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Imagining the Egyptian Revolution

June 11, 2014

Three articles in the journal Postcolonial Studies ponder the revolutionary imagination. Photo Credit: Hossam el-Hamalawy حسام الحملاوي via Compfight cc

Three articles in the journal Postcolonial Studies ponder the revolutionary imagination. Photo Credit: Hossam el-Hamalawy حسام الحملاوي via Compfight cc

The latest issue of the interdisciplinary journal Postcolonial Studies features a special issue on “Imagining the Revolution”

Among articles on the revolutionary imagination China, and the American and British Occupy movements, are three articles on the revolution in Egypt.

The first article, “The utopian and dystopian functions of Tahrir Square” by May Telmissany, compares and contrasts two occupations of Tahrir, that of the original 18 days, and that of the one year anniversary.

The author argues that both the secular revolutionary project and the subsequent Islamist revolutionary project bore the seeds of their own subsequent failures, and these can be seen in the performances of the respective occupations of Tahrir Square.

Margot Badran authored the second article, “Dis/playing power and the politics of patriarchy in revolutionary Egypt: the creative activism of Huda Lutfi.” Badran focuses on an exhibition by the artist Huda Lutfi in Cairo on the eve of the third anniversary of the outbreak of  the revolution.

She argues that public art remains a powerful tool for creating and sustaining revolutionary ethos against the re-emergence of a patriarchal deep state.

Finally, in “Challenges of thinking feminism and revolution in Egypt between 2011 and 2014,” Lucia Sorbera draws on Michael Hardt’s notion of  “human revolution” and applies this concept to Egypt’s revolutionary process.

She argues that in spite of a seeming failure to accomplish significant institutional change, Egypt has seen tremendous cultural change, particularly in the area of gender relations, as the young revolutionaries in Egypt today devise new forms of political participation and create new genres of political discourse.

Here is the abstract for  “The utopian and dystopian functions of Tahrir Square”:

This paper seeks to analyze the shifts and tensions between the utopian and the dystopian functions of Tahrir square by focusing on two crucial episodes of the Egyptian revolution: the first spans from January 25 (the beginning of protests) to February 11, 2011 (the fall of Mubarak); and the second occurs a year after, on January 25, 2012, when Muslim Brothers’ constituency and supporters occupied large parts of the square to celebrate the success of the Islamists in parliamentary elections. The utopian functions of the square were established during the first episode, and shattered during the second episode. In both cases, representations of the square were produced by the revolutionary and anti-revolutionary forces to bring to light or diminish the core ideals of the Egyptian revolution, criticizing what exists and deconstructing the illusion of fast and radical change. The paper looks at both the secularist and the Islamist utopian projects promulgated during the first episodes of the revolution from a critical standpoint which emphasizes the fact that both projects bore the seeds of their dystopian transfiguration.

And here is the abstract for Margot Badran’s article :

This paper explores how creative activism, or art activism, promotes culture and gender transformation as an intrinsic part of the overall ongoing revolutionary process in Egypt. Simultaneously it examines how archiving is crucial to extending ways of  keeping the revolution alive, especially in the face of endless efforts to eradicate its traces and impact. The paper focuses on visual art and in particular the work of Huda Lutfi who produced a stunning body of work deconstructing gender in the context of a porous yet stubborn patriarchal culture in the years prior to the outbreak of the revolution. Against the background of this early work the paper conducts a reading of Lutfi’s exhibition in Cairo on the eve of the third anniversary of the outbreak of  the revolution at a moment when re-invigorated patriarchal forces are ascendant. Lutfi presents a powerful display of both the bravado and the fragility of patriarchal culture, especially uniformed patriarchy, and of the insistent revolutionary counterpoise. Thus far visual art is able to sustain its public presence in Egypt and as such operates as a powerful tool in the creation and sustaining of revolutionary ethos in the midst of the current patriarchal resurgence that is inimical to the revolutionary project.

 Here is the abstract for “Challenges of thinking feminism and revolution in Egypt between 2011 and 2014”:

The approach to politics by ruling elites in Egypt has been consistently patriarchal. In this context, feminism stands as a resilient revolutionary force, which over the twentieth and the twenty first century contributes to the complex cultural process that Michael Hardt conceptualizes as ‘human revolution’. Building on this concept, and on the history of Egyptian feminism, this essay analyzes the 25th January Revolution as a challenge to the remnants of the patriarchal culture. If feminized bodies, as the site of cultural and political contestation, have been constructed, in both nationalist and colonial discourses, as objects in need of protection, women’s agency has challenged these narratives and, in the context of the 2011 revolution, has re-shaped the discourse about protection. The views and actions of the emerging women’s movement are situated along the extended line of the feminist revolution, which here is examined through the methodology of oral history. Focusing on cultural, more than institutional, change, and shedding light on the shift from women to gender agency, this essay investigates the strategies through which the young revolutionaries in Egypt today are creating a new political discourse, imagining new forms of political participation.

 References:

Badran, Margot. 2014. Dis/playing power and the politics of patriarchy in revolutionary Egypt: the creative activism of Huda Lutfi. Postcolonial Studies 17(1): 47-62.
Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. 2000. Empire. Harvard University Press.
Sorbera, Lucia. 2014. Challenges of thinking feminism and revolution in Egypt between 2011 and 2014.  Postcolonial Studies 17(1): 63-75.
Telmissany, May. 2014. The utopian and dystopian functions of Tahrir Square. Postcolonial Studies 17(1): 36-46.
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