase in the target language, in order to stress universality and enable the reader to rapidly understand the embedded meaning. She concludes that sometimes it is necessary to maintain the “foreignness” of the source language and highlight differences, in order to more effectively convey layers of cultural, political, religious, and even economic meaning.5 Consequently, in this chapter we have sought to expose and expound upon the referential within the source language, so that these narratives might present to the English-language reader a glimpse into the contemporary moment, within its deeper historical and cultural context.

Between Sign and Signification: Narratives and Counter-narratives

Encountering these texts and translating them, moving between language and discourse, and locating the contours of signification allows us to reflect on both the stakes and possibilities that lie in translation. At a moment when global powers appear willing to absorb resistance, if not through armed intervention as in Libya then through a politics of the intelligible, translation appears inevitable and necessary. This is evident in the global consciousness—both of imperial alliances and global solidarities, addressed later in this chapter—displayed by the revolutionaries themselves, as well as international reactions to the uprising. The revolution was therefore, from the beginning, not just about Egypt, but also about regional geopolitics, the United States, the Muslim world and the western, and multiple similar constructs. As the months following Mubarak's departure have shown, there is nothing stable or universally intelligible about the notions of ‘revolution,’ ‘freedom,’ ̒democracy, ‘change,’ and so on. The experience of translating banners and signs from Midan al-Tahrir is instructive in this regard; by laboring to establish both autonomy and visibility, protesters actively took over the process of translation while simultaneously rendering themselves vulnerable to mis- or distranslation. This tension, between the necessity for localized cultural and emotional economies that draw (p.107) on codified behavior and the desire for global solidarity that trespasses the borders of states, constitutes our very contemporary moment. Our task—both as translators, but also as beings in translation—is to navigate just this space.

Translation has frequently been marginalized as an arbitrary, mechanized action that takes place between two seemingly cohesive languages with clearly demarcated borders. Through the professionalization of translation, categorical distinctions are made between a creative author with perceived monopoly on meaning, and a translator whose task is to find equivalence in the target language.6 In actuality, both writer and reader are involved in their respective modes of translation. Language is not necessarily stable, and texts signify different things in different ways to their writers and readers. It is therefore crucial to note the inherently political act of translation: at the level of selection, contextualization, and commitment. In this way, our subtitle to this section alludes to the multiple layers of signification occasioned by the banners and signs of revolution. They need to be unpacked at multiple levels in order to effectively convey meaning to various audiences.

While images supposedly denote a situation, they are often used to connote a narrative or discourse of events. Roland Barthes, a critical figure in modern semiotics, studied cultural signs and systems from an outsiders' perspective. His work drew on the theory and practice of intertextuality, using discursive practices to challenge established norms. He noted that the way in which signs and pictures persuade their viewers to believe in a concept is through the “rhetoric of the image,” being an ideal medium for ideologies to appear normalized.7 Barthes argues that these “codes of connotation” are culturally understood by people with a shared history and culture, slowing down the process of interpreting the meaning of certain symbolic references to a non-native audience. As Barthes also suggests, the act of photographing and compiling certain images from any event decontextualizes the subject, reinscribing a further narrative of events.8 By individuating these subjects (the protesters) and removing them from the wider context of the midan, they go from being part of collective revolt, to becoming bearers of specific historical narratives, each distinct in its own way. Our attempt to translate these signs and to engage their signification is an attempt to reconstruct a broader narrative, while remaining distinctly loyal to its various subjects.

(p.108) Taking Back the Sign: Censorship and the Egyptian Street

So what did it mean to overcome the fear of speaking, indeed, of writing? And how did this experience transform subjects such that they sensed a rebirth of their collective belonging? Indeed, what was specifically ‘Egyptian’ about breaking the fear barrier? Over the last few decades, Egypt has not only been regularly characterized by alleged mass cultural illiteracy but also by heavy-handed, and occasionally arbitrary, state and street censorship. Richard Jacquemond has written at length about “the very heavy symbolic power attached to the written word, completely blown out of proportion in comparison with its actual social diffusion and erected as the showcase and yardstick of society's ‘fundamental values.’”9 Debates around art were rooted in what Jacquemond describes as a “realist-reformist” paradigm, which denied art any sense of autonomy. Readers were treated as minors in need of cultural gatekeeping, a task attended to by everyone from professors, teachers, journalists, critics, publishers, and official censors to university students, their parents, religious institutions, and workers distributing the material. In its unique instance of biopower,10 the cultural field variously policed itself into the regeneration and protection of a social and moral order in which an entire people were converted into accomplices, informers, and censors. Some writers have sought to radically transform the parameters of their work, doing away with social-realist notions of aesthetic conformity and responsibility, the most notable example of which is Sonallah Ibrahim.11 Such individuals have been regularly adopted as symbolic capital for the state's liberalization, in an attempt to neuter dissidence and hijack autonomy. The state therefore relied partly on the moral economy of a narrow elite and their cultural patronage to delimit what is permissible or not for the written word. The specific position of cultural players vis-à-vis the state was increasingly compromised by both selective state patronage and the arbitrary liberalization of public discourse, as well as a tightening grip on the limits of what could be written, both in literature and in the media. The state cultivated an ever-growing fear of the written word, effected in a myriad of ways: Ibrahim Eissa,12 prominent journalist and political pundit, was repeatedly targeted for actions as minor as commenting on or inquiring about Hosni Mubarak's state of health, while both public and private university professors were regularly intimidated into censoring course content.13

A palpable sense of guilt, responsibility, and complicity underwrote many of these banners, drawing on a collective memory of censorship (p.109) and participation in silence, and paving the way for a new moral economy: that of revolt. Signs pleading “Forgive me” addressed the nation, and later, God. In this way, the written word would go from being the social lab of officials and cultural elites, to becoming a national, even a religious duty. Indeed, it would become the distinct marker of national belonging to have the courage to write: “I used to be afraid. Now I'm Egyptian.” The silence, imposed by the outgoing regime and upheld by society, became rein-scribed in a revolutionary narrative as sacrilege, as sin itself.

The signs themselves were a translation of the political environment as it unfolded, and we must remember that we are translating that translation. For example, the banner above, “I used to be afraid. Now I'm Egyptian,” embodies a history of oppression that needs further explanation for the reader, which is precisely what we attempted to provide through our translation of this history, which lay behind the visible inscribed lines. Indeed, the banner below—“Silence is complicity,” urged fellow Egyptians to do the right thing, maintaining it is a ‘sin’ not to support those who dare to stand against injustice. It stood out because it was written in classical Arabic, and is a common saying used to emphasize the importance of having the courage to tell the truth. In the case of this banner, and considering the elevated language register, the literal translation—‘He who is silent about the truth is a speechless devil,’ maintains the characteristics of the proverbial, and is more in keeping with the notion of equivalence in translation.14 However, this gives the indication of religious overtones. Although the word ‘shaytan,’ or devil, is a word loaded with religious connotations in Islamic culture, this saying is more proverbial than overtly religious. In this case then, and in the context described by Jacquemond as a social diffusion of self-censorship, the translation “Silence is complicity” seems more appropriate.

Signs and Signifiers: Visual Translations of Revolt

“I used to be afraid. Now I'm Egyptian.” Photograph by Karima Khalil

(p.110)
Signs and Signifiers: Visual Translations of Revolt

“Silence is complicity.” Photograph by Laura Gribbon

Egyptians displayed a remarkable recognition of the absolute necessity to speak out, to labor, and to risk their lives in doing so. The image below acknowledges the price of freedom that Egyptians were now willing to play: the price of human life and blood.

