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Abu Gamal Had a Farm: More Prerevolutionary Political Humor in Egypt

April 14, 2012

"The Village of Gamal's Father" a roman-a-clef mocking the Mubarak regime, ran on-line from 2006-2009.

So as part of my research for the paper on news parody I gave at the International Studies Association, I’ve been reviewing Egyptian humor before and after the revolution.

One of the most interesting pre-revolutionary satires was a blog entitled Ezba Abu Gamal (“The Village of Gamal’s Father”), a series of brief accounts of life in a small village which ran from late 2006 through February 2009.

An ezba is a farming village consisting of the villa of the owner of most of the land, with a large private garden, surrounded by the agriculture workers’ houses. These types of villages emerged in the 19th century concurrent with the development of a new irrigation system comprised of water canals and trenches; the ezba was usually settled alongside these canals. A typical ezba consists of 20 to 30 families, 150 to 300 persons.

This ezba represents the Egyptian nation. There are posts about ladies rights, the new constitution (“clause two: Al Hag Abu Gamal is in charge of everything”), a referendum, computers (it takes the Hag a while to realize that “blog” is not a swear word), and more.

Al Hag Mohammed Hosni Abu Gamal

In this roman a clef the mayor, Al Hag Mohammed Hosni Abu Gamal, is a pastiche on the greedy, buffoonish La Vache Qui Rit representation of Mubarak. He is constantly being nagged by his wife to promote his son Gamal, whose talk about economic reform and computers is mostly incomprehensible to him–but makes him proud that his son actually finished primary school.

The son himself is portrayed as an incompetent fool manipulated by his cronies.

Many other political figures also appear in the blog as various village characters.

In one of the last posts, for example, Abu Gamal speculated on whether “hope and change” will really be the hallmarks of the new Obama administration. He remarks that whenever Gamal visited the White House under Bush, he was given a small room. If Obama gives him a big room, it means the new administration really does represent change for the better—especially if the room has an attached bathroom.

It’s brilliantly written, offering a self-contained comic universe of characters, and I hope the anonymous author fleshes it out turns it into a novel some day.

Resources:

Review of Ezba Abu Gamal by The Arabist

The Hag's son, Gamal.

Review of Ezba Abu Gamal by Global Voices

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