Symposium! Saturday 21st May

Translating Revolution Program




The Armenian Room, AUC Tahrir Square

9:30 am-5:30 pm


9:30             COFFEE

10:00            Introduction: Translating Revolution                                

                   Samia Mehrez

                   Director, Center for Translation Studies

10:30            Moulid El Tahrir: Semiotics of a Revolution  

                   Sahar Keraitim

                   Center for Middle East Studies

11:30            Of Drama and Performance: Transformative                                                               Discourses of the Revolution 

                   Amira Taha

                   Department of Political Science

                   Christopher Combs

                   Center for Middle East Studies

12:30            Signs and Signifiers: Visual Translations of Revolt                  

                   Laura Gribbon

                   International Relations, University of East London

                   Sarah Hawas

                   Department of English and Comparative Literature

1:30- 2:30      LUNCH BREAK

2:30             Al Thawra al Daahika: The Challenges of Translating                                                 Revolutionary Humor

                   Heba Salem

                   Arabic Language Institute       

                   Kantaro Taira

                   Department of Arab and Islamic Civilizations

3:30             The Soul of Tahrir: Poetics of the Revolution

                   Lewis Sanders

                   Center for Middle East Studies

                   Mark Visona

                   Journalism and Mass Communication


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Bards of the Revolution

Egyptians are renowned for their wit and humor across the Arab world.  The recent revolution in Egypt did not escape this cultural characteristic.  Throughout the eighteen days leading to the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, the public expression of humor was indicative of the ability of Egyptians to appropriate the seriousness of events in a lighthearted manner.

The Egyptian revolution has also been referred to as the ‘smiling revolution’.
As jokes mirrored the Egyptian mind before the revolution, they continued to do so during and after the revolution as well.  The feelings of hope and mood changes throughout the 18-days can be traced through these jokes.

Humour is one of the oldest and most subversive political tools.  The steady stream of comedy flowing through Midan Al Tahrir allowed people to defy the regime in non-violent ways, at the same time as creating a sense of camaraderie amongst protesters.  Everyone in the square in that moment could identify with, “leave, my arm hurts” or “leave I want to shower/shave/get married/ see my wife give birth”, as the days dragged on and Mubarak still didn’t go.  The tougher things got, the more the jokes seemed to increase and break the fear barrier.  The longer Mubarak remained in office, the longer and more frequent the jokes became.

The regime didn’t fight humour with humour. They appeared to possess a deep denial of their own irony, for example when Suleiman politely asked the newly released prisoners to return to their cells.  This irony was ruthlessly revealed in many jokes that called attention to the disconnect of the regime from reality.

The power of many of these political jokes lies in the creation of a sense of absurdity towards the status quo.  Several jokes allude to cultural references that are difficult to convey in English.  However, the commentary explains some of the references to English speakers not familiar with their political or cultural background.  Translating the revolution through jokes is not an easy task.  Jokes aren’t supposed to be explained.  In doing so, the translator is doing something that is contrary to their essence, in order to assist the non-native speaker in getting the cultural references and therefore the joke.

We hope you still find the following amusing …


Social Media 

Many transferred the humour to tweets in English, so the wider world could get in on the joke.  New media is the perfect forum for political satire, particularly Twitter, in which users capture the moment in 140 characters or less.  Mubarak, who has supposedly never sent an email in his 82 years, appeared on a fake Twitter site – @HosniMubarak, as did his son @GMubarak and wife @SuzanneMobarak.  A fake ‘Installing Freedom’ screen grab showed files copied from folder – /Tunisia, overlaid with the pop-up message, “Cannot install ‘Freedom’. Please remove ‘Mubarak’ and try again”.

There were also several versions of ‘Mubarak is Offline’ or ‘Delete Mubarak’ references (see below):

 The following shows just how much credit the role of the Internet was given in facilitating the revolution:

Below, Facebook is metaphorically celebrated as the knight which came to liberate the country.

The following jokes were printed  in a newspaper that appeared on 11 February 2011 and also play on the role of social media and new technology as a weapon at the protesters disposal.

Facebook and Twitter are considered to have been useful tools in mobilising and organising the protests. They provided alternative channels of communication in a situation where mass media was largely controlled by the regime.  Bluetooth allowed the protesters in Tahrir Square to exchange messages even during the days when internet and phone lines were cut.

مبارك  بعد ما مات قابل السادات وعبد الناصر، سألوه : هاه؟ سم ولا منصة؟ د عليهم بحرقة وقال : فيسبوك!

After Mubarak dies, he meets his assassinated predecessors Sadat and Abd el Nasser in heaven. They ask him what had killed him, poison or a bullet. He angrily replies: “Facebook!”

While translating the above joke, we tried to avoid elements that would require further explanation. To this end, “منصة” was replaced by “bullet”, since non-Egyptian auditors cannot be expected to know that Sadat was shot while watching a parade from this tribune. The other solution to render the joke more easily understandable was to insert additional information. We took the liberty of mentioning that Sadat and Abd el Nasser are Mubarak’s predecessors, although this might be known to a large audience.  But the rumours around Abd el Nasser dying an unnatural death due to poison are not commonly known and we thus included “assassinated” to point this out.

In order to fully understand the next joke, it is important to know that after the first week of protests, the situation in and around Tahrir Square radically changed when so-called pro-Mubarak ‘thugs’ appeared on the streets.  It very soon became clear that most of them were police men in civilian clothing, paid to disrupt and eventually dissolve the protests.  The following days were marked by heavy street fighting between the two camps.  During these clashes, particular attention was accorded by the media to the use of Molotov cocktails since they were used right next to the Egyptian National Museum. Many feared for the historical treasures on display here.

“بلطجي” لقناة العربية : العيال بيرموا عليتا قنابل “بلوتوث”.

A thug during a TV interview: These bastards threw “bluetooth”-cocktails at us!


Military/Police/Social Security Apparatus

Previously the widely revered military in Egypt has been satire-proof, except in a few key moments in history – the 1967 defeat by Israel when Nasser was concerned by cynicism regarding the army in Egypt.

In the picture below it is clear something has changed – the officer is serving the people with a smile as they wait and look down on him.  The caption reads: “Returning to the motto: ‘The Police in service of the people”, who say – “orders Sir” or ‘Pasha/ paşa’ – a term used to refer to a high ranking official in the Ottoman Empire (or British ‘Lord’) – used ironically here as an honorific ‘Sir’.

The change in Egyptian attitudes towards the Police has been well captured by Al Jazeera in this video, which outlines the need for them to go on a charm offensive in order to win back the respect of the people:

This caption says: “The slowness of the army to answer the demands of the people in the revolution.”  Many people criticised the lack of communication from the Army following Mubarak’s ousting.  The military seemed reluctant to outline to the people what would happen either way following the nationwide referendum vote.


Not all the punch lines were contemporary.

This artist has used the Egyptian National Anthem and changed the words, as are spoken by the man with the bandage on his head … perhaps he was hurt during the revolution.

Here, the artist has placed the following lines between the traditional opening and closing of the National anthem, as an alternative refrain for his life:

(Addressing Egypt)

You have all my love …

My poverty, humiliation and debt

My disappointment, salary, the needs are not met

My humiliation

My shoulders are slumped

I cannot look my children in the eye

I cannot provide, as hard as I try.

… and my heart.


“Then you are definitely in Egypt”

A series of jokes appeared online few years ago, titled “then you are definitely in Egypt”. These long lists of things that are hard to believe, existed exclusively in Egypt and therefore if you have been through one or more of these things or seen them around you, “then you are definitely in Egypt”. Several versions of these lists could be found online. Of course, all the issues mentioned are very negative. Below, there are two examples from the old lists of “then you are definitely in Egypt”;

و رحت تطلع مخالفات عربيتك و لاقتها غير صحيحة

لأن بالفعل معندكش عربية … تبقى أنت أكيد فى مصر

If you went to pay your car bells, and you find out that it is totally incorrect, because …you do not have a car, then you are definitely in Egypt.

لقيت فى بلد ربع سكانلو ها ساكننين فى عاصمتها … تبقى أنت أكيد فى مصر

If you are in a country where one quarter of its population live in the capital town, then you are definitely in Egypt. “

The recent lists of issues that would tell you that you are in Egypt are very much related to the revolution and the new revolutionary manifestations which accompanied it, like the military presence in the streets and the new promising realities in Egypt.  Notably, as these issues related to the new Egypt, it is mostly positive things describing new behavioral patterns in Egypt.

In addition, this series of jokes highlights many absurdities in the Egyptian revolution by calling attention to real issues and presenting them in a humorous way.  The frame of the joke alludes to both a positive and negative interpretation of Egypt as a place where change is possible yet there are still shortcomings.  Each joke thus contains both positive and negative elements regarding the revolution yet provides a sort of “constructive criticism” in the narrative of the revolution.


«تبقى أنت أكيد فى مصر»

Then you are definitely in Egypt ;

Before its dismissal, the State Security police in Egypt have been the main control and oppression tool of the former regime in Egypt. After the revolution, The state security police officers tried to damage and burn piles of secret documents and papers. Yet the people and the army managed to save a great amount of documents after the fall of their main headquarters both in the capital and the governorates. The documents contained detailed information about individuals, organizations and civil society groups and even media and football payers. The lists of the secret agent working for the state security police showed that they had “eyes” everywhere, and they were watching and spying, practically on all Egyptians.  The following Joke is telling this fact in a humorous way, suggesting that even the individuals very personal issues are known to the state security police. Or as it was said “every Egyptian has a file in the state security police archives”.