Along similar lines, the following picture depicts a young man wrapped in a kafan (shroud), signifying his willingness to die for freedom. The lines on the banner are actually the lyrics of a song about the martyrs who had already given their lives to the revolution. This public display of more bodies prepared in their kafan, and willing to follow in the footsteps of those killed, confirms the demonstrators' genuine understanding that freedom comes at great cost.

Several banners challenged the dominant narratives of Mubarak, the regime, state television, and the international community in a dynamic expression of hope, fear, anger, complaint, celebration, and mourning. Some were subversively humorous, affording protesters the endurance they needed to remain; others posited political positions, or provided (p.111)

Signs and Signifiers: Visual Translations of Revolt

“We're not tired, we're not tired, freedom is not for free.” Photograph by Huda Lutfi

commentary or satire. They were not all celebratory; many acknowledged the past and a sense of loss through martyrdom. We have split the banners and signs into categories to enable the process of discursive translation. The sections that follow cover the demands of the revolution, a history of empire and international relations, solidarity among protesters, and humor and tragedy.

Demands: The Regime and the New Statesmen

The following selection of signs details the claims made to and regarding the state. These were the actual political demands of the revolution. They are perhaps the most obvious and explicit. Many were simple claims that were repeated and became refrains or chants that were taken up by the masses; others were longer and more complex. Here, the state is the addressee, and the protesters are no longer just subjects, but citizen leaders—the ‘new statesmen.’ So, who are the ‘new statesmen and -women’? The subjects of this revolution are a generation of Egyptians responsible for tearing down the wall of fear, protecting their families and homes, and demanding effective citizenship. Most were born under Mubarak's rule, (p.112)

Signs and Signifiers: Visual Translations of Revolt

“If I die, O mother, do not weep; I will die so my country may live.” Photograph by Huda Lutfi

experiencing a collapsing public education system and rising inequalities, as well as witnessing regional and international events, such as the war in Iraq and U.S. support of Israel. As a result, they are more courageous and intolerant of injustice. They have challenged the very notion of the ‘state’ and what it means to be a citizen and to call for government accountability.

When protesters first took to the streets on January 25, the select banners visible called for ‘bread, liberty, and human dignity’ (“̒ish, Huriya, karama insaniya”), already making a distinct and categorical connection between the police state and their decades-long economic dispossession. Bread, a staple food in the Egyptian diet, has long been a source of contention. Used within the context of the revolution it symbolized neoliberal policies and rising inflation, as the Egyptian state has attempted to remove bread subsidies several times in favor of market-based efficiency under international pressure to liberalize the economy, provoking the Bread Riots of 1977. However, the word for bread in the Egyptian colloquial dialect is the same as the word for ‘life’ in classical Arabic, giving (p.113)

Signs and Signifiers: Visual Translations of Revolt

“This is a revolution, not politics; gooooooo.” Photograph by Samia Mehrez

it a double meaning when viewed in this way. Protesters also demanded ‘liberty,’ or freedom, as in: freedom of speech, the right to vote and elect a government or leader, freedom of movement, and freedom of assembly. Heavy restrictions on political discourse had been imposed by the regime; even the mention of Mubarak or his family in publications was heavily monitored, and the president appointed the editors of the three main newspapers—al-Ahram, al-Akhbar, and al-Gumhuriya. All political opposition groups had been banned from official activity, and those whom the state considered to be subversive were heavily monitored and subject to arbitrary detention and routine torture. Demands for ‘justice’ and ‘dignity’ were therefore central to the revolution. The emergency law, extended every three years since 1981, has allowed constitutional rights to be suspended and censorship to be legalized. Under this law, police powers have included regular interrogation, and civilians were denied the right to a fair trial. This hasn't ceased since Mubarak's ousting either. More than ten thousand civilians have been tried in military courts since February 2011, and in August 2011, several prominent activists, including Asmaa Mahfouz and Nawara Negm, were detained, interrogated, and released (p.114) on bail on charges of ‘defamatory insults against the military.’ Presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei tweeted, “Military trials for young activists, while Mubarak & Co. stand before civilian courts, is a legal farce. Don't abort the revolution.”15

By January 28, 2011 (‘Friday of Rage’), demands had evolved to categorically call, at a mass level, for Mubarak's resignation and the downfall of the regime. Tahrir was now definitively occupied by tens of thousands of protesters, sitting in and securing the square in an unprecedented display of persistence. The men captured in the lower image on page 115 are standing on a burned-out vehicle on January 29. They hold a sign that reads, ‘True reform is Mubarak's resignation—Signed, the Egyptian people.’ This sign is a direct response to Mubarak's highly anticipated, delayed first speech, in which he only promised minor reforms and a reshuffling of cabinet ministers, further angering protesters. ‘Reform’ had become a buzzword of the regime, used frequently in relation to structural adjustment policies and corporate legal reform, and signifying an increase in cronyism, privatization, and dispossession. The banner reclaims the word, demanding ‘true reform,’ which it equates with Mubarak's departure. This obviously leads to issues of translation at a global level. What is ‘true reform’? And what are the implications of such change? The international community largely supported peaceful moves toward ‘reform,’ but most foreign governments stopped short of demanding Mubarak's immediate resignation for fear of a power vacuum threatening economic interests and the security of Israel's presence in the region. At the time of writing there have been six months of growing frustration at the pace of reform by Egypt's military junta, accompanied by the harsh realization that the rhetoric of ‘reform’ has been used by the interim government and international community without any substantive changes. It is unlikely that true reform will be initiated by Egypt's comfortable political elites; rather, such change has to come from the street. Clashes with Central Security Forces on June 28 and 29 revealed interim rulers were willing to use the same repressive tactics as Mubarak: state violence, tear gas, intimidation, and bullets, and they predictably blamed the resultant disorder on ‘criminal thugs.’

The Arab world has been undergoing change to varying extents. Amr Moussa, former secretary general of the Arab League, said in an interview on January 30, 2011, “This is the motto now, reform, change, modernization.”16 Yet these changes have meant little for the vast majority of Egyptians and other Arabs, who have experienced growing inequality and (p.115)

Signs and Signifiers: Visual Translations of Revolt

Top: “Bread, liberty, human dignity.” Bottom: “True reform is Mubarak's resignation—signed, the Egyptian people.” Photographs by Laura Gribbon

(p.116)
Signs and Signifiers: Visual Translations of Revolt

“The people demand that you and your corrupt mafia leave” … “Stop passing the buck. The blood of the youth is on you.” Photograph by Laura Gribbon

corruption at the expense of Sadat's so-called ‘pioneering’ modernity. The Egyptian steel and cotton industries have been aggressively privatized into monopolies, and natural gas exports to Israel have cost Egyptian taxpayers nine million dollars a day.17 This surely casts such modernity as a curious myth, presenting a challenge to any translator.

