Al-Ahram Weekly Online   4 - 10 August 2011
Issue No. 1059
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Drawn to satire

Osama Kamal visited an exhibition that explored the nation's love affair with political satire

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Last month, The Sawi Culture Wheel brought together the work of 70 cartoonists. The exhibition, which ran from 7 to 15 July, featured 470 works and was inaugurated by two eminent cartoonists: Mostafa Hossein and Ahmad Tughan.

Hossein, the former chief of the Egyptian Society for the Art of Caricature (ESAC), spoke in the opening ceremony about the way cartoons had influenced the course of the Egyptian revolution. He said that the cartoons he published before the revolution exposed various aspects of graft and injustice in Egypt. Satirical drawing, he said, was likely to grow in importance in the climate of freedom we now had. Hossein said he was pleased to see four generations of cartoonists exhibit in one place because, even in a country in which people almost got away with the bequest of power, art could not be bequeathed.

Tughan, who is the current chief of ESAC, said that cartoons addressed all aspects of corruption in Egypt before the revolution, and were a major way of voicing opinion.

Mohamed El-Sawi, founder and director of Sawi Culture Wheel, stressed that satirical drawing was a popular art form in Egypt, and added that the event gave artists of all ages the chance to meet and learn from each other. According to the Akhbar Al-Yawm cartoonist Amr Fahmi, cartoons are the looking glass in which society can see its own face. Cartoonists document everything in society, the negative as well as the positive.

Gomaah Farahat, who publishes his cartoons in Rose Al-Yusuf and Al-Ahram, said that cartoons never failed to defend the poor and the underprivileged and voice their hope for a better life.

Ibrahim El-Baridi, whose burlap-and-cloth piece "The People Want to Bring Down the Regime" brought him a shower of praise, said that the young had a right to a better future since their revolution has saved the country.

Among the veteran cartoonists who exhibited in this event were Ahmad Tughan (born in 1926), George Bahgouri (1932), Mostafa Hossein (1935), Ahmad Hegazi (1940), Gomaah Farahat (1941) Adel El-Batrawi (1942), and Mohamed Effat (1942).

Tughan contributed several pieces filled with his customary energy and smooth lines. In one drawing, several people who shared an uncanny resemblance stood to the side while a policeman asked a man to identify the individual who tried to bribe him. In another cartoon, someone is shown trying to uproot a symbolic tree of unity, but the tree is too strong for him. In another piece, people are taking part shoulder to shoulder in a protest, jubilant and waving flags.

Bahgouri's one-line drawings are nothing less than mesmerising. He has drawn three images of Zakaria Azmi, the former director of the president's office, in which Azmi fantasises about all the palaces that he owns while sitting in a lonely cell. Field Marshal Hossein Tantawi appears in another drawing, calling on the new ministers to hand over the gains of revolution to the people. Beside him we see the symbolic gains of the revolution: two sacs filled with freedom and justice.

Mostafa Hossein has drawn unemployment in the form of a very fat person who is eating up the young people of Egypt. He draws three images of former Prime Minister Ahmad Nazif in which the latter appears incapable of addressing the country's true problems. In another drawing, inflation is shown as a very fat woman who is unable to get through the door of the parliaments. Hossein has depicted corruption as a man devouring Egypt. Elsewhere he shows corruption in the form of a large hand strangling the country. His favourite persona, a penniless but megalomaniac character called El-Kahhit (dirt poor), is shown enthusing over the government's reduction of taxes on luxury vehicles.

Ahmad Hegazi's world is often populated with simple characters puzzled by their surroundings. In one piece, a woman asks her husband how many Arabs there are. The man replies that there are many Arabs, but their enemies see them as few. In another piece, two thieves are shown stealing the River Nile from a map while two children standing close by ask, "Where are they taking Egypt?" Then we meet Fodouli, the inquisitive child who is one of Hegazi's favourite characters, standing among a throng of police officers and wondering about the implications of their work.

Gomaah tackles political and financial corruption in a piece showing the constitutional amendments in the form of a patched-up garment. In another drawing, a man contemplates five threatening-looking sticks: health, education, corruption, wages, prices and thinking, "The government is good to us, allowing us to pick our pain of choice." Daring as usual, Gomaah does not spare the transitional government. In one drawing he has a citizen telling Essam Sharaf not to choose ministers in the manner of previous governments. Then he has a man telling his wife that he ate a great cake, "soft and squishy like the current government."

Among the younger generation, Tharwat Mortada, 31, contributed several cartoons about Egypt after the 25 January Revolution. In one, we see former Information Minister Safwat El-Sharif chiding Zakaria Azmi: "You had to say that corruption was knee-deep, and now we are all drowning." Former People's Assembly speaker Ahmad Fathi Sorour wonders, "I thought that parliament had the last word, but now it seems that people have spoken." An old man, symbolising history, tells Egypt: "Come on, get on with it, the whole world is watching."

A drawing by Samir Abdel-Ghani, 44, who curated the exhibition, showed a band of thieves sending a letter to the police to thank them for not doing their job. In another drawing by the same artist we see two men discussing the birthday of the former president and complaining that the country had a shortage of flour because of the size of the presidential cake. In a third, Abdel-Ghani documents the 25 January Revolution through the expressions of Mubarak's face.

A brilliant cartoon by Mostafa Selim, 30, shows the Egyptian revolution in the form of a billiard ball about to strike another symbolic ball, that of the Tunisian revolution. In another cartoon, Selim shows an Egyptian policeman in the role of a goalkeeper whose net is full of balls, symbolising goals scored by the opponents.

Other cartoonists who took part in the exhibition were Mostafa El-Sabbagh, Abdel-Aziz Tag, Sherif Arafat, Hassan Fedawi, Hani Shams, Mostafa El-Sheikh, Hani Tolba, Ahmed Ezz El-Arab, Taha Hossein, Mohamed Ismail, Hassan Farouq, Khedr Hassan, Mohamed Hassan, Said Abul Enein, Ahmed Kamel, Nabil Sadeq, Mohamed Hamdi, Samir Abdel-Khaleq, Ahmed Kamel, Nazih, Fawzi Morsi, Samir Abdel-Khaleq, Kamal El-Sawi and Ashraf Saqr.

Works by women cartoonists -- including Samah Farouq, Asmaa El-Amin, Nermin and Boshra -- featured prominently in the event. Amina Kamel offered a comical image of Mubarak and Qaddafi, the former ditching his son to stay in office and the latter waging war on his own people. In another drawing Amina showed the Sphinx, aroused by the revolution, shouting, "Wait, I am coming!"

Egypt's tradition of satirical drawing goes back many decades, if not centuries. Even the ancient Egyptians left behind quite a few satirical images. In recent times pioneers such as Saroukhan (1898 ê" 1977) and Rakha (1911 ê" 1986) opened up new horizons of wit and humour. Rakah is remembered today for the parade of comical characters he created for his fans: Ibn El-Balad (country man); Bint El-Balad (country girl); Rafia Hanem (Lady Thin, who was actually very big); Elsaba Effendi (Mr Lion, who was constantly pushed around); Ghani Harb (Mr Got-rich-quick-during-the-war, who was the ultimate nouveau riche guy); etc. Other pioneers of cartoon include Zohdi El-Adawi (1917 ê" 1944), Abdel-Samie Abdallah (1916 ê" 1986), Salah Jahin (1930 ê" 1986), Bahgat Osman (1931 ê" 2001), Mohieddin El-Labbad (1940 ê" 2010) and Salah El-Leithi (1923 ê" 1983).

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