Although financed almost entirely by the artists who draw/write for it, it has been apparently been thriving in–and because of–the ongoing revolution. And lately its picked up some international press. There was a video segment about it on Al-Arabiya news, mention of it and interview with one of the artists in a recent article on the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation’s web site, and an account of one of the features was the subject of a short feature released by Common Ground News Service.
It’s revolutionary in that it’s not a kids magazine, as are most collections of comics in Egypt; it’s a collection of illustrated stories, some gritty, some funny, some quite dark. Tok Tok is described on the cover as a medicine “to be kept out of the reach of children”.
This is a significant departure from the cartoons I describe in the children’s magazines in Connected in Cairo.
In an interview with Swiss Broadacasting , TokTok”s originator, Mohamed Shennawy explained why it was named after the motorized tricycle that negotiates Cairo’s jammed streets by weaving in and out around bigger cars but which in doing so adds adds to the traffic problems. The little vehicles are gritty and streetwise and urban, which is a tone the magazine wants to capture. Moreover:
“Our magazine is like this tricycle: efficient but annoying thanks to its ironic tone,” he said. “Laughing and satire are characteristic traits of the Egyptian spirit – they let us get across what we’re trying to say.”
“Thriving” is a relative term, of course. TokTok sells 1500 copies per issue, at five pounds per. This means it’s probably in the black, but nobody’s making a living out of it. But its fans are loyal enough to show up at special venues to buy the latest editions and get them signed by the artists.
A story in the Egypt Independent when Toktok was launched described the new magazine in this way:
The review is by Anouk de Koning of the University of Amsterdam, author of Global Dreams: Class, Gender, and Public Space in Cosmopolitan Cairo (American University in Cairo Press, 2009).
She summarizes the book thus:
Peterson explores how mostly elite children, students, and entrepreneurs socially position themselves by drawing on consumption patterns, styles and discourses that signify a familiarity and connection with the West. These different protagonists walk a tightrope of social positioning in a landscape in which class, culture and forms of connectedness to the outside, particularly the West, are intimately related. In this context, cosmopolitanism can signify elite status but also inauthenticity, while the local can be read as both as lack of sophistication and as authentic. Peterson admirably combines these explorations with accessible theoretical discussions of media and globalization.
…which is a pretty good brief summary. She has, however several criticisms.
“To Be Muslim in England” is a brilliant little essay by the Egyptian novelist Alaa al-Aswany that appeared in al-Masri al-Yom 8 January 2013. The following translation comes from Oasis, a Roman Catholic interfaith web journal. It is worth reprinting here in full, even if I am violating someone’s copyright (yeah, write to me and I’ll take it down).
CAUTION: Do not read this unless you read it in full, to the last paragraph. Trust me on this.
To be Muslim in England means to perceive from when you are little that you are different, when you leave the class for the hour of religion, with your small classmates looking at you curious and bewildered, and you go to another classroom with a handful of Muslim pupils like you. From that moment you will prefer to stay with the other Muslim pupils and you will seek refuge in their company because nobody makes fun of your faith or treats you badly.
How does one write ethnography of an unfolding revolution?
“For decades,” writes Julia Elyachar, “Cairo has been the default location for anthropologists as well as journalists and development workers: it was unquestionably stable, open to Americans and Europeans, and home to the best Arabic language program in the world.”
Now this has changed, Elyachar continues in an introductory essay entitled “The Politics of Writing in Revolutionary Times: Dilemmas of Ethnographic Writing about the January 25th revolution in Egypt and its Aftermath.” In it, she lays out a litany of the ways Egypt has changed as a field area for anthropologists:
Some of the challenges of writing from Egypt this past year are obvious. Too many voices–of friends, relatives, acquaintances—were silenced forever, shot dead by Mubarak thugs, or run over by SCAF (the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) tanks. Some of the voices we longed to hear from were in jail, could possibly be back in jail, or might end up there soon. Some were locked inside at home, depressed by the course of events, unable to go outside other than to Tahrir and back again each day. Others were busy with the piled-up tasks of junior faculty anywhere: classes to be taught, grades to be filed, tenure files to be assembled, bills to be paid, children to be raised, and parents’ health crises to be attended to—all this fit into days otherwise occupied with organizing strikes at the University, volunteering at clinics for victims of SCAF violence in Tahrir, and testifying at hearings.
In the new Egypt, anthropologists who felt impelled to document the revolution rather than write a planned book faced new risks. Research permits violated were more likely to be revoked; residence permits once taken for granted were not being renewed.
Elyachar is the author of a brilliant book called Markets of Dispossession (Duke, 2005) which I’ve reviewed elsewhere.
“Being there” is critical for ethnography. Some anthropologists were there, and brilliant writing may proceed from their work (I’m looking forward to seeing great things from Jessica Winegar, Walter Armbrust, Sherine Hamzy and many others in the near future…).
Some social scientists, however, went to Egypt because of the revolution. Some came to check on their networks of hosts and colleagues and friends, and just to be part of something those friends were experiencing.
I am even more thrilled because the review, by Dan Gilman (University of Mississippi) is so positive. In four pages, Gilman carefully describes the argument of my book, chapter by chapter, in elegantly parsimonious language.
I wish I could reprint the whole thing here because he summarizes the book far better than I ever could. Instead I’ll just quote his last paragraph:
My most popular post so far this year has been “Rethinking Sexual Politics in Egypt” in which I ruminated on an article by Paul Amar in the International Feminist Journal of Politics and the critical discussion of the article that followed. Unfortunately, the citations were incomplete as the articles were published to the IFJP web site long before they appeared in the print edition.
Happily, the critical discussion does appear in issue 15(1), so I have updated the references in the blog post and inserted the references into my bibliography of the Egyptian uprisings.