As time went on and Mubarak still didn't leave, there was an increase in signs directed at him personally, imploring him to listen to the people and go. The language of these directives evolved from pleading—“If you love your country, leave”—to exasperation—“Hosni, you germ” … “Get out, you moron” … “Leave, you (bleep!) son of a (bleeeeep!).”18 An example is pictured below; literal translation: (In his left hand) “The people simply demand: the departure of you and your corrupt party, O Abu Alaa.” The other banner reads: “The price of the youth killed by your dogs is your departure, not the departure of a government. Egyptian blood is dear, O Abu Alaa.” Referring to people as ‘Um …’ or ‘Abu …’ (meaning ‘mother of’ and ‘father of’) is a common colloquial manner of (p.117) address. To refer to Mubarak as the ‘father of Alaa’ (Abu Alaa), the elder son, rather than the ‘father of Gamal’ (Abu Gamal), the younger ‘heir-to-be,’ is at once significant and deliberate. It harks back to the sudden death of Alaa Mubarak's twelve-year-old son only a few years earlier, a loss that moved all Egyptians to mourn with the Mubarak family despite their acute dissatisfaction with the regime. Calling Mubarak ‘Abu Alaa’ therefore serves not just to embarrass and incriminate Mubarak, but to remind him as well that all Egyptian blood spilled during the revolution by none other than Mubarak himself should be as dear to him as his own grandson's—that is, that the family of ‘Abu Alaa’ (Mubarak) is the Egyptian people whose lives he should have protected.19

The demand “irHal,” literally translated as ‘leave’ or ‘go’ but possibly more accurately ‘get out,’ became indicative of the eighteen-day uprising in late January and early February 2011. This demand was frequently displayed across the midan, allowing individuals the freedom to embellish it with their own hand-held signs, such as: “Leave … my hand hurts, I have exams to take, I need to work/shave/shower/sleep/give birth.” These one-line claims placed everyday life alongside the severity of the situation, and were indicative of the ways in which the president continued to intercept the mundane details of protester's lives. The reality was that Mubarak had not left, and daily protests were taking their toll on multiple levels.

This explains why millions of protesters cheered and cried tears of relief when news of Mubarak's resignation spread across Tahrir Square. The street celebrations continued for days. Other demands, however, took a little longer: Parliament was dissolved on February 13, 2011, the beginnings of the dismantling of the state security apparatus occurred on March 15, 2011, a provisional constitution was adopted by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) on March 30, 2011, and the National Democratic Party was dissolved on April 16, 2011. Still to be met, at the time of writing in August 2011, are demands for the release and pardon of all political prisoners and the removal of the Emergency Law, along with the completion of Mubarak's trial and those of other key ministers and presidential aides. In the picture on page 119, which outlines these demands, the banner holder identifies himself as a ‘lawyer for Egypt.’ This is significant, as it posits protesters as the arbiters of justice, rather than state-appointed lawyers. Protesters have repeatedly called for the transparent trials of Mubarak and his family, as well as the fair trials of all political prisoners within civilian courts. (p.118)

Signs and Signifiers: Visual Translations of Revolt

“Leave! Shame on you, my arms ache. Signed: Just an Egyptian.” Photograph by Mariam Soliman

Of course the most famous of banners, bearing the chant that would become a popular refrain, was “al-Sha̒b yurid isqat al-nizam.” This demand was used as a prefix in various manifestations over the initial eighteen days and beyond to demand the removal of Mubarak, the cleansing of the regime, the withdrawal of the SCAF from political process, and the removal of Field Marshal Tantawi. The phrase stands out, because it is in Modern Standard Arabic (fusHa), which is uncommon on the streets in Egypt, rather than colloquial. Mirroring the Tunisian Revolution just weeks earlier, this chant would go on to form the core lexicon of uprisings throughout the region. This is significant: what is ‘al-sha̒b’ in a historical context of colonization, monarchies, and military coups? And why ‘al-nizam’? Egyptians have lived under martial law since the 1952 coup. Nasser's populism, as well as a sordid bureaucratic apparatus that mimics the ghost of a welfare state, have been used to legitimize an increasingly corrupt and schizophrenic neoliberal regime, which has been protected financially and militarily by the United States and its allies. The prevailing government was so far removed from (p.119)

Signs and Signifiers: Visual Translations of Revolt

“In the name of a lawyer for Egypt and its great people: First: Mubarak's stepping down from power; Second: The downfall of his government and regime; Third: The dissolution of the Shura Council and Parliament; Fourth: A declaration that the current cabinet is a caretaker one; Fifth: The assurance of pardons for all political prisoners; Sixth: The seizure of all assets and property from the National Democratic Party; Seventh: Constitutional amendments and dissolution of the Emergency Law. Long live free Egypt. Long live the free youth!” Photograph by Samia Mehrez

the needs and aspirations of the majority of Egyptians, a thorough rebirth of the concept of popular, collective will was in order. Indeed, in the months following Hosni Mubarak's departure and institutional reforms, the protest movement has continued to deploy ‘al-sha̒b yurid’ to fight an ongoing battle against cooptation, by counterrevolutionary forces on the one hand and partisan interests on the other. The significance of ‘al-sha̒b’ lies also in the almost sacrosanct and natural reverence of decentralized organizing throughout the revolution. It has been of prime importance for the majority of protesters to maintain a leaderless and non-partisan, non-ideological position, that ‘iradat al-sha̒b’ has been deployed almost as frequently as ‘iradat Allah,’ or the will of God. ‘Al-sha̒b yurid isqat al-nizam’ has been resurrected as a chant and as a banner, to reclaim, indeed to emphasize, the core philosophy of this uprising. It has connotations of collective desire; ‘the people “will” the removal of the regime.’ As Youssef Rakhaa writes, “As far as it exists at all, deprived of the right to gather, decide for itself, fight back, to say, or to be, the people, which in recent memory has only existed (p.120) as an abstraction, has absolutely no will.”20 By taking back the streets, protesters—‘al-sha̒b’—took back their rights, and with that, reappropriated an entire lexicon that had been abused by the regime.

Confronting Empire: Mubarak, History, and Global Alliances

A detailed and critical consciousness of historical tyranny allowed protesters to situate events in Egypt within a selective narrative of historical struggle, stretching back as far as Ancient Rome. Some compared Hosni Mubarak with historical tyrants Hitler and Nero. By association with Hitler, an analogy usually reserved for Israel itself, protesters drew attention not only to Mubarak's fascism and dictatorship, but also to the blood on his hands. Just as Hitler was engaged in mass industrial genocide against the Jews, so Zionists persecuted Palestinians in 1948 and continue to do so today. During his second speech, Mubarak explicitly stated that Egyptians should choose between security under his rule or chaos without him. Indeed, for a large part of January 28, 2011, Cairo

Signs and Signifiers: Visual Translations of Revolt

Al-sha̓b yurid isqat al-nizam.” Photograph by Laura Gribbon

(p.121)
Signs and Signifiers: Visual Translations of Revolt

Top: “Nero is burning Cairo.” Bottom: Mubarak as Hitler. Photographs by Huda Lutfi

(p.122) was literally on fire, as Mubarak looked on and continued to persuade the international community of his role as guardian of stability, insisting that the world must choose between him and chaos. Just as Nero burned Rome and implicated the Christians, Mubarak accused the “Islamists” and “foreign hands” when churches in Alexandria burned in December 2010 and fires were started across the city in January 2011.21 There have also been comparisons drawn with the huge fires of 1952, which burned for more than twelve hours in the commercial heart of Cairo, destroying over seven hundred premises. On both January 25, 1952 and January 28, 2011, large demonstrations took place amid widespread arson and looting, organized prison breaks, and the notable absence of security forces. Although British forces were heavily suspected in 1952, their involvement was never proven, and the propaganda machine then, as today, was extensive. Blame was levied at organized groups of ‘thugs’ from the left and right, who were assumed to be under the direction of either King Farouk, the Muslim Brotherhood (who were banned from Egypt at the time), or Misr al-Fatat (the Egyptian Socialist Party).22 By his refusal to step down, Mubarak set fire to Cairo and its people, wreaking havoc and destruction, turning people against each other, and destroying the very fabric of society.
Signs and Signifiers: Visual Translations of Revolt

“Down with the butcher. Leave, you pig!” Photograph by Laura Gribbon

(p.123) Images of former President Nasser, whom many Egyptians still equate with liberation and freedom, were strangely absent from the discourse, as were direct references to the Egyptian revolutions of 1919 and 1952. Instead they gleaned inspiration from global events, forming a visual dialogue with the past and present, and carving out critical geographies of empire and oppression.