لما تلاقى أمن الدولة عارف صاحبتك سابتك ليه، وإنت لسه متعرفش

 When the security police know that your girl friend broke up with you, even before you know it.


Some  jokes aimed at ridiculing the poor state of Egyptian industry and the Egyptian economy in general.  The joke shows the contrast between the great achievements of the revolution on the one hand, and the setbacks of industry and the economy on the other. The joke carries a hidden massage, implying that it is time for the economy to cope with the recent political changes achieved through the revolution.

لما مصر ممكن تصدر الثورة للصين، وتستورد منها العلم المصرى

When Egypt exports revolution to China and imports Egyptian flags from it.


Some jokes are not so easily grasped and can be interperted in several ways.  The following joke carries a double meaning.  First, it refers to the overwhelming feeling of national pride after the revolution.  One of the main manifestations of this feeling is the Egyptian flag, which now can be seen everywhere – in cars, widows, gardens and even as scarves.  It is important to mention that the McDonalds happy meal is a childrens’ meal and hence refers to the involvement of children in the revolution.  On the other hand, the joke could be interpreted in another way, as McDonalds is an American restaurant.  The message of the joke here could be ridiculing the nature of marketing policies, implying that even American restaurants use the rise of national feelings in Egypt to make more money.

لما بعد الثورة ماكدونالدز يديك مع الهابى ميل علم مصر

When you get the Egyptian flag with the happy meal you order in McDonalds after the revolution.


Sports is never out of the picture in Egypt.  The following joke is dealing with Zamalek, the second popular team in the country after “Al-Ahli”.  One of the common assumptions about Zamalak’s players, administration, and even fans, is that they tend to describe their losses, especially the ones related to Al-Ahli using conspiracy theories.  In other words, that all official and non-official parties in Egypt are involved in a secret plot against Al-Zamalek to deprive the team from getting any national championships.  This joke is ridiculing the trend; assuming that the revolution broke out at a specific point of time to stop Al Zamalek from winning the Egyptian National football league.  Of course the joke is referring to the suspension of the league due to the security situation in the country.  Al Zamalek happened to be leading the league at the point of suspension.

لما الزمالك يكون أول الدورى وتحصل ثورة ويتلغى الدورى

When the revolution breaks out and the Egyptian football league gets suspended, right when Zamalek is number one in the league.


The following joke is related to the previous one, stating another unexpected issue in revolutionary Egypt.  This joke ridicules the assumption that AL-Ahly is the darling of Egyptians.  However, due to recent events, people lost their interest in football, even when Al- Ahli scores 5 goals and will play in the African championship.  This joke also implies the significance of the revolution, and how it changed the hierarchy of interests for Egyptian people, turning their interest from football to Midan Al Tahrir.

It is worth pointing out that many people and writers argued that the exaggerated attention of the former regime to football was not haphazard, and that it was much politicized.  The main objective of the regime was to direct people’s attention and energy away from the problems and difficulties of life to football.  Second, the regime wanted to gain popularity for being the sponsor and force behind the national teams’ achievements. This was very clear after the team won the African championship the last three times, when they were received by both the president and his sons.

لما يبقى الأهلى فاز 5 وهيلعب فى بطولة أفريقيا وما حدش بيتكلم عن الكورة

When EL-Ahli Scores 5 goals and plays in the African championship and still no one speaks about football. 


Another joke refers to the new Prime Minister – Essam Sharaf.  One of the strange, unexpected changes which became a characteristic of revolutionary Egypt is that a man like Essam Sharaf, who is completely different from previous prime ministers, was chosen for the post.  This joke refers to the mechanism for appointing ministers in Egypt before the revolution, which was controlled by corruption, nepotism and favoritism.

لما تلاقى واحد عاش طول عمره معارض ويبقى رئيس وزراء

When someone who lived all his life in the opposition becomes the prime minister.


The following joke emphasizes the popularity of the new prime minister who got the nick name, “ the prime minister of the Midan” and the prime minister who gets his legitimacy from AL-Tahrir.  This joke also affirms the rhetorical abilities of Sharaf and shows the considerable degree of popularity he has achieved.  This of course, cannot be analysed without referring to the wide unpopularity of the previous system and the former prime minister who was called “the enemy of people”.

لما تسمع عصام شرف فتتحول من معارض شرس لمدافع عن النظام

When you hear Essam Sharaf “ the prime minister” speak, and you turn from fierce opposition to defense of the regime. 


It is alleged the Egyptian revolution was initiated on Facebook, which has impacted the institutions of the after-revolution period.  Government ministries have established Facebook pages to communicate with people, especially the youth.  This is considered to be a revolutionary wonder, considering the former President Hosni Mubarak reportedly didn’t have an email account.

لما كل وزارة تعمل صفحة على الفيس بوك

When you see government ministries on Facebook


The following  joke again implies the popularity of the new prime minister on one hand. On the other it emphasizes the rise of political activism and awareness in Egypt.  The joke literally means that Essam Sharaf has become the ideal love match for the youth in Egypt, and not Tamer Hosni, who is a very famous Egyptian singer with many fans.  It is important to note that the nick name “Tamora” was used instead of “Tamer”, and has been adopted from the TV comedy show “Tamer and Shawkeya”, which is the Egyptian version of the American TV show “Darma and Greg”.

لما نجم الجيل يطلع عصام شرف مش طموووورة

When the “star of the generation” becomes Essam Sharaf, not Tamoora.


Similarly, the following joke suggests that an ideal husband for an Egyptian girl is no longer the famous, good looking and rich football player – Ahmed Hassan, who is also known for his silly hair cut, but in fact – Dr, Amr Hamazawi, the political activist, and chief of Carnegie endowment in the Middle East.  Unlike Hassan, Hamzawi was very active in the revolution, and was considered to be one of the intellectual spokesmen in the media, particularly Al Jazeera. While Hassan always has a neat straight fixed hair cut, Hamzawi always has a spiky hair style.  So, the joke suggests that Hamzawi even with his spiky hair style has become the ideal man for girls in Egypt.

لما البنت بدل ما كان حلمها أحمد حسن علشان بيحط جيل فى شعره دلوقتى بقى عمرو حمزاوى اللى عمره ما غسل شعره

When the image of the ideal husband for girls is no longer Ahmad Hassan, because he uses Jill in his hair, but it becomes Amr Hamzawi, who never washes his hair.


This joke is a continuation of the last one …

 لما يبقى من مواصفات العريس لأى عروسة إنه يكون راح التحرير ووقف فى اللجنة الشعبية

When the main criteria for choosing a groom become being an Al-Tahrir boy and joining the neighborhood watch.


“Sectarian strife” is a term which has been used frequently in Egypt during the few years prior to the revolution of January 25Th.  Egyptian society has witnessed several violent incidents and problems between Muslims and Christians, which reached a climax after the explosion of the church in Alexandria on New Years Eve 2010.  However, during the revolution there has been great solidarity between Muslims and Christians, which cannot be overestimated.  On the other hand, there are many indicators that the former regime is directly involved in provoking sectarian tension.  So just as the Imam leading Friday prayers in Midan Al-Tahrir addresses the people as “Muslims and Christians”, this joke refers to Fridays in Tahrir when Muslims praying whilst Christians guarded them in a unique show of national unity.

لما فى خطبة الجمعة الخطيب ينادى: أيها المسلمون والأقباط

When the Imam in the Friday prayer addresses the people as “Muslims and Christians”.


The following joke is related to the previous one, as refers to the participation of Christians in the revolution.  Egyptian Christians are known for their strong devotion to the church and the pope.  Yet, many Christians participated in the revolution, despite the church’s advice not to demonstrate.  This emphasizes the national unity of Egyptian society and the main values of the revolution that united all the citizens of the state, dismissing ideologies and personal and political agendas.

لما البابا شنودة يقول للأقباط بلاش مظاهرات فينزلوا التحرير ويعملوا قداس

When pope Shnouda tells the Christians not to demonstrate, and instead, they do their prayers in the Midan.


Tamir Amin was a supporter of the regime before the revolution, yet after the revolution maintained his post as an anchor of a popular Egyptian talk show. The humor here comes from his discussing of the NDP, in that he used to never criticize the party prior to the revolution.

لما تامر أمين يبقى لسه مذيع فى «مصر النهارده» وبيتكلم عن الحزب الوطنى

When Tamer Amin is still the anchor of Masr An-Niharda and he talks about the  NDP.


This next joke refers to the corrupt businessman Ahmed Ezz and to his ill-gotten fortune, which is still unaccounted for.  The joke calls for a return of this money to the Egyptian people and highlights the absurdity of the government being unable to retrieve this money.

 لما يبقى أحمد عز محبوس جوه السجن لكن فلوسه بره

 When Ahmed Ezz is in jail but his money stays free.


This next joke asks why the former president is not being held accountable for the actions of his regime, and implies that Mubarak will not be put on trial.  By characterizing Mubarak as مأنتخ or “careless”, this joke underlines the degree to which Mubarak has escaped his accountability.

 لما حسنى مبارك يبقى قاعد مأنتخ فى شرم الشيخ والحراسة عليه أكبر من الحراسة اللى كانت عليه وهو


When Husni Mubarak stays a carefree leader in Sharm El-Sheikh and has more  guards then he did when he was president.


