A Week of Laughter and Forgetting: Day One
A year after its outbreak, Youssef Rakha lists seven of the more revealing flights of humour that have punctuated the Egyptian revolution and its aftermath
By 25 January, the idea of a revolution with a predetermined time and venue had already solicited some sarcasm. People reminded each other to bring sandwiches, drinks and mats on which to recline, not to mention music and speakers. It was as if what would turn out to be the bloodiest string of protests in the history of modern Egypt was in fact a picnic to be held on the asphalt stock in the middle of city centre; and the geeky, Westernised language of the well brought up young activists who were calling for action against the powers that be was quickly appropriated to point up the allegedly pampered, qu’ils-mangent-de-la-brioche attitudes of the seemingly anachronistic quarters whence the call for demonstrations was emanating.
Subsequently, in late January and early February — young people having turned up in unprecedented numbers, eventually forcing the riot and for some reason also the regular police to abandon their posts on 28 January — that notion of a picnic took on a certain degree of credibility as protesters set up living quarters in Tahrir Square, sandwiches and music beginning to make an appearance.
There were other things to laugh about, of course — tear gas as a recreational drug, protester-intimidating F16s as “an airforce to be proud of”, Mubarak as the subject of television adds that claimed their products “challenged boredom” — but the picnic was to come up again in statements by the Mubarak-appointed prime minister, Field Marshal Ahmad Shafik, to the effect that Tahrir Square should be turned into “a Hyde Park” of youthful energy until the end of Mubarak’s term. His smart appearance and prim jumper especially prompted no end of sneering: Shafik’s Pullover became a sort of symbol for the truly pampered, qu’ils-mangent-de-la-brioche attitude of the better brought up wing of the festering regime.
The picnic went on until Mubarak was forced to step down, his term had not ended, but neither had the political order.