Al-Ahram Weekly Online   17 - 23 February 2011
Issue No. 1035
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Laughing in adversity

In the face of revolution Egyptians maintained a sense of humour, writes Shaden Shehab

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World leaders on the revolution:
'We must educate our children to become like young Egyptian people'
US President Barack Obama

'We must consider teaching the Egyptian revolution in schools'
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron

'For the first time, we see people make a revolution and then clean the streets'

'There is nothing new in Egypt. Egyptians are making history as usual'
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi

'Today we are all Egyptians'
Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg

'The people of Egypt are the greatest people on earth, and they deserve a Nobel Prize for Peace'
Austrian President Heinz Fischer

Demanding the removal of the regime was, from the very beginning on 25 January, accompanied by jokes. Many were writ large on the banners held by protesters.

As president Hosni Mubarak appeared ever more determined to cling onto power in the face of popular revolt one man appeared in Tahrir Square carrying a placard that read "Please leave, my arm hurts". Another held a poster announcing that he was missing his wife while a third, a young man with long hair, carried a placard saying Mubarak should go so he could get a haircut. One protester glued a sign on his clothes lamenting that he had ruined his favourite jacket "to tell you to go".

Jokes circulated on mobile phones day after day. Before Mubarak stepped down many focussed on his refusal to leave. One had former minister of interior Habib El-Adli urging Mubarak to write a farewell speech to the nation. Why, asked the beleaguered president. Where are the people going?

The Egyptian Carpenters' Union asked Mubarak what kind of glue he was using. The only Egyptian abiding by the curfew and not protesting, ran another joke, was Hosni Mubarak.

Doctors are on their way to the presidential palace to separate Mubarak from his chair, read one SMS.

Amid the joking people in cars waved flags from the windows, pumping up the volume of patriotic songs like Ezzay?, (Why?), by Mohamed Munir.

"I love you, and I know you love me too, but you have to appreciate what I'm doing for you," sings Munir. "I will keep changing you until you love me as I love you".

Another song, "Sura, Sura, Sura" (Picture), proved as popular . All of us deserve a picture. Sura for the jubilant people," crooned Abdel-Halim Hafez.

After Mubarak stepped down the jokes continued. So what happened to you, late presidents Nasser and Sadat ask Mubarak. Was it poison or assassination? Neither, replies the former president. It was Facebook.

Former Tunisian president Zein Al-Abidine bin Ali featured in many jokes, telling Mubarak not to forget his play station joystick and recommending he leave the key under the doormat before leaving the presidential palace.

Just as demonstrations spread across the region, so too did the butt of the jokes. One currently going the rounds has Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi cancelling Fridays after Victory Friday of Tunisia and Liberation Friday in Egypt.

Another predicted a plethora of new shops opening in Saudi Arabia: the Bin Ali barbershop, Hosni Mubarak's fuul and falafel stand, and a Gaddafi-run tentmakers.

An equally lighthearted note is to be seen on the streets around the capital where families are taking endless photographs sitting atop tanks with the soldiers. Of course it gave rise to one more joke: the army will not cancel the curfew until all Egyptians have had their photo taken with a tank.

"Breaking News: Egypt's people ousted the regime," read one large banner in Tahrir Square. Mubarak's ouster may have spawned humour, but it has also engendered pride, caught in the simple statement, painted in huge letters: "The revolution has succeeded. The people removed the regime."

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