One of the original demands of some groups among the protesters has been for economic reform, especially with regard to raises in salaries.  This joke shows the irony of the situation in that even the police have protested for their salaries after using force against the protesters.

لما الناس تخرج فى ثورة علشان تزود مرتباتها، والشرطة تقتلهم، وبعدين مرتبات الشرطة هى اللى تزيد

 When the people go out in the revolution in order to get a raise in salary, get    killed by the police, and afterwards it’s the police who get a raise.


The following joke vents frustration against the corrupt system in which the powerful ex-Interior Minister Habib El-Adly still carries respect even while on trial.  By “saluting” this minister, the soldiers and officers in this joke are revealed to still respect his authority even after the revolution.  This indicates that enough has not been done to eliminate the influence of the old regime.

لما يبقى حبيب العادلى قتل وعذب المصريين لمدة 14 سنة ويدخل المحكمة والعساكر والضباط بيعملوا له تعظيم سلام.

When Habib El-Adly, killer and torturer of Egyptians for 14 years, enters court and the soldiers and officers still salute him.


The next joke is a “sign of the times” joke in which two politicians are singled out for their disconnect from reality.  For Safwat El-Sherif, a businessman with ties to the old regime,  attempts to form a “youth party”, which indicates his hypocrisy after the revolution.  For Zakaria Azamy, his claim to still be an influential politician after so many years of corruption indicates how he doesn’t understand that a revolution has happened.

لما صفوت الشريف يقرر يعمل حزب شبابى جديد، وزكريا عزمى لسه رئيس ديوان رئيس الجمهورية.

When Safwat El-Sharif decides to create a new youth party, and Zakaria Azamy is still the president’s Chief of Staff.


Like the above, this next joke highlights the disconnect between an old businessman and the new influence of social media and young people in Egypt after the revolution.  By “talking with the youth on Facebook” humor is created in that this old figure is trying to validate his actions by using social media.

لما فتحى سرور يطلع يقول: أنا بحاور الشباب على فيس بوك

 When Fathy Suror declares: I’m talking to the youth on Facebook.


This next joke addresses the rumors that Mubarak will return politically in the future.  His return to elections is made in a botched announcement by his “lawyer”, indicating the disorganization of the NDP and any kind of Mubarak comeback.

لما مصادر تكشف عن المفاجأة التى قال محامى مبارك إنه سيفجرها الأحد القادم، وهى أن مبارك هيرشح نفسه فى 2011.

When sources suddenly reveal that Mubarak’s lawyer blew the surprise that     Mubarak will run for election in 2011.


This next joke refers to Wael Ghonim and all of the false accusations that his critics have used against him, including that he had Masonic ties because he wore a shirt decorated with a lion, a Masonic symbol.

لما أى حد يلبس تيشيرت عليه لوجو أسد يبقى ماسونى.

When anyone wearing a t-shirt with a lion on it is a Mason.


This next joke shows how disconnected Mubarak was from the desires of the people in his speeches.  Both Omar Suleiman and Mubarak blamed the revolution on outside forces or extremists, and this joke shows how shortsighted Mubarak was regarding the protesters and their demands.

لما الشعب يبقى فى عيون مبارك إما إخوان أو مدسوسين أو أجندات.

 When Mubarak sees the people as Muslim Brotherhood members or agents or  agendas.


On February 3rd, Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s then Vice President, announced on state television that the reason for increased violence in Tahrir was the involvement of foreign forces with agendas. Thus, the signifier agenda becomes a play on words in the context of the joke. Of course Egyptians had an agenda during the revolution, to depose Mubarak and incur a structural shift of the country’s political infrastructure, to say the least. This next joke is thus an expression of Omar Suleiman finally acknowledging that the Egyptian people have a list of issues that need to be addressed, an agenda.

لما تبقى أسعد واحد فى الدنيا بعد عمر سليمان ما يقول لك يا أجندة

When you become the happiest person in the world after Omar Suleiman says you have an agenda.


This was not the only joke to reference the word ‘agenda’. In Tahrir, there was a group of three students with notebooks, or agendas, in front of them. Written on the pieces were Iran, US, and Israel. Indeed, the humor plays out, “We do have foreign agendas here.”

In the next joke, the disappointment of Egyptians with Amr Moussa is juxtaposed with the number of people who support him. Amr Mousa had a very strange approach to the revolution. As he tried to talk to the protesters in the Midan asking them to leave. This contradicts the general assumptions that Mousa  has a wide popularity in Egypt. On the other hand, it is a clear exaggeration  when we say that three quarters of the Egyptians support Amr Mousa, but this is normal when it comes to jokes.

لما ثلاثة أرباع الشعب المصرى يكونوا بيحبوا عمرو موسى ويطلع يعك فى الساقية.

When three-fourths of the Egyptian people support Amr Moussa and he goes and talks nonsense in the Sawi Cultural Wheel.


In traditional Egyptian weddings the bride and groom are put in a display during the wedding celebration that is lavishly decorated.  By using a tank as this display, the people are celebrating the army and the revolution during their wedding.

لما دبابة تتحول كوشة وعريس وعروسة فوقيها.

When the tank becomes a marriage display for a bride and groom.


Prior to the revolution, the perception of the Egyptian people abroad was seen as negative by Egyptians, especially in the Arab World.  This next joke represents the change in this perception after the revolution, in which many foreigners are proud of the Egyptian accomplishment. Thus, these jokes provide insight into a cultural narrative where positive and negative reactions to the events that took place during the revolution could be brought together under a cohesive umbrella of comic relief.

لما يكون معاك جواز سفر مصرى والأجانب يصقفوا لك فى المطار.

When you have an Egyptian passport and foreigners clap for you in the airport.


The next joke also reflects a change in attitude among Egyptians during and after the revolution.  Because of the revolution, many Egyptians felt a renewed sense of nationalism.  Before the revolution, there was little consensus over the question of Egyptian nationalism. In fact, this experience of identity formation was hindered and fragmented by the government in order to create a pseudo-sectarian division between the people, whether Muslim, Coptic, Bedouin, Nubian, etc.  In a sense, this joke represents the overarching nationalist sentiment that was ushered in through the revolution. Many Egyptian youth had never felt a common enough experience to share in this type of identity formation.  This joke references the shift in identifying with their country.

لما تكره بلدك قوى وبعد كم يوم تحب تموت علشانها.

When you strongly hate your country and after a few days you would love to die for it.


The following joke shows the pride of the older generation of Egyptians in the accomplishment of the ‘revolution of the youth’, and indicates how even this generation desires change from the old system. This joke, though there are rumors that this actually happened, tells the story of the transformation of the Mubarak station to the station of the Martyr’s of the January 25th revolution. When riding the metro, one notices the name of Mubarak scratched out or colored over with a sharpie, with its new name written on its side.  Also, it is interesting to point out that though there is a linguistic association with the revolution and the youth, it the elder generation telling the younger generation that the Mubarak station does not exist anymore. This references the appropriation of the revolution by the older and younger generations, breaking the misleading lexical association of revolution and youth.

لما بنت تسأل فى المترو عن محطة مبارك، وبعدين ست كبيرة تبتسم وتقول لها: مفيش محطة بالاسم ده، أكيد تقصدى محطة الشهدا.

When a girl asks in the metro about Mubarak Station, and an old woman smiles and tells her there’s no station with that name, of course you mean Martyr’s Station.

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Translating Chants

The fourth assignment in the seminar ‘Translating Revolution’ taught at the American University of Cairo focused on the translation of chants that could be heared at various points of the 18 days of protest and its aftermath. Chants are verses or mottos, used in a political, commercial, religious or other context as a repetitive expression of an idea, purpose or demand. For it to be memorable, it has to be catchy and concise. Often, it’s rhetorical nature leaves little room for nuanced explanation. But it would be reductive to call slogans simple as the following commentary shows.

The chants used during the revolution of January 25 have been unique in their thematic diversity, cultural richness and musical rhythm. The distinctive Egyptian sense of humor and cultural flavor has been very noticeable, to the point that the events were by many media channels called “the smiling revolution”. The fundamental demands of the revolution can be heard embedded in the chants, which evolved over the eighteen days of the revolution. Some of the key demands remained throughout, some were dropped and others replaced them in direct response to events as they unfolded, for example – chants about Omar Suleiman or Ahmed Shafiq. Many of the great refrains could be heard throughout more extensive or innovative periods of discourse, such as باطل ,ارحل or the infamous الشعب يريد اسقاط النظام. These helped punctuate the chants throughout and maintained a sense of continuity in the midst of the storm.

On the other hand, these same characteristics render the process of translating particularly difficult. The translator is confronted by a multi-layered content that can often only be understood in it’s specific context. Furthermore, the translation should also have a rhythm and whenever possible a rhyme to convey an idea of how it was used in the source language.


حسني مبارك …… باطل

جمال مبارك …… باطل

الفساد …. باطل

الحرامية …… باطل

وحبيب العادلي …… باطل

Hosni Mubarak      Null and void

Gamal Mubarak     Null and void

The corruption       Null and void

And the thieves       Null and void

Habeeb El-Adly      Null and void

Video of the chant, taken in Cairo on January 25:

This chant was widely used in different Egyptian cities right from January the 25th and  throughout the whole period of the protests. It is worth pointing out that this chant is not exclusively related to the recent events in Egypt, as it was frequently used in several protests before the revolution of January the 25th. One of the most  important occasions where this chant has been used intensely is the demonstrations gathered in Kilo Batra and in front of Sidi Gaber police station, protesting the death of Khalid Said; a young man who was beaten up to death by two police agents in the neighborhood in June 2010.