In reference to a more contemporary historical struggle, countless signs addressing imperial alliances between the United States, Mubarak's regime, and Israel punctuated the narrative. Both Mubarak and Omar Suleiman, representatives of a collaborating ruling class, were frequently characterized as ‘umala’, or agents, for the US and Israel. The sign on page 122 reads, ‘Down with the butcher. Leave, you pig,’ and below the picture, ‘Thirty years of injustice.’ This banner operates on several symbolic levels, leading semiotic analysis to address a hierarchy of meaning. Here, Mubarak is depicted as the ‘butcher’ or slaughterer, and is smiling with blood dripping from his mouth. He has the Star of David, signifying Israel, and “USA” written on his face. The symbols, both the picture and text, imply that the blood Mubarak is responsible for is not just that of the martyrs of the revolution, but also the blood of Palestinians. This is particularly significant, given the Israeli plea for the United States and Europe to curb their criticism of Mubarak in a special cable on January 31, 2011, the day before this picture was taken. The history of Israel and Palestine is of course at the heart of Arab memory, but it is also tied to Sadat's initial isolation of the Egyptian people from the wider Arab region, marked by his signing of an unelected peace treaty with Israel, alongside which he declared open-door economic policies (infitaH), which were aggressively pursued under Mubarak with the backing of the United States.

Translating Affect: Solidarity at Home and Abroad

Protest banners and signs are a specific kind of popular literature, typically combining elements of the written with the visual. The kind of quasi-essentialist spatial and temporal economy allotted to the written word in a banner statement is crucial to our engagement and understanding of the language used. Therefore, to read the Egyptian uprising through its visual representations is to engage with a self-translating revolutionary impulse that commands an instantly collective consciousness: a process of becoming, one in which we are all variously involved. For if a moment of revolution is one in which all people are compelled to action, today's (p.124) revolutionaries continue to prove that literary voyeurism is not an option, and the political command of these texts is such that reading in itself becomes participation, foregrounding the translation process.

The immediacy and importance of the banners in Tahrir were translated in the multiple contexts, physical and cultural, that shaped the political moment. The innumerable registers and discursive trajectories that colored these banners attest to the ongoing process of translation that took place both horizontally and vertically. They reflect the constant movement—and mobilization—of the political in the creation of an arresting and universalizing process toward autonomy. The feelings and meanings generated by the banners and signs of Tahrir Square therefore cannot be reduced to the text or its bearers, but rather constitute the emotional economies that seize upon viewers and mobilize them in a performance that at once demands attention and translates itself. Both the immediate and absent intelligibility of these performances can be traced to the delicate borderlands of language and to the affects generated by the same.

Spinoza was one of the earliest philosophers to theorize the concept of affect as a categorically positive change amounting to empowerment.23 Deleuze would go on to elaborate the nature of these impacts, which transcend and arrest both space and time to operate beyond the logical order of effective space. By divorcing subjects from their art and space, Deleuze theorized affect as the positive and uncontained change induced within a subject—that is, the adaptation of the subject by space, and not the other way around.24 Affective labor, as identified by Hardt and Negri,25 is that which engages affects, which are both mental and physical phenomena, in an effort to make audiences relate to products through particular effects. We argue that the temporary autonomy generated in Tahrir Square was the result of a decentralized, voluntary laboring process that sought to implicate a broad multitude of spectators as participants both locally and globally. Banners, signs, and placards of all shapes and sizes, and the extensive, round-the-clock labor involved in their creation and display, were central to this process.

In contrast to the plethora of individual signs, there were also banners drawn up collectively in the midan by several protesters. Many of these large banners were displayed on surrounding buildings or suspended over the midan (see next page).

Just as several of the individual banners shared similar messages and echoed mutual sentiments, so the collective banners expressed the overarching demands of protesters, freeing individuals to express more (p.125)

Signs and Signifiers: Visual Translations of Revolt

Large banners. Photographs: top, Huda Lutfi; bottom, Lewis Sanders

(p.126) personal desires on their hand-held banners and signs. Tahrir mobilized traditional art forms in the creation of these cooperative banners, such as calligraphy, as well as new art forms, such as graffiti (chapter 4). The suspension of collective demands on buildings within the public space, in lieu of the aforementioned regime of censorship, replaced and mimicked corporate advertisement billboards that dotted the downtown Cairo skyline. Where the advertisement industry was one of the earliest to construct affects—that is, a relationship between product and subject (producer and spectator or consumer)—through massive billboard ads, revolutionaries would deploy similar tactics in the generation of affects to fellow protesters, other Egyptians, and the world at large.

The sign below appropriates a billboard advert for a gated community owned by the Talaat Moustafa Group, Madinaty. The original campaign read, ‘My new address: Madinaty.’ The revolutionary banner (below) reads: ‘My new address: January 25, Tahrir Square.’ There have been several debates about the buying of public land from the Mubarak regime at reduced cost. In this case the land for the Madinaty estate was sold below legal value to Hisham Talaat Moustafa. The sign therefore had several layers of meaning. On the one hand it exposed the appropriation of land by Egyptian elites, as well as the dispossession of millions of Egyptians living in informal housing on the outskirts of the city, in stark contrast to their fellow compatriots living in the new gated-community complexes of New Cairo. Additionally, Tahrir became the first address for many Egyptians for whom the fear of eviction had been removed.

Protesters also used their bodies as canvases, along with the space surrounding them, including Central Security Forces trucks and military tanks. The tendency to resort to using one's body as a canvas for a written sign highlights not only the copious amounts of writing that took place in Tahrir Square, but also the highly personalized act of writing and participating in the protests. Tanks and burned-out military vehicles were used frequently as materials for signs and slogans, along with fabric, bandages, helmets, shoes, and walls. The defacing of these symbols of war, which protesters rode on and got married next to, somehow reduced their menace and transformed them into everyday vehicles, which people got used to seeing on the streets and in the midan.

Although frequently termed a ‘youth revolution,’ the following signs prove that protesters of all ages participated in Midan al-Tahrir. The sign on page 129 reads, “I beg you, leave.” We don't know how long this man (p.127)

Signs and Signifiers: Visual Translations of Revolt

Top: “My new address: 25th January, Tahrir Square.” Photograph by Amira Taha. Bottom: “Freedom Resort.” Photograph by Hossam El-Hamalawy

has been begging for change. The banner is stuck over his mouth, as several protesters did with their signs, as if saying ‘We won't speak until you leave’ or ‘No more needs to be said.’ It is interesting to contrast this older gentleman's frustration with the brash outspokenness of the ‘youth’ in Tahrir.

