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Renaming the Egyptian State

February 26, 2011

Egyptians have petitioned to rename the Mubarak Police Academy after Khaled Said.

Rumors went around last night that Mubarak’s picture was put back in a ministry building in Alexandria and this led to many fearful comments–what could it portend, people asked.

One of the projects of a state–understood as a hierarchical bureaucracy with a legal monopoly on the use of force– is to lay claim to the nation through the use of symbols in order to naturalize its authority.

In Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt, the images and names of the first family were efforts in this vein. Every school, every government office and many other buildings contained photographs of the president. Since he left office, these have mostly been removed.

Institutions and sites named in honor of the Mubarak family–usually Suzanne or Gamal Mubarak–are also being renamed.

For example, the Ministry of Culture has renamed “The Suzanne Prize for Children’s Literature” as “The Egyptian Prize for Children’s Literature”, and the Mubarak Prize for Social Science, Arts and Literature has been renamed the “Nile Prize”.

In Minya city residents have supposedly petitioned to rename Suzanne Mubarak Square as “The Martyrs of the January 25 Revolution” Square.

Protesters have also called on the authorities to change the name of the “Mubarak Police Academy” on the Ring Road to “Khaled Said Police Academy”  in honor of the 28-year-old Alexandria native who was beaten to death by Egyptian Police last year. There’s also a petition to rename  People’s Assembly Street as “People’s Street”.

Not all anti-government protesters are patient enough to wait for their petitions to be considered. Protesters in Tahrir took matters into their own hands and crossed out Mubarak’s name from the Cairo Metro Station.

Just as cartouches of some Pharaohs were defaced by their successors–who sometimes replaced them with their own names–removing the names of the Mubarak’s is a sign of change. Equally important is the question of what they are replaced with. The Ministry of Culture has apparently decided not to name prizes after living people any more. From the reports so far, it sounds like the protesters feel the same way.

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