One of the interesting aspects about this chant is that it is inspired by a very famous scene from an old Egyptian movie called  “A little bit of fear”, staring Shadia and Mahmoud Moursy. The main theme in the story of the film is centered around Atrees; a strong tyrant man who controls the people of his village, who both hate and fear him very much. Atrees eventually forces the woman he loves to marry him against her well. The events get complicated and reache their climax when the people of the village revolt against Atrees’s authority and march to his place chanting that “ the marriage of Atrees and Foada is invalid”. Because of many deep rooted cultural and religious aspects, the forced marriage and its invalidity is strongly condemned by the people of the village and it finally symbolizes all the ills of Atrees and his authority as being null and void. This particular scene became much more popular than the film itself, and the chant of the people of the village has, ever since, been used in other contexts to express illegitimacy and invalidity. Moreover, the theme of this scene was even used in several commercial advertisements as well, which made it even more popular and common. The analogy and connotations of the scene is quite clear, given the features of the main character in the film, as being a tyrant, hated and feared strong man with an illegitimate unlimited authorities. The illegitimate marriage between Atrees and Foada could be seen as a symbol of the illegitimate marriage of the regime to Egypt, as well. In addition, the chant, not only strips the president of his legitimacy, but also the son of the president, the corruption, and the police forces represented by the minister of interior; Habeeb Al-Adly.

The main problem we faced in the translation process of this chant was the word “batel”; equivalent to invalid or illegitimate. The group used a long time discussing the different possibilities and alternatives. We wanted to capture the different connotations of the word, as it both implies the idea of invalidity and illegitimacy. our other main concern was to keep the rhythm of the chant, and using a word that both capture the connotations and have the viability to be chanted. Therefore, We picked the words “ null and void” to realize the two  objectives  of both the meaning and the musical nature of the chant.


إعتصام إعتصام

حتى إسقاط النظام

Stay put, Stay here,

‘till the regime is cleared.

ثورة ثورة حتى النصر

ثورة ثورة وغيرها مفيش

Revolution, revolution until defeat,

Revolution in every Egyptian street.

ثورة ثورة وغيرها مفيش

لأجل نشيل حكام ترابيش

Revolution, revolution and nothing but,
Get rid of leaders stuck in a rut.

Video of the chant, taken by a group member in Cairo on January 25:

This chant was in rhyming couplets in the original Arabic, as can be heard on the video, but should be read together, as it was repeated in succession after the leader. It is interesting that this early on the demands for regime change were so strong.

The translator has taken a few liberties in order to maintain the rhythm and rhyme scheme in the target language, as the ability to speak and memorize these chants was key to their pervasive use.

The chants often used cultural symbolism that needs interpreting. The ‘tarboosh’ or ‘fez’ (طربوش), is a felt hat, either in the shape of a red truncated cone or a short cylinder made of kilim fabric with tassels (see picture below).

Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II made it the official headgear for the military in 1826 in the expectation that the populace at large would follow suit. However, it signaled rank, religion, class and occupation, and was largely shunned by tradesmen and artisans. The fez was banned in Turkey in 1925 as part of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s modernizing reforms. It was worn by the Egyptian Army until 1950, but was impractical and didn’t shield soldiers from the sun.

It is used here to denote an ‘old fashioned’, ‘outdated’ regime, which is why we translated it as ‘stuck in a rut’ (which in the target language of English means stuck in the past or refusing to move with the times), in order to maintain the rhyme scheme of the chant.


تغيير حرية عادلة إجتماعية

Change, liberty, social equality!

(Traditionally: Change, freedom, social justice)

Video of the chant, taken in Ismailia on February 1st:

One of the first chants heard during the revolution, this slogan was often used by particular groups to highlight economic injustice.  This slogan was widely cited in the beginning of the revolution to identify the protesters’ central demands and to differentiate them from being allied with any particular faction with an agenda.  This slogan is both inclusive and general enough to unite people with different levels of opposition to the government.  Notably, the chant does not directly criticize the regime, indicating how public opinion gradually changed after the initial protests.  At this stage of the revolution, protesters called for these principles without specifically demanding a complete end to the regime.  However, after the success of the first week’s protests and the government’s response, protesters wished to achieve change, liberty, and social justice mainly through the downfall of the Mubarak regime.

While this slogan is traditionally translated as “Change, freedom, social justice” the group wished to capture some of the musicality of the source language in a new translation.  Furthermore, as slogans are meant to be chanted, the group wanted to create an equivalent translation that can be easily chanted in the target language of English.  This was accomplished through the use of rhyme and punctuation to aid the English reader in chanting the slogan.  The source language slogan can be broken down into three semantic segments with a rhyme scheme of A B B.  The translation captures the rhyme and rhythm by choosing “liberty” over “freedom” and “equality” over “justice”.  In the target language of English “liberty” and “freedom” are usually interchangeable semantically in many contexts.  While “equality” varies slightly from “justice”, the group thought that as a meaningful unit, the phrase “social justice” encompasses the notion of equality, whether economic or political.  The punctuation and lack of conjunctions in the translation identifies to the reader that this text is not meant to be read but pronounced, and adds an element of strangeness that slightly “foreignizes” the translation.  This was an attempt to not “domesticate” the source text by making it a smooth English phrase of “Change, freedom, and social justice”.  Overall, this translated slogan is memorable and easily chanted and thus succeeds in the purpose of a slogan in both the source and target languages.


!إنزل! إنزل

يا أهالينا ضموا علينا

!الحرية دي ليكو ولينا

Come down, guys! Come out, join us!

This freedom’s for you! For us!

This slogan’s content does not relate to a specific event and was widely heard throughout the protests. However, in Cairo its use peaked on two days, January 28 and February 11. On both these days protesters were marching the streets of the capital, first towards Midan Tahrir and later from the square to the presidential palace in Heliopolis, a suburb of Cairo. The slogan is directed to the people standing on sidewalks, and peering through windows and balconies, as the protesters pass by. It is to be understood as an invitation to these spectators to join the crowds in the streets.

In the source language, a repeated “انزل” precedes the rest of the verse, it has a different rhythm and falls out of the rhyme scheme. After several attempts to structure the translated verse in a similar way, we decided to break the two parts up and mix them together. This makes it possible to preserve the substance of the original slogan while giving the translation a proper rhythm, albeit one that differs from the source.

In general “نزل” would be translated as “to go down”. But when considering it’s common use in sentences as “I am leaving the house now” or “I will get off at the next stop”, we felt that this does not capture the multiple dimensions of the original word. We therefore decided to use two different translations, “to go down” and “to go out”, to convey the notions of descending as well as leaving a building. Furthermore, it seemed more suitable to have the translation read “come down!” and “come out!” to emphasise the demand to the spectators to join the march.

The second difficulty we encountered while translating this slogan was to find an appropriate expression for “أهالينا”, which means “our family”. Depending on the context, it could also be translated to “our relatives”. It therefore incorporates a strong notion of kinship and unity. However, there clearly exists no blood ties between the protesters and the spectators. Thus, “أهالينا” should be understood as a term underlining the ties of nationhood, as the protests were also a strong moment of patriotism, and used to reinforce the feelings of unity in commitment to a common cause. We considered using “family” or “people”, but felt that none of these would be used during protests in London, Dublin or Washington. We finally settled for “guys” since it is a term only used in informal conversation. It therefore conveys part of the intimacy implied by the original wording and is common enough to appear in protester’s slogans across English speaking countries. The same problem arises when translating “ضموا” into “join” even though it’s meaning is closer to “embrace”. In general, the chant therefore conveys less intimacy in the target language than the original.


أحه أحه أحه يلا يلا تنحى

Fuck! A7a! Step down, yallah!

Chant of 1967

أحه أحه لا تتنحى

Fuck no, you can’t go!

This slogan, with all its vulgarity, has expressed a very direct demand to Hosni Mubarak during the revolution. Its explicit intent, as translated, is to demand the immediate resignation of Mubarak. Yet, it should be noted, as is a trend with most of the chants, that there is a historical narrative being re-appropriated in the context of the revolution. In order to translate these chants, it is critical to understand the underlying meanings as tied to their historical counterparts, however manipulated to meet the demands of their reinvented context.

Following the Six-Day War, in which Israel captured Sinai Peninsula along with other surrounding areas of the Arab world, Gamal Abdel Nasser announced his resignation on television. The reaction of the Arab world was defiant. They took to the streets in protest, chanting ” أحه أحه لا تتنحى”. I decided to translate the word “أحه” into “Fuck”. The word, in Egyptian colloquial, signifies a vulgar objection. After debating this matter through various conversations with native and non-native Arabic and English speakers, I decided on using the word “Fuck” since it appropriates the meanings of vulgarity and objection into one signifier. As well, in the chant of the January 25th revolution, I decided to translate the word أحه, repeated several times in the chant, into its Araby form. Araby, which appropriates the Roman alphabet and Hindu-Arabic numerals, is widely popular in the online community. As well, it is frequently used in text messages where Arabic is not available as an option. Each sign of this modern lexical system represents a corresponding sign of the Arabic alphabet. I decided to translate this word as A7a for several reasons. The first being that within the online community, this word is commonly introduced in Araby as A7a instead of A77a. Secondly, according to the rules of this lexical system, the first “A” represents the ʾalif, the “7” represents ḥā, and the additional “a” represents the undotted yā. By introducing this word within the chant, it allows it to retain an appropriate rhythm characteristic of the this form of expression.