The use of children within the Egyptian Revolution was significant (chapter 1). Some were too young to understand, being deployed by their parents to sit on tanks or pose for photographers while holding banners. Others were more aware of the events evolving around them, as evidenced by YouTube videos of children leading chants.26 The photograph of the following banner was taken on February 1, 2011, a day when (p.128)

Signs and Signifiers: Visual Translations of Revolt

Top: “Get out, Mubarak, you agent.” Bottom: “This is a revolution of the whole people.” Photographs by Laura Gribbon

(p.129)
Signs and Signifiers: Visual Translations of Revolt

“I beg you, leave.” Photograph by Omnia Ibrahim Magdy

citizens all over Egypt responded en masse to the protesters' calls for a million people to take to the streets. The girl holding the sign and the woman with her—probably her mother—are representative of the new actors appearing on the streets. People from all sections of the population, especially families, began to feel safe about joining the protests, as street fights had largely ceased. For many of them, it might have been the first time they publicly voiced their demands or expressed their grievances. This young girl proudly presents her sign to the photographer, pointing at her message as if asking for it to be read. It has been printed, which shows someone else had designed it for her to hold. However, its simple wording and logic and the use of colloquial dialect match the girl's age.

Mobilizing Memory: Humor and Tragedy

As this chapter has already demonstrated, metaphorical language, historical references, and the proverbial have all been used to emphasize a communal sense of identity among opposition groups. It is in this context that we've chosen to cast the humorous and tragic banners of this section within the framework of “mobilizing memory.” The evolution of collective memory has always played a critical role in interpreting the (p.130)

Signs and Signifiers: Visual Translations of Revolt

Left: “Free Egypt.” Right: “I am a child, I want my rights.” Photographs by Laura Gribbon

history of conflict within communities.27 Maurice Halbwachs suggests memories supply the individual with a way of understanding the world, and are essential to the construction of cultural, religious, ethnic, and national identities.28 States, communities, and collectives have historically utilized societal memory to form narratives of nationhood and solidarity. However, it is essential to note that memories do not supply an objective history of the past; they are selective, and the denial of memory or recasting of events are socially constructed in order to meet the needs of the present. Daniel Bar-Tal maintains societal memories can be used to justify the outbreak and development of conflict, present a positive image of the in-group, delegitimize the opponent, and present sections of society as victims.29 One of the ways in which Egyptians delegitimized the state and Mubarak was through their use of humor, reducing their opponents to the level of humiliation they had personally experienced at the hands of the regime. In this way, the series of banners below draws on a history of collective oppression to make a mockery of the need to ‘respect’ or ‘honor’ the president. They testify to the failure of the regime on all counts, incorporating examples of deprivation, oppression, and widening inequalities.

(p.131) Egyptians are well known for their humor and wit, as has been further developed in the chapter on the jokes of the Egyptian Revolution (chapter 5). Midan al-Tahrir contained much juxtaposition, as life, death, hope, victory, humor, and injury were witnessed and experienced within the same space, blurring the lines between the public and the private. Humor is an anti-authoritarian, rebellious, ambivalent mode of communication. By nature it blurs social boundaries and subverts rules. It can be superior, derisive, hostile, or playful.30 Considering Mubarak's estimated family fortune of US$70 billion, the following banner is obviously sarcastic. The former president had more than enough money to leave the country, but he specifically cited his love for Egypt, during his second speech to the nation, as his reason for not going:

Signs and Signifiers: Visual Translations of Revolt

“We demand the honoring of the president” … “but how?” … “such that he suffers like the people did” … “that he may live in the shanties of Duweiqa” … “that he may ride in bus number 678” … “that he may drink from the water of the gutter” … “and chase after a gas canister” … “be treated in a public hospital” … “eat subsidized bread.” Photographs by Samia Mehrez

(p.132)
Signs and Signifiers: Visual Translations of Revolt

“Why has the President not gone yet?! Maybe he hasn't got the airfare; he wants to increase his fortune up to 100 billion; maybe he's a pain in the ass; maybe he doesn't get it; maybe he loves the people and can't bear to part with them (it's just too much!).” Photograph by Huda Lutfi

This will be the land of my living and my death. It will remain a dear land to me. I will not leave it nor depart it until I am buried in the ground. Its people will remain in my heart, and it will remain—its people will remain upright and lifting up their heads.31

Patrick Devine-Wright, in “A Theoretical Overview of Memory and Conflict,” suggests victimization of the ‘in-group’ by members of the ‘out-group’ creates in-group cohesion, out-group dehumanization, in-group idealization, and a common sense of self.32 An example of the use of collective memory to deepen the sense of ‘them’ and ‘us’ is the narrative around the death of Khaled Said, which sparked mass involvement in the Facebook group “We are All Khaled Said,” started by Google employee and revolutionary activist Wael Ghoneim. Egyptians across the country identified with the story of his death and sympathized with his family. Indeed, Khaled Said's mother became known as the ‘mother of all Egyptians.’ (p.133)

Signs and Signifiers: Visual Translations of Revolt

“The funeral of Mustafa Said al-Sawy” and “Down with Mubarak.” Photograph by Laura Gribbon

In the few months between the end of January and mid-April 2011, more than eight hundred protesters died, with further deaths and casualties resulting from violent clashes with Central Security Forces on June 28 and 29, 2011.33 Rather than instilling fear and terror, as was obviously intended, protesters' deaths reinforced a shared sense of victimization, galvanizing even greater support for opposition forces. Those who died have been commonly referred to as “martyrs.” The term shahid (martyr) is derived from the Arabic root shahada, which means ‘to witness.’ It is often associated with death or persecution resulting from the refusal to renounce a religious belief, but has been used here to denote death for a noble cause, whether viewed in a religious or a secular realm. Just as the martyrs have been held in high esteem, so this regard has been extended to their family members. As these women, the family members of one of the martyrs, walked through Tahrir, people parted and cheered, before going back to chanting their demands. The banner itself sets mourning for the deceased alongside a demand that Mubarak leave.

As the sign on page 134 depicts, the martyrs have paid a high price for freedom, and the collective recognition of this sacrifice by the people will serve as a reminder of their commual pursuit of justice, freedom, and democracy. The sign is addressing the regime, including the armed forces (p.134)

Signs and Signifiers: Visual Translations of Revolt

“The blood of the martyrs is not cheap.” Photograph by Hossam El-Hamalawy

and Central Security Forces, who have ‘cheapened’ the memory of the martyrs and made a mockery of their sacrifice in their failure to wholly meet the demands of the people until absolutely pushed, as was the case with Mubarak's arrest and trial. Additionally, in an attempt by the state to suppress the collective memory of the costs of the revolution, police disrupted a memorial service by the families of the martyrs on June 28, 2011, provoking the subsequent battle on June 29, 2011 in which more than one thousand people were injured.34

It is essential that grief and victimhood be acknowledged and managed in Egypt as events continue to unfold. John D. Brewer writes about the role of memories in post-trauma societies:

Nations require a sense of their past for social cohesion, memories of which are embodied in acts of public commemoration and in public memorials, in public images, texts, photographs and rituals that socialize us in what to remember. … A post-violence society thus needs to find pathways to healing for the society as well as for the individual.35

The creativity demonstrated in commemoration of the martyrs in Tahrir has been a key element of the ‘affect’ of the revolution. Their (p.135) clothes hung from walls and lampposts, makeshift galleries of their pictures were displayed and paraded, several songs have been written, and numerous tributes have been posted on Facebook and YouTube. At the time of writing, there has been much debate among opposition groups about how to collectively honor their bravery. Suggestions for a Tahrir memorial monument and several street and station name changes from the Mubarak family to the names of the martyrs have been proposed.36 Midan al-Tahrir has in many ways become symbolic of the struggle for freedom and victory. Egyptians from all across the country, along with international tourists, are increasingly visiting to buy a flag or other piece of revolutionary memorabilia. The same stands and individuals selling hats and flags also sell small memory cards on ribbons with the faces of the martyrs on them. Indeed, the revolution appears to be a growing tourist attraction, as illustrated by a conversation with one of the camel owners at the pyramids in May 2011, who suggested business was slow because “the only tourists visiting Egypt now were ‘revolution tourists’—more interested in Tahrir than ancient Egypt.”37 Patrick Devine-Wright suggests that “commemorating the past defines the individual's location in the temporal continuity (and) … relates the individual participant to other group members who have existed in history.”38