The revolution of January 25th was able to re-appropriate this historically situated chant and re-situate it in the present. By shifting the target and inverting the meaning projected towards the office of Presidency, it contextualizes the chant into Egypt’s recent experience with revolution. Though the rhythm of the chants is varied in order to incorporate “يلا” into its recent expression, the dialectical meanings become evident, especially as a referent. As well, the word “يلا” is often translated as “Come on” or “Let’s go”. Instead, I decided to translate it into its transliterated form since it is a word that has been experienced by many native English speakers.


لا اخوان ولا ائتلافثورة شعب مافيش خلاف

No MB and no coalition – people only, no division

This chant was widely used outside Maspero on Friday 27th March. Its second part reads “a people’s revolution, no division” but was altered to retain the rhythm of a chant. The day’s protests began in Tahrir square and continued well into the evening outside the Egyptian Radio and Television building. The chant was also widely circulated in Twitter, along with others. The sentiment was designed to reinforce the nature of the revolution as a popular and decentralized uprising that would not tolerate being co-opted or distorted by particular interests. About a week earlier, on Saturday 19th March, Egyptians voted in a constitutional referendum, the results of which would determine when elections would be held (among other things). The day was filled with widespread reports of harassment and aggressive campaigning by members of the Muslim Brotherhood (along with others) in favor of voting “yes” to these constitutional amendments. Many felt that this served their own agenda (of running in the upcoming parliamentary elections) and created unwelcome divisions among people. One of the most cited “official” reasons for the MB’s stance on the constitution (i.e. that it should not be re-written and should only be amended) has been concern over the possible removal of Article 2, which cites Islam as the religion of the state. The sentiment on the street last Friday expressed frustration with this kind of factionalism and sought to re-unite the people under the original character of the uprising, while also rejecting the notion of a representative coalition.


يا اعلام الاعلاناتكم شهيد بسببكم مات

Advertise, advertise: only martyrs recognize!

الشعب يريد تطهير الاعلام

The people demand the purging of the media

The protest outside the TV building (during which time State TV and some private channels aired nothing of relevance) targeted the Ministry of Information and many of the producers and decision-makers behind state media, as well as private corporate media. Since Mubarak’s departure, mainstream media has by and large co-opted the revolution (which is always referred to in the past tense, as though complete) and economic and political agendas have come to the fore. The chants refer to the hundreds of martyrs who died during the 18-day uprising, who would quickly become adopted and valorized by the media, honored in fact, in a disingenuous move to side with popular opinion; yet these celebrations were juxtaposed with acutely counter-revolutionary impulses that ultimately turned many against the Tahrir phenomenon. That the media should remain silent – indeed, actively stifle information- about police and SS behavior while pretending to “honor” or pay tribute to those that died at their hands, is what renders the institution illegitimate and thoroughly offensive to the spirit of the revolution. The former chant literally translates to “Oh media of advertisements, how many martyrs have died because of you” but was significantly altered to express better in English the relationship that is identified between corporate interests and the sustenance of the regime. It is this kind of suspicion that we aim to relay in the translation, by targeting the tendency to ‘advertise’ – that is, to also commodify – everything, but particularly here the martyrs. This is then coupled with “only martyrs recognize” – which is to say that the very thing the media seeks to commodify is witness to its complicity in the regime’s crimes.


قللي يا مصري ايه افكاركده طنطاوي هو مبارك

Egypt, Egypt, what do you say, Tantawi’s Mubarak today

The original Arabic states, “Tell me, oh Egyptian, what are your thoughts – that Tantawi is Mubarak”. In English, we tried to find an equivalent that might capture both the sense of incitement of popular discourse, as well as the direct statement about Tantawi’s allegiance to the outgoing regime. It was also important to retain as much rhythm as possible.

The behavior of the military since Mubarak’s departure from office has been far from ambiguous. That the military – or rather, a reported rift among its echelons – had a role to play in the final push, is indisuputed. However, many expressed skepticism about the military’s part in the equation as early as 2nd of February, when soldiers stood by and watched as an army of SS thugs attacked and massacred those occupying Tahrir. The military owns upwards of 30 percent of the Egyptian economy, and has produced and sustained one regime after the other for the last few decades. In the weeks following Mubarak’s ouster, the behavior of the military has rapidly changed public perception of its role or potential interests in maintaining the regime: continued reports of detention and torture, along with an amplified and brutal crackdown on protests, and the military’s continued protection of Mubarak and certain of his aides from trial… are all factors that have significantly altered the relationship of this revolution to the military institution. This chant was one of the louder soundbytes from Friday evening in front of the TV building, and signaled an acute awareness and conviction that the revolution is far from over…


قاعدين فى الميدانلحد مايرحل الجبان

We remain in the Midan…until the ouster of the cowardly man!

This rhyming chant represents the Egyptian determination that grew by time in Tahrir Square. The longer the time frame in which Mubarak clinged to power, the more persistent and unified Egyptian voices became.

Mubarak’s much-anticipated and delayed speeches only promising minor reforms that reflected the disconnect between him and the people , led demonstrators to recite chants that signified their own persistence, as well as, targeted Mubarak personally in a much unprecedentedly bolder manner. Calling Mubarak cowardly may have occurred among closed circles of Egyptians, but such chants marked the significant change of taking such descriptions to the public sphere in a clear sign of breaking the wall of fear that kept building up for 30 years.

The translators decided to keep the word “Midan” as is and not translate it into “square”, because we believe it is by now quite commonly used in Western media. It also aims at foreignizing the source language, hoping that it would spread in later use of the word for all what it has become to signify.


حسنى مبارك هو شاروننفس الشكل ونفس اللون

Hosny Mubarak is Sharon…same in form, same in scorn!

The anti-Zionist sentiment quite common on Egyptian streets has been voiced quite often in Egyptian demonstrations throughout Mubarak’s rule. Yet, taking it to the level of showing resemblance between veteran Zionist leaders, such as Sharon, and Mubarak himself has been quite new in Egyptian protest chants.

By comparing Mubarak to Sharon, this rhyming chant implies the level of hatred distilled in the Egyptian psyche. The perception of Sharon in the Arab world is of a ruthless bloody war leader for all the massacres he has orchestrated; the recollection of him leading the “Thaghra” battle in 1973 also leaves a scar in Egyptian memories specifically. This chant also sheds a light on the idea documented on other banners of Mubarak as an Israeli agent in the Egyptian society that works for the benefit of Israel not of Egypt.

The word scorn here is used instead of the literal translation of the Arabic word “lon”, which means color. This conscious decision to use a different translation was to keep the rhyme of the chant. “Scorn” also better implies the meaning of the source language, as the use of the word “color” in the target language holds racial connotations, that the translators believed were not present in the Arabic chant.


قالوا حرية وقالوا قانونوالتعذيب جوه السجون

They say freedom, they say law… in prisons, they torture all!

This chant relates to the official discourse used by the Mubarak regime in the 2000s, which claimed rigid application of human rights principles in dealing with prisoners and suspects. One of the main reasons for the 25th January protest was torture in prisons and police stations by Habib Al Adly’s Ministry of Interior. The rhyming chant is therefore one of many that sought to refute that discourse by declaring torture in prisons.


عبد الناصر عود الفل ……. احنا بعدك شفنا الذل

Nasser, Nasser, sturdy flower … after you, abuse of power.

The original Arabic chant rhymes al-fol (Arabian jasmine flower) with al-Thol (lowliness, disgrace, shame, humiliation).  The meaning was changed somewhat in the English chant in order to maintain the rhyme and rhythm of the Arabic chant; however the overall message remains similar.  While the original Arabic contrasts Nasser who is compared with the stem of the Arabian jasmine flower with the disgracefulness of the subsequent regimes, the English chant describes him as the stem of a flower and contrasts this with the abuse of power that followed.


انزلوا من بيوتكو …..جايين نجيب حقوقكو

Join us! Get down! In the street your rights are found!

As protesters made their way through residential areas throughout the uprising, they chanted this, among other things. The chant literally translates to, “Get down from your homes… we’re here to get your rights”. Again, we altered it slightly to find the right rhythm in the English.

The chant reflects the shared responsibility that was felt by everyone and emphasizes the grassroots, decentralized nature of the uprising: with no leadership and no ideological agenda, no distinctions were made between activists and politicians, and ordinary people – the line between the private and public was completely blurred as people marched through residential areas and beckoned for others to join them in demanding their own rights, rather than freeloading…

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Translating Signs & Banners

For our third assignment in ‘translating revolution’ at the American University in Cairo, we chose to examine a selection of the thousands of banners and signs that were deployed across Egypt by protesters during recent events.  Many of the protesters came armed with banner making materials and signs, conscious they were on display, whilst others wrote on whatever they could find to hand at the time.

The banners construct a narrative across the 18-day period of the initial uprising, though catchy tag lines, humour, parody, poetry and imagery.  They set the discourse and offer a counter-discourse to current events; provoking action and re-action.

They can be grouped under several categories – religious, popular, the proverbial, parodies, jokes, etc.  Some were reflective of collective statements, whilst others were diverse and original.  Some were visual with catchy tag lines, whilst others were mini stories that people added verses to on a daily basis.

Many of those who were holding banners weren’t chanting.  Perhaps this is indicative of the extensive amounts of time in which some were protesting, with the banner in some cases providing a means of non-verbal communication.

Two working groups selected a number of signs below to translate, including an analysis of context, who is holding them and why. We hope you enjoy. Please feel free to leave comments or post thoughts of your own.

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Group 1 – Selection of banners from February 1st, 2011

Group 1 chose to focus on a selection of banners taken by group members in Cairo and Ismailia on February 1st.  This date is considered to be one of the turning points in the revolution’s discourse, as it witnessed very significant events.  Demonstrations erupted all over the country and protesters managed to rally a million-man demonstration in Al-tahrir square as planned.  This building momentum resulted in major changes, including Mubarak’s sentimental second speech and the appointment of Ahmed Shafeek as prime minister.  Tuesday February 1st also followed the famous ‘Friday of outrage’ and preceeded the ‘battle of the camel’, other important turning points in events.

As you will see, the following images reflect a new perception of the public space as a form of political expression, utilising contention and humour.  One of the noticable trends in these public renditions on February 1st is that of Mubarak’s relationship with Israel and the US.

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Banner #1: “He who is silent about the truth is a speechless devil”

الساكت عن الحق شيطان اخرس

This banner, taken in Ismailia, stands out as it’s written in classical Arabic.  It is a common proverb, used regularly by educated people to emphasize the importance of having the courage to tell the truth.  The saying has religious connotations, both in meaning and the way it is perceived in Egyptian culture.

It is worth pointing out that many people think it is a speech of the prophet, but the majority of imams state there is not enough evidence in support of this.  Abel Aziz Bin Baz is one of the imams who issued a fatwa, stating that this saying is not a “hadeeth”, adding that it was used the first time in written form by the Islamic writer – Abo Ali Al Dakak Al shafee.  The word “shaytan” or devil is a word loaded with religious perceptions of the shaytan and his curse in Islamic traditions.

We considered translating it as, ‘silence is complicity’, which makes more sense in English.  However, considering the elevated language register in the source language and religious overtones, we felt – ‘he who is silent about the truth is a speechless devil’, maintains the characteritics of the proverbial and is more in keeping with the notion of equivalence in translation.

The banner is urging Egyptian people to do the right thing, maintaining that it is a sin not to support those who dare to stand against injustice.

See also:

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Banner #2: “Hey man … leave already! Don’t be so thick-skinned”

ارحل بقي يا عم خلي عندك دم

This banner is one of many which point out the difficulty the regime is having in truly understanding and acting on the message of the protesters.  It is significant that as early as February 1st, protesters started to ridicule the president’s persistence to stay in power, ignoring the people’s demands and feelings.

This banner is written in simple language with a musical rhyme.  It indicates a sense of intimacy, whilst bringing Mubarak down to a level with the people.  It duplicates the chant that was most commonly heard after Mubarak’s first speech – ‘Erhal’ (literally – ‘out’).  It is reflective of the most prominent demand at the time – ‘just go’.  The banner conveys the message that Mubarak hears them, he gets it, but he just won’t budge.  It is also important to note this banner is a collective statement, a large banner of the kind people barricaded themselves behind.  It is held to the side as the people are on route to Tahrir, and are leaving room for traffic to pass whilst reading the sign.

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Banner #3: “Down with the butcher; leave you pig” / “30 years of injustice”

يسقط السفاح

ارحل يا خنزير

٣٠ سنه ظلم

The banner is being held for the photographer to capture, but the man isn’t looking directly at the camera.  His face appears confident and calm in contrast to the brutal, violent imagery of the sign he’s holding.

In the picture Mubarak (the ‘butcher’/’slaughterer’) is smiling with blood dripping from his mouth, with the Star of David (Israel) and the ‘USA’ written on his face.  This is particularly significant, given the Israeli plea the day before (January 31st) for the US and Europe to curb their criticism of Mubarak.  It is an extremely loaded banner.  Without the star of David, it might indicate that Mubarak is responsible for the blood of the martyrs of the revolution thus far.  However, with the phrase – ’30 years of injustice’, and the symbols on his face, it takes on a clear pan-Arab, regional dimension, and becomes obvious the banner maker is indicating this is Palestinian blood.  The theme of Mubarak and Zionism ran through many of the banners during the 18 days of protests, particularly on February 1st.   It is interetsting to note that in the midst of the Egyptian revolution, the Arab dimension was forever present.

This is one of the banners that was prepared before hand rather than written on the spot, requiring prior preparation in getting the face of Mubarak, which appears to be cut out from a picture or poster.

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Banner #4: ‘Is Mubarak father of the bride?’ (Artist: Hamdy Ahmed)

Here, Egypt is personified as a bride (as written on her dress) and is being pulled by Mubarak and the people.  Her fate with Mubarak is in the ‘National Democratic Prison’, whilst that with the people isn’t depicted.  The imagery of Egypt as a beautiful young bride signifies the virginity of woman Egypt and her ‘youthful’ goals and ambitions.  In 1919 Egypt was also depicted in gendered, feminine images (often as a pharoaonic princess), which were central to the effendiyya’s nationalist consciousness.  Lisa Pollard, in ‘Nurturing the Nation 1805-1923’, writes, “The fact that Egypt is depicted as a woman suggests that it was the virtues of Egyptian womanhood that could either lead a nation to “give in” to imperialism or ward it off – provide it with morals and courage or corrupt it” (2008, p.182).  ‘The people’ as depicted here are interestingly all men.  Al-Kashkul in 1919 chronicled the process of writing a constitution through images of men clothing lady Egypt, with Egypt’s prime minister – Husein Rushdi Pasha, putting the final touches on Egypt’s overcoat.  Pollard comments that the image delivers a double message: “On the one hand, men created the nation-state. On the other, (female) Egypt is slightly out of their grasp” (2002, p.186) or unattainable.

There is a connection between this banner and many of the songs depicting Egypt as ‘habibi’ (the beloved).

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Banner #5: “Mubarak, whatever you’ll do, we don’t want you!”

مهما هتمعل مش عيزينك يا مبارك

The body posture of the woman, holding her sign above her head, is very confident and stubborn.  A video taken of the her and her friend has them proudly declaring: “We will not shut up!”

This sign was in a colloquial variation of the source language, indicating it could be easily spoken aloud and possesses a slogan-like quality.  The group tried to capture the defiant spirit of the woman in the target language via the use of rhyme and rhythm.

The banner addresses Mubarak directly, making the message personal.  We decided to highlight this feeling by beginning the translation with “Mubarak” to grab the reader’s attention in English.  The message succeeds in creating an “us/them” dynamic ala Norbert Sluzewski’s discussion of the slogan, as it speaks for “we” rather than just one individual.  This dynamic adds to the power of the sign in that it presents this woman as being part of a unified opposition – “we”.

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Banner #6: This is a family (the mother is present but not in the picture)

Man with bilingual sign: “Oh Mubarak leave, they’re waiting for you in Tel Aviv!”

إرحل يا مبارك تل أبيب في  إنتظارك

An older man holds this sign, which also calls Mubarak a dictator in English.  This references Tunisian President Ben Ali’s flight to Saudi Arabia after the Tunisian revolution, in that this protester is hoping that Mubarak will leave the country for Israel.  Additionally, this sign calls attention to Mubarak’s close relationship with Israel and his long friendship with the country.  As Israel had recently declared support for Mubarak the weekend before February 1st, this was a fresh point of contention.  The translation rhymes in the target language to capture the slogan-like nature of the source language message.  The rhythm of the message is preserved, which adds to the strength of the slogan in English.

Boy: “Country pull yourself together, Mubarak’s leaving for ever, and freedom will be born.”

شدي حيلك يا بلد مبارك ماشي للابد والحرية هتتولد

A child is holding this sign, adding to the power of its message, although the sentiment of chastising the country is that of an experienced person.  This sign has a three part rhyme in the source language that highlights three meaningful segments.  The group decided to use commas in the target language to reflect the rhyming divisions in the source language, with the first two segments rhyming in the target language to evoke the musicality of the original.  The final segment of the poem illustrates the hope of the youth (in this case the boy) that freedom will result from the ouster of Mubarak.  In the target language, the first two segments can be seen as conditional, in that once the country pulls itself together and Mubarak leaves, then “freedom will be born”.

Man with cardboard sign (in background): “Caution please, the regime is backing up!”

أحترس من فضلك النظام يرجع إلى الخلف

The man holding this sign was walking easily with it resting on his shoulders, and the humorous nature of the sign is reflected in his manner.  This sign references a joke that some cars in Saudi Arabia play: “Caution, the car is backing up” when going in reverse.  The message begins with a traffic symbol of a triangle with an exclamation point, further underscoring the reference.  The addition of this symbol as well as the sentiment expressed by the words creates humor which may be shared in either English or Arabic, for it’s clear that the regime is going in the wrong direction.