Victimhood is often politicized, and can be manipulated by various actors. The collective remembrance of tragedy through museums, events, and commemorative holidays is often the relic of a society that has enforced collective memory in order to deal with the past and establish new national identities. Examples include South Africa and Northern Ireland, as well as Israel's notorious exploitation of the memory of the Holocaust.39 The political implications for this kind of translation work manifest themselves most clearly in the manner in which political forces and the regime itself co-opt revolutionary desire toward various ends. For example, shortly before Ramadan 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood convened a political rally in the Nile Delta town of Shibin al-Kom with a tribute to the local families of the martyrs, before moving on to business.40

Conclusion

To interpret the visual output of Tahrir Square during the revolution necessitates the translation of a rich cultural and emotive bricolage that was never static. Not simply because of the ebb and flow of the protests, or because the banners were created and recreated in response to (p.136) unfolding events and discourses, but because they drew on cultural memory to articulate identity, values, desires, and aspirations. Our study, therefore, brings history and collective memory together with the signifying language that is used in the social construction of the present.

As this chapter has shown, the eighteen-day uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak was inscribed within a much larger context of regional and global change, building up over the years, such that the protesters in Tahrir drew on a rich tapestry of political signifiers to express a wealth of consciousness about the political stakes—not just for Egyptians, but for other Arabs, and people around the world more generally. Apart from heralding and celebrating national unity and denouncing sectarianism, the vibrant collection of banners on display in Tahrir actively engaged imperial alliances, carving out and resisting an undemocratic network that included Mubarak's regime, Israel, and the United States. The visual aspect of Tahrir was thus in constant dialogue with the past and the present, and protesters drew inspiration for their material from global as well as local phenomena.

Like pride and humor, fear is a cultural product that only gains poignancy through collectively expressed behavior, in that it cannot be used as a political tool unless one is afraid. Therefore, the very act of writing and speaking out in such a visual manner has been instrumental in eliminating this fear and holding the state, military, and fellow revolutionaries to account. At the time of writing, August 2011, the people continue to make their demands publicly, and banners and chants calling for the trial of Mubarak have already forced the hand of the SCAF in commencing a public trial. However, on August 1, 2011 the Central Security Forces were beating and arresting the families of the martyrs and their supporters, in order to force an end to the sit-in for justice and accountability, which had begun on July 8, 2011. The level of coercion and violence witnessed that evening far surpassed anything experienced since Mubarak's departure, and it is in this context that protesters would resurrect the prefix ‘al-Sha̒b yurid’ (‘The people wills’) to demand the liberation of the midan, as shown in the image on page 138. The occupation of Tahrir by Central Security Forces and Military Police since August 1 has forced to the surface some of the real crises of translation that have been central to the ongoing revolution and its inscription in a wider regional context. Clearly, people have been resisting and continue to resist efforts to domesticate and adopt the Egyptian uprising and its demands for the downfall of an entire system, (p.137) taken on by a ruthless counterrevolution seeking to neutralize and silence revolutionary desires. The trials that began on August 3, 2011 have since been suspended and repeatedly postponed, and at the time of writing are no longer scheduled to be broadcast publicly.

The image on page 138, which shows the state has definitively snatched the midan away from protesters, perfectly illustrates the larger failure of translating a politics of liberation, but also echoes its necessity. Chapter 5 in this volume, which addresses the difficulties of translating revolutionary humor, contains many of the jokes that have been circulating since January 25, 2011. Following August 1, 2011, one of the more prominent and most cynical of these, transmitted via social media and word of mouth, was the following: “The people demand: one, the right of return to the square; two, a return to the February 10 borders; and three, the recognition of the central garden in the midan as the everlasting capital of Tahrir.” These demands are a rhetorical play on the exhaustive repetition of a few core Palestinian demands for liberation: the right of return for refugees from the 1948 Nakba, Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 borders, and the recognition of East Jerusalem as the undisputed and eternal capital of Palestine. The chosen referential world of this biting joke effectively translates the people's consciousness of ongoing struggle, and their identification with the Palestinians in this context reiterates the corrupt imperial nature of the Egyptian regime in its continued presence and revived repression of protesters. It is a sad joke that at once insists upon the people's ownership of Tahrir, their home, but that equally laments the tragic situation in which the revolution finds itself—ultimately, untranslated, mistranslated, and deadened by an unruly, imperial machinery of violence.

The image also captures a moment in which the city of Cairo, and Egypt at large, is undergoing a crisis of translation. The alienating effects of the months following Mubarak's ouster have been created through the onslaught of a counterrevolutionary movement that has sought to terrorize the revolutionaries into submission. This has included the outlawing of strikes and protests, the alliance of the SCAF with the Muslim Brotherhood, and the utilization of an economy of morality in which ‘the wheel of production’ has been a recurring trope. A discourse of sovereignty has also been deployed, in which dissidence and resistance to the SCAF's unilateral political interventions have been translated as an attack on the mythical revolutionary army of 1952, and therefore on the Egyptian national imagination itself. This has discursively and explicitly rendered many of (p.138)

Signs and Signifiers: Visual Translations of Revolt

“The people demand the liberation of Tahrir.” Photograph by Huda Lutfi

the same revolutionaries that ousted Mubarak as foreign agents and traitors. In light of these moments, the demand for the liberation of Midan al-Tahrir, as illustrated in the above-pictured banner, is now, more than ever, a demand for the liberation of the city, and a demand for the right to embody the urban landscape as the site of revolution par excellence.

Though there is something to be said for the way in which ‘Tahrir Square,’ or ‘Liberation Square’ as many media outlets chose to translate it, was rendered and reclaimed as part of a wider narrative of urban revolt, it is important to recognize the way in which it has come to connote its own specific culture of resistance, so that not only would social movements in Greece, Spain, and Israel go on to identify their squares, boulevards, and streets with Tahrir, but uprisings throughout the rest of Egypt and the Arab world would similarly dub their squares ‘Mayadin al-Tahrir.’ In this regard, the image is heartening. It demonstrates the resolve of the people to continue to make demands, even in the face of the state's occupation of Tahrir. Our treatment in this chapter of the (p.139) banners that adorned the eighteen-day uprising, therefore, should be read first and foremost as a translation of the right to the city, and a reading of the affective embodiment of a space that is now re-experiencing a loud and discomfiting silence in the face of a cruel and incomplete translation process, a process that is central to struggle itself.

Notes

(1) “Signs of the Revolution: The Best Posters Carried by Protesters in Egypt,” The Telegraph, Spring 2011, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/worldnews/8295934/Signs-of-the-revolution-the-best-posters-carried-by-protesters-in-Egypt.html

(2) Mia Grondahl and Ayman Mohyeldin, Tahrir Square: The Heart of the Egyptian Revolution (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2011); Karima Khalil, Messages from Tahrir: Signs from Egypt's Revolution (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2011); Sherif Assaf, Omar Attia, Timothy Kaldas, Rehab Khaled, Zee Mo, and Monir Al Shazly, The Road to Tahrir: Front Line Images by Six Young Egyptian Photographers (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2011).