_ _ _

Banner #7:

مبارك              “Mubarak”

مبااااراك            “Mubaaarak”

In this photo, the target of translation is an object of street art, an effigy of Mubarak, hanged from the light post in Tahrir on February 1st.  Street art during the revolution expressed a wide transition in the accessibility of public political expression, in this case with site-specificity taken into account.  As Lyman G. Chaffee notes in his book Political Protest and Street Art, “Street art, in essence, connotes a decentralized, democratic form in which there is universal access, and the real control over messages comes from the social producers.  It is a barometer that registers the spectrum of thinking, especially during democratic openings.”  This burst of political expression in the public space, a space which had long been repressed by the regime, represents a shift in the public’s approach to social communication, especially for the artist.  Tahrir had become a place, even if only for a few weeks, in which public expression was given the opportunity to roam through various mediums.  The street statue of Mubarak, in this case, represents a shift in social perception of the public space as activated by the revolution.

The figure, hanged from the neck, shows Mubarak in a business suit with US dollars in his pocket, one of them falling down his front half. His face is downcast, his eyes lowered as if in a dismal trance. The words “Mubarak – Mubaraaak” are written on his foreside.  The representation of his clothes along with the US currency marks the social perception that, besides being the President of Egypt, he is a wealthy business man that has been judged by the Egyptian people.  The significance of the US currency sign on the bills stresses the self-beneficial relationship that he and his regime shared with the US, being propped up by $2.2 billion USD a year in aid.  Also, his name written the second time with three additional aliphs (As) in the middle is a play on the name of Israel’s former Prime Minister, Ehud Baraak.  The cosy relationship that Mubarak up-kept with these two countries, namely the US and Israel, signify a corrupt agreement, or relationship, in which he is guilty of betraying the country’s interests and is hanged in order to reflect that the Egyptian people have already judged him.  Yet, these symbols of Mubarak’s relationship with these two countries is also found in many of the artists renditions during the revolution.  In a conversation about this object of representation, Abdallah Al-Ghoul, a Gazan filmmaker, explained that during times of war between Gaza and Israel, he would search through the hospitals for his friends.  The doctors at the hospital would write, in a black marker, the names of the deceased. These names were usually written on the inner thigh or the foreside for identification purposes.  Though this cultural context needs further examination within Egyptian society, it serves as a form of identification of he who has been judged.

_ _ _

Banner #8:

“Don’t imagine that the night will remain

Daylight is about to loom

The roads of darkness to fade away

And world of oppression to fall apart”

لا تخالوا الليل يبقى

اوشك الفجر يلوح

ودروب الظلم تمضي

و دنا البغى تطيح

Poetry was a signature of the artistic literary expression during the revolution.  This poem, written in fusha, signifies a medium of social communication that ties the poetic tradition of the Arabic language to the context of the revolution.  The young man’s expression shows a serene determination in light of his surroundings, in contrast to the background of the photo where there appears to be harsh movement.  The kefeya around his neck has long been a symbol of political resistance as it is tied to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

This message of serenity ties into to the contrasting imagery of darkness and light in the poem, as representations of Egypt’s era during Mubarak waning into a new future, a new dawn.

_ _ _

Banner #9: “Leave, Mubarak, there’s a job waiting for you at Mossad.”

ارحل يا مبارك وظيفة في الموساد بانتظارك

This phrase’s originality lies in its combination of a core demand of the protesters and a witty allusion to a substantial reproach against Mubarak.  Besides asking the President to leave the country, it suggests that Israel’s secret service would be happy to offer him a post.  This points to the friendly relations Mubarak established and maintained with Israel throughout the 30 years of his presidency, a relationship that has by many Egyptians been considered as too intimate and not always beneficial.  The day before this photo was taken, this sentiment was once again confirmed in the eyes of the protesters when Israel asked European countries and the US to support Mubarak and his regime. Placed in this context, these lines are especially topical.  Hence, the sentence can be read as an accusation of treachery, since working for a foreign secret service would entail sharing crucial information about his own country.  This reproach is especially grave in the light of the strong presence of patriotism in Egypt in general, particularly during the protests.

– – –

Group 2 – Selection of banners from 18 day Egyptian Revolution

January 25

Banner #1: “Down with the government of corruption”.

تسقط حكومة الفساد تسقط

Our discussion was about the idafa (possessive) construction of حكومة الفساد. We were talking first about the ‘corrupt government’.  However we decided to change it because the banner does not describe the government, rather it refers to it as the one of the corruption.  It is the one that takes care of and favors the corrupt … this is what the idafa would convey.

It is also worth noting that this signaled many of the popular demands voiced on the 25th; mainly against corruption of the government and torture by the police, though the explicit demand for the downfall of the regime did not take hold as the “official” discourse of the revolution – at least by critical mass or media representation – until the 28th.

_ _ _

Banner #2: “Bread/liberty/human dignity”

أطباء مصر: عيش / حرية/ كرامة  إنسانية

In colloquial Egyptian, عيش means “bread” but has etymological roots in “living”. “Bread” in English captures the meaning of a staple commodity just as well; therefore we’ve translated it directly. Our next discussion was about the word حرية. It can be either ‘freedom’ or ‘liberty’. We decided to keep it as liberty, for its prevalence in the west and significant connotations: New York’s statue of liberty, and the ‘liberte’ of the French Revolution.

_ _ _

January 29

Banner #3: “True reform is Mubarak’s resignation.  Signed by the Egyptian people”.

الإصلاح الحقيقي تنحي حسني مبارك

This banner was very significant as it was a reaction to the first speech delivered by Mubarak on the night of the 28th. It was a much-anticipated and delayed speech, in which Mubarak promised minor reforms that truly reflected – and amplified – the disconnect

between him and the people . This was a reaction to his speech and also marked a change in the tone of the banners that targeted him personally in a much bolder manner. “Reform” had become a buzzword of the regime and its supporters, as well as a trademark of the international community, frequently in reference to structural adjustment policies and corporate law reform. In the lexicon of the regime, it came to signify little more than the dwindling living standards of most Egyptians, an increase in cronyism, privatization and overall dispossession. The sign is therefore one of many that sought to reclaim the word and confront, head-on, a stagnant official discourse, be it of GDP growth, political or social freedoms, and so on.

In the background, we can see the effect of the very violent day.

_ _ _

February 1

Banner #4: “The people demand the downfall of the regime”.

الشعب يريد إسقاط النظام(30 سنة فقر)

This slogan was used days before February 1st, however, this banner was photographed on that day. This was the slogan used by the Tunisians in their revolution.  It is in Modern Standard Arabic (Fush’a), rather than colloquial – an uncommon register at Egyptian protests. It is a direct reference to the Tunisian revolution, and, like Nawara Negm’s play on “ana fhimtukum”, it signifies more than solidarity: it signifies a determination, inspired by the Tunisians, to achieve the goals of the revolution. “يريد”  as pointed out by Youssef Rakha (ahram weekly link) has connotations of desire, but most importantly “will”. Over time, this banner, and its accompanying slogans, would evolve to target not only “regime” but also the “country” البلاد and the media الاعلام.

_ _ _

Banner #5: “The army and the people are one”.

Many people have been expecting the army to interfere especially after the absence of security and the release of thugs and thieves from prisons on previous days. By standing on the sidelines, not siding with the Mubarak regime, and assuming the role for maintaining security, the army played a very supportive role towards the people; not only in midaan el tahrir, but in all remote districts as well. This banner was used once the army assumed that role and appeared all over the country.

The military historically occupies a special place in the national imaginary of many Egyptians, particularly our previous generation. They are seen by many as respectable, “clean”, patriotic, relatively uncorrupt and well-trained, despite having produced (and essentially sustained) a series of dictators and despite owning upwards of 30 percent of Egyptian industry. Nevertheless, for strategic reasons or otherwise, a widespread consensus sought to welcome the tanks to the streets when they arrived on the 28th and for each day they stayed afterwards. Egyptians hoped, by and large, that the military would side with the revolution, and it is widely believed that it was due to a rift within the military that Mubarak and Suleiman were finally pushed out.

_ _ _

Banner #6: “Resign already.  My hand is sore”.

ارحل إيدي وجعتني

Egyptian humor surfaced over time in the increasingly carnivalesque climate of the Tahrir stronghold. Eight days into the revolution, protesters began to “Egyptianize” their banners and slogans. This banner replaces the formal with the casual and juxtaposes two contrasting sentences to convey a sense of being “fed up”. The implied message is “I’m not leaving, I’m not putting down my sign, and I’m not giving up, until you go” – similar signs drew on mundane, daily tasks, such as shaving, laundry and studying for school, but this sign in particular carries the extra weight of signifying labor: sore hands, indeed, tired, exploited hands of a people increasingly dispossessed by their government.

_ _ _

Banner #7: “I am a child; I want my rights”

أنا طفلة عايزة حقي

The photo of this banner was taken in Ismailia on February 1st, a day when citizens all over Egypt responded in masses to the protesters’ call for a million people on the streets.  The girl holding this sign and the woman with her, probably her mother, are representative of the new actors appearing on the streets.  People from all sections of the population, especially families, began to feel safe about joining the protests as streetfights had ceased in large parts of Egypt.  For many of them, it might have been the first time they publicly expressed their grievances and demands.

In the case of this girl, she proudly presents her poster to the photographer, pointing at her message as if she was asking for it to be read and spread.  The poster itself has been printed out, which shows that someone else had designed it for her to hold up.  However, its simple wording and logic, as well as the use of colloquial Egyptian langauge, match the girl’s age.

Children were deployed during the Egyptian revolution in large numbers with clear messages.  This was symbolic of a new generation taking back the country that had beenstollen from them and re-asserting their dreams and ambitions.

Positioning Mubarak as a ‘father figure’, and his wife Suzanne as a mother, especially for young Egyptians, has been a common rhetoric of the regime.  It has often been argued that it was a golden age for children who benefitted from  much of the ex-first lady’s social work.  The visible and audible presence of children during the protests enhanced the discourse of a revolution by the youth, for the youth, as well as amplifying the widespread dispossession felt by Egyptians.

_ _ _

February 11

Banner #8: “Stay where you are, we’ll come get you”.

خليك قاعد إحنا هنجيلك

This humorous banner was raised on Feb 11th, after Mubarak’s 3rd speech which most Egyptians expected to be his resignation speech. Following the speech on the night of the 10th, a widespread decision was taken to march to the Presidential Palace the next morning. This call was immediately printed on this poster that depicted an ailing Mubarak on a royal throne. The banner is remarkable because at a time when many might expect people to retreat in frustration, it signifies only an amplified determination and a conviction that Mubarak had already become irrelevant and was on his way out. Indeed, the text insists that the final push remains only in the people’s hands, and is a display of resolute confidence.

_ _ _

Banner #9: “My new address: 25th of January, Medan Tahrir”.

عنواني الجديد 25 يناير ميدان التحرير

The banner is a turn on an aggressive ad campaign by the Talaat Mustafa Group to promote “Madinaty”, a new gated community in New Cairo that has become symbolic of exacerbated class differences and crony capitalism. Madinaty was built on public land sold to Hisham Talaat Mustafa (a shady figure among the business elite) below legal value, and is one among many examples of the dispossession wrought by a decades-long marriage between politics and business.

The banner uses the language of the ad but modifies it to reflect the context of Tahrir. A group member photographed the banner while two women, strangers to one another, stood by and planned to return to Tahrir the next day. The Tahrir commune was not only a stronghold for those that occupied it throughout the uprising, but became a home – indeed, a safe haven – for those that would return daily to take part in the protests. A free clinic, school, open-air kitchen, and various other services were set up and run co-operatively in a remarkable display of burgeoning participatory democracy and mutual aid economics. The square was routinely cleaned up and secured by those who stayed there. By juxtaposing this sense of collective struggle and identity with Madinaty, a symbol of the increased atomization and segregation of Egyptians as well as their economic dispossession, the banner is a categorical statement – not only about the object of revolt, but about the values and alternatives that were pioneered in this new home.

Posted in Chants, Slogans, Signs | 3 Comments

Wael Ghonim’s Interview With Mona Shazly On February 7th

For their second assignment, one group examined Wael Ghonim’s interview with Mona El-Shazly on February 7th as another extremely influential interview during the revolution.  The first fifteen minutes of the interview were translated.  You can watch this first part at:

While some translations of this interview have already been undertaken and some versions exist with subtitles, this group takes an in depth look at the context of Ghonim’s words and the semiotics behind the interview.  Much like the Nawara Negm interview, some of Ghonim’s words are left in the original language of Arabic by the choice of the translators.  As one of the youths behind the protest movement, Ghonim himself blends English and Arabic at some points in the interview, switches that are preserved in the Arabic transcript.  Enjoy!

Arabic transcription:

النص العربي:

منى الشاذلي: وائل سعيد عباس غنيم، حفظت الاسم الرباعي من كتر ما كنا بنسأل عليه نحاول إنه نعرف بس لو هو عايش ولا مختفي، عرفت إن أهله تعبوا جدا في التدوير في المستشفيات و بيسألوا كل الناس. فجأة، النهاردة، خرج وائل غنيم من أمن الدولة بعد احتجازه في ظروف غامضة جدا من يوم الجمعة ثمانية و عشرين لحد دلوقتي.

حمدالله على سلامتك يا وائل.

وائل غنيم: الله يسلمك.  أول حاجة أنا عايز أقول لكل الناس الأمهات والأبهات اللي ولادهم ماتوا:  البقاء لله، وربنا يتقبل ولادكم من الشهداء سواء كانوا مواطنين سواء كانوا ضباط سواء كانوا عساكر، أي حدّ مات دا شهيد. مش عايز اقول أعتذر لأن إحنا عُمر، عُمر الناس اللي فكرت في المظاهرة دي ما كانت بتفكّر إنها تكسر أي حاجة مش نقتل بني آدم.  إحنا كلنا شباب بنحب مصر وعملنا كدا عشان إحنا بنحبّ مصر، وكان مستحيل.. إحنا كان أول حاجة كتبناها: “نحن اصحاب حقّ”. وعُمر الحق ما حييجي بإنك تكسر ممتلكات خاصة شخصية أو خاصة أو عامة، الحقّ حييجي بإن إحنا نطالب بيه. كان كل أملنا إن كل الناس تنزل تقول إحنا عايزين حقّنا وحناخدُه. بس. فالعزاء دا عزاء واجب لأن الناس دي هي اللي ضحّت بدمّها.  أنا عايز اقول لكو. حانتكلم يعني، بس، إحنا عندنا في مصر بنحب نعمل أبطال، أنا مش بطل.  أنا كنت نايم 12 يوم. الأبطال هم اللي كانوا في الشارع، الأبطال همّ اللي نزلوا المظاهرات الأبطال هم اللي ضحوا بحياتهم، الابطال هم اللي اتضربوا، الابطال همّ اللي اعتقلوا واتعرّضوا لمخاطر. أنا ماكنتش بطل، للاسف، اللي حصل لي خلاني أندم إن أنا ماكنتش مع الناس.  إن أنا نازل من ال من الإمارات وكان ال نازل أحضر المظاهرة، ضحكت حتى على ناس عندنا في الشغل وقلت لهم إنا عندي حاجة عاجلة personal حاجة لوالدي ولازم أنزل مصر ومحتاج أجازة 6 أيام وكان عندي رصيد اجازات كبير، قالوا لي طَب خلاص أوكي، خير؟ لا معلش دي حاجة personal ونزلت، سافرت مصر. نزلت مخصوص علشان المظاهرة، نزلت عشان كان لازم أكون مع الناس كلها.

أنا بس عايز قبل ما نتكلم مع بعض، عايز اصلّح كام معلومة حضرتك قلتيها في المقدمة.

منى:  اتفضل يا وائل

وائل: أولا نجيب دا، دا زميلي في الإمارات. ثانياً هو مش سوري

منى: انا آسفة. لكنته الشامي خلتني أفتكر إنه سوري.

وائل: هو أردني.

منى: أردني.

وائل: عارفة ليه أنا باوضّح الموضوع دا؟ عشان إحنا مش خَوَنة يا منى، إحنا مش خونة، إحنا بنحبّ مصر.

منى: وائل، يعني،

وائل: إحنا مش شغالين مع أجندات أي حدّ يا منى، إحنا فينا شباب أغنيا جداً، عايشين في أحلى بيوت، راكبين احسن عربيات، أنا مش محتاج اي حاجة من اي حدّ، وماكنتش عايز أي حاجة من أي حدّ. كل الحاجات اللي كانت بتتعمل كانت بتعرض حياة كل واحد فينا للخطر. خطر ما كنّاش نعرف أوله من آخره. إحنا مانعرفش. إحنا بنعمل وخلاص، قلنا حنعمل حنحارب حناخد حقوقنا لأ، دي بلدنا فكل واحد فينا اتعرض لخطر ماكانش بيعمل كدا عشان هوا شخصي. الناس اللي نزلت والناس اللي خططت دي مش عايزة أي حاجة. أنا ولا عايز اي حاجة. إنتِ عارفة أنا أكتر حاجة كانت بتعذبني وانا في المعتقل إيه؟ الناس حتعرف إن أنا الـ admin أنا كان نفسي ماحدّش يعرف إن أنا الـ admin لأن أنا مش البطل. أنا كنت باكتب بالـ keyboard يا منى على النت، أنا ماكنتش باعرّض حياتي للخطر. أنا مش عايز اقول اسماء ناس دلوقت عشان انا لسه خارج وماعرفش هم فين ولاّ ممكن أعرض حياتهم لخطر، بس فيه ناس كتير منهم اللي انت قابلتيه، مصطفي النجار دا.. الناس كانت بتعرض حياتها للخطر بجد وأنا قاعد باكتب على الـ key board . فارجوكم يا جماعة، مافيش ابطال. الابطال همّ الناس اللي في الشارع. الابطال هم كل واحد فينا. مافيش واحد، مافيش النهاردا واحد راكب الحصان هو اللي بيضرب السرج ويحرك الناس. اوعى حدّ يضحك عليكو ويقول لكو كدا. دي ثورة شباب الإنترنت، دي ثورة شباب الإنترنت اللي بقت بعد كدا ثورة شباب مصر اللي بعد كدا بقت ثورة كل مصر. ومافيش بطل فيها ومافيش واحد هو اللي المفروض ياخُد الـ scene كلنا كنا أبطال. بس. دي أول حاجة.

منى: وائل أولا انا عارفة إنك إنتَ لسه جاي، عايزة اقول لك إن وقت ما تكون عايز تاخد نفسك خُد نفسك، وقت ما تكون عايز تفكر فكر، يعني ما يبقاش فيه اي ضغط