(3) Rayya El Zein and Alex Ortiz, “Signs of the Times: The Popular Literature of Tahrir,” ArteEast, April 1, 2011, http://arteeast.org/pages/literature/641/

(4) Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Teaching for the Times,” Death of a Discipline (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), p. 116.

(5) Maria Tymoczko, “Postcolonial Writing and Literary Translation,” in Susan Bassnett and Harish Trivedi, eds., Post-Colonial Translation: Theory and Practice (London: Routledge, 1999), pp. 19–40.

(6) Susan Bassnett and Peter Bush, The Translator as Writer (London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2007).

(7) Graham Allen, Roland Barthes (London: Routledge, 2003).

(8) Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (Hill & Wang, 1994).

(9) Richard Jacquemond, “The Shifting Limits of the Sayable in Egyptian Fiction,” The MIT Electronic Journal of Middle East Studies. Arab World Books, http://www.arabworldbooks.com/Readers2006/articles/jacquemond_fiction.htm

(10) Michel Foucault, The Will to Know (London: Penguin Books, 1998). “Biopower” was a term used by French philosopher Michel Foucault to denote the state's subjugation of the people through various techniques. He first used the phrase in The Will to Know, the first volume of his work The History of Sexuality.

(p.140)

(11) Samia Mehrez, Egypt's Culture Wars: Politics and Practice (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2008), pp. 72–88.

(12) Mehrez, Egypt's Culture Wars, pp. 62–63.

(13) Mehrez, Egypt's Culture Wars, pp. 229–50.

(14) The notion of equivalence within translation has been heavily debated. See for example Roman Jakobson, “On Linguistic Aspects of Translation,” The Translation Studies Reader, ed. Lawrence Venuti (London: Routledge, 2000), pp. 113–18; Mona Baker, In Other Words: A Course-book on Translation (London: Routledge, 1992).

(15) “Egypt's Activist Arrest Sparks Protest,” Press TV, August 15, 2011, http://www.presstv.ir/detail/193995.html; Salma Shukrallah, “Military Trials of Civilians in Egypt under Strong Attack,” Al-Ahram Weekly, August 16, 2011, http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContentPrint/1/0/19025/Egypt/0/Military-trials-of-civilians-in-Egypt-under-strong.aspx

(16) Reuters Africa, “Arab League Head Wants Egypt Multi-Party Democracy,” January 30, 2011, http://af.reuters.com/article/egyptNews/idAFLDE70T0B620110130?sp=true

(17) Islamic Awakening, “Hosni Mubarak Sells Gas to Israel Cheaper than Egyptian Muslims,” January 13, 2009, http://forums.islamicawakening.com/f18/hosni-mubarak-sells-gas-israel-cheaper-than-20640/

(18) El Zein and Ortiz, “Signs of the Times.”

(19) It was common knowledge from 2000 onward that Gamal Mubarak was being groomed for the presidency. In 2005, President Mubarak changed article 76 in the constitution to allow multi-candidate elections. The Egyptian people showed many signs of disliking the idea of presidential inheritance and also Gamal himself. Prior to the revolution, Gamal was the deputy secretary-general of the now-dissolved National Democratic Party. On April 13, 2011 he was imprisoned on charges of corruption, abuse of power, and his role in enabling the deaths of protesters.

(20) Youssef Rakhaa, “Post-mortem,” Al-Ahram Weekly Online, February 17–23, 2011, http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2011/1035/sc1201.htm

(21) “Mubarak Blames ‘Foreign Hand’ for Church Attack,” Daily News Egypt, January 2, 2011, http://thedailynewsegypt.com/crime-a-accidents/mubarak-blames-foreign-hand-for-church-attack.html

(22) Fayza Hassan, “Burning Down the House,” Al-Ahram Weekly Online, January 24–30, 2002, http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2002/570/sc3.htm

(23) Moira Gatens and Genevieve Lloyd, Collective Imaginings: Spinoza, Past and Present (London and New York: Routledge, 1999), p. 144.

(p.141)

(24) Gilles Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza (Brooklyn: Urzone Books, 1990), pp. 255–72.

(25) Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Labor of Dionysus: A Critique of State-form (Minnesota: Regents of the University of Minnesota, 1994), pp. 8–9.

(26) YouTube, “Cairo Protest,” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHQQEcu-BBI

(27) Ed Cairns and Michael D. Roe, The Role of Memory in Ethnic Conflict (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), pp. 3–8; James V. Wertsch, Voices of Collective Remembering (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 4–9; Maurice Halbwachs, On Collective Memory, trans. and ed. Lewis A. Coser (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), pp. 37–40; Paul Connerton, How Societies Remember (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), pp. 6–40.

(28) Halbwachs, On Collective Memory. Halbwachs was a student of Emile Durkheim.

(29) Daniel Bar-Tal, “Sociopsychological Foundations of Intractable Conflicts,” American Behavioral Scientist, 50 (Sage Publications, 2007), pp. 1436–38, http://www.sagepub.com/Martin2Study/pdfs/Chapter%203/martinch3bartal.pdf

(30) Eyal Zandberg, “Critical Laughter: Humor, Popular Culture and Israeli Holocaust Commemoration,” Media, Culture and Society 28, no. 4 (2006): 568.

(31) Hosni Mubarak, “Second Speech,” translated by The Washington Post, February 10, 2011, online at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/10/AR2011021005290.html?sid=ST2011020703989

(32) Patrick Devine-Wright, “A Theoretical Overview of Memory and Conflict,” in Ed Cairns and Michael D. Roe, eds., The Role of Memory in Ethnic Conflict (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), p. 15.

(33) An Egyptian governmental fact-finding mission—“Fact-Finding National Commission about January 25th Revolution”—announced on April 19, 2011 that at least 846 Egyptians had died in the nearly three-week-long popular uprising: http://www.ffnc-eg.org/assets/ffnc-eg_final.pdf

(34) Human Rights Watch, “Egypt: Cairo Violence Highlights Need to Reform Riot Police,” July 8, 2011, http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/07/08/egypt-cairo-violence-highlights-need-reform-riot-police; Jack Shenker, “Cairo Street Clashes Leave More than 1,000 Injured,” The Guardian Online, June 29, 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/29/cairo-street-clashes-demonstrators-police-egypt

(p.142)

(35) John D. Brewer, “Memory, Truth and Victimhood in Post-trauma Societies,” in Gerard Delanty and Krishan Kumar, eds., The SAGE Handbook of Nations and Nationalism (London: Sage Publications, 2006), pp. 214–24.

(36) “A Monument for Egyptian Martyrs,” The Egyptian Gazette, March 18, 2011, http://213.158.162.45/~egyptian/index.php?action=news&id=16219&title=A%20monument%20for%20Egyptian%20martyrs; Secrets7days.com, “Martyrs … Alternative Name for the Metro Station Mubarak,” May 2, 2011, http://secrets7days.com/news/21/1606/Martyrs--Alternative-name-for-the-metro-station-Mubarak_en

(37) Conversation on May 9, 2011 with an anonymous camel owner at the pyramids.

(38) Devine-Wright, “Theoretical Overview,” p. 14.

(39) Halbwachs, On Collective Memory.

(40) “Now What?” Guardian Magazine, August 13, 2011, pp. 26–30.

Notes:

(1) “Signs of the Revolution: The Best Posters Carried by Protesters in Egypt,” The Telegraph, Spring 2011, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/worldnews/8295934/Signs-of-the-revolution-the-best-posters-carried-by-protesters-in-Egypt.html

(2) Mia Grondahl and Ayman Mohyeldin, Tahrir Square: The Heart of the Egyptian Revolution (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2011); Karima Khalil, Messages from Tahrir: Signs from Egypt's Revolution (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2011); Sherif Assaf, Omar Attia, Timothy Kaldas, Rehab Khaled, Zee Mo, and Monir Al Shazly, The Road to Tahrir: Front Line Images by Six Young Egyptian Photographers (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2011).

(3) Rayya El Zein and Alex Ortiz, “Signs of the Times: The Popular Literature of Tahrir,” ArteEast, April 1, 2011, http://arteeast.org/pages/literature/641/

(4) Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Teaching for the Times,” Death of a Discipline (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), p. 116.

(5) Maria Tymoczko, “Postcolonial Writing and Literary Translation,” in Susan Bassnett and Harish Trivedi, eds., Post-Colonial Translation: Theory and Practice (London: Routledge, 1999), pp. 19–40.

(6) Susan Bassnett and Peter Bush, The Translator as Writer (London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2007).

(7) Graham Allen, Roland Barthes (London: Routledge, 2003).

(8) Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (Hill & Wang, 1994).

(9) Richard Jacquemond, “The Shifting Limits of the Sayable in Egyptian Fiction,” The MIT Electronic Journal of Middle East Studies. Arab World Books, http://www.arabworldbooks.com/Readers2006/articles/jacquemond_fiction.htm

(10) Michel Foucault, The Will to Know (London: Penguin Books, 1998). “Biopower” was a term used by French philosopher Michel Foucault to denote the state's subjugation of the people through various techniques. He first used the phrase in The Will to Know, the first volume of his work The History of Sexuality.

(11) Samia Mehrez, Egypt's Culture Wars: Politics and Practice (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2008), pp. 72–88.

(12) Mehrez, Egypt's Culture Wars, pp. 62–63.

(13) Mehrez, Egypt's Culture Wars, pp. 229–50.

(14) The notion of equivalence within translation has been heavily debated. See for example Roman Jakobson, “On Linguistic Aspects of Translation,” The Translation Studies Reader, ed. Lawrence Venuti (London: Routledge, 2000), pp. 113–18; Mona Baker, In Other Words: A Course-book on Translation (London: Routledge, 1992).

(15) “Egypt's Activist Arrest Sparks Protest,” Press TV, August 15, 2011, http://www.presstv.ir/detail/193995.html; Salma Shukrallah, “Military Trials of Civilians in Egypt under Strong Attack,” Al-Ahram Weekly, August 16, 2011, http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContentPrint/1/0/19025/Egypt/0/Military-trials-of-civilians-in-Egypt-under-strong.aspx

(16) Reuters Africa, “Arab League Head Wants Egypt Multi-Party Democracy,” January 30, 2011, http://af.reuters.com/article/egyptNews/idAFLDE70T0B620110130?sp=true

(17) Islamic Awakening, “Hosni Mubarak Sells Gas to Israel Cheaper than Egyptian Muslims,” January 13, 2009, http://forums.islamicawakening.com/f18/hosni-mubarak-sells-gas-israel-cheaper-than-20640/

(18) El Zein and Ortiz, “Signs of the Times.”

(19) It was common knowledge from 2000 onward that Gamal Mubarak was being groomed for the presidency. In 2005, President Mubarak changed article 76 in the constitution to allow multi-candidate elections. The Egyptian people showed many signs of disliking the idea of presidential inheritance and also Gamal himself. Prior to the revolution, Gamal was the deputy secretary-general of the now-dissolved National Democratic Party. On April 13, 2011 he was imprisoned on charges of corruption, abuse of power, and his role in enabling the deaths of protesters.

(20) Youssef Rakhaa, “Post-mortem,” Al-Ahram Weekly Online, February 17–23, 2011, http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2011/1035/sc1201.htm

(21) “Mubarak Blames ‘Foreign Hand’ for Church Attack,” Daily News Egypt, January 2, 2011, http://thedailynewsegypt.com/crime-a-accidents/mubarak-blames-foreign-hand-for-church-attack.html

(22) Fayza Hassan, “Burning Down the House,” Al-Ahram Weekly Online, January 24–30, 2002, http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2002/570/sc3.htm

(23) Moira Gatens and Genevieve Lloyd, Collective Imaginings: Spinoza, Past and Present (London and New York: Routledge, 1999), p. 144.

(24) Gilles Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza (Brooklyn: Urzone Books, 1990), pp. 255–72.

(25) Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Labor of Dionysus: A Critique of State-form (Minnesota: Regents of the University of Minnesota, 1994), pp. 8–9.

(26) YouTube, “Cairo Protest,” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHQQEcu-BBI

(27) Ed Cairns and Michael D. Roe, The Role of Memory in Ethnic Conflict (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), pp. 3–8; James V. Wertsch, Voices of Collective Remembering (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 4–9; Maurice Halbwachs, On Collective Memory, trans. and ed. Lewis A. Coser (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), pp. 37–40; Paul Connerton, How Societies Remember (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), pp. 6–40.

(28) Halbwachs, On Collective Memory. Halbwachs was a student of Emile Durkheim.

(29) Daniel Bar-Tal, “Sociopsychological Foundations of Intractable Conflicts,” American Behavioral Scientist, 50 (Sage Publications, 2007), pp. 1436–38, http://www.sagepub.com/Martin2Study/pdfs/Chapter%203/martinch3bartal.pdf

(30) Eyal Zandberg, “Critical Laughter: Humor, Popular Culture and Israeli Holocaust Commemoration,” Media, Culture and Society 28, no. 4 (2006): 568.

(31) Hosni Mubarak, “Second Speech,” translated by The Washington Post, February 10, 2011, online at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/10/AR2011021005290.html?sid=ST2011020703989

(32) Patrick Devine-Wright, “A Theoretical Overview of Memory and Conflict,” in Ed Cairns and Michael D. Roe, eds., The Role of Memory in Ethnic Conflict (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), p. 15.

(33) An Egyptian governmental fact-finding mission—“Fact-Finding National Commission about January 25th Revolution”—announced on April 19, 2011 that at least 846 Egyptians had died in the nearly three-week-long popular uprising: http://www.ffnc-eg.org/assets/ffnc-eg_final.pdf

(34) Human Rights Watch, “Egypt: Cairo Violence Highlights Need to Reform Riot Police,” July 8, 2011, http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/07/08/egypt-cairo-violence-highlights-need-reform-riot-police; Jack Shenker, “Cairo Street Clashes Leave More than 1,000 Injured,” The Guardian Online, June 29, 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/29/cairo-street-clashes-demonstrators-police-egypt

(35) John D. Brewer, “Memory, Truth and Victimhood in Post-trauma Societies,” in Gerard Delanty and Krishan Kumar, eds., The SAGE Handbook of Nations and Nationalism (London: Sage Publications, 2006), pp. 214–24.

(36) “A Monument for Egyptian Martyrs,” The Egyptian Gazette, March 18, 2011, http://213.158.162.45/~egyptian/index.php?action=news&id=16219&title=A%20monument%20for%20Egyptian%20martyrs; Secrets7days.com, “Martyrs … Alternative Name for the Metro Station Mubarak,” May 2, 2011, http://secrets7days.com/news/21/1606/Martyrs--Alternative-name-for-the-metro-station-Mubarak_en

(37) Conversation on May 9, 2011 with an anonymous camel owner at the pyramids.

(38) Devine-Wright, “Theoretical Overview,” p. 14.

(39) Halbwachs, On Collective Memory.

(40) “Now What?” Guardian Magazine, August 13, 2011, pp. 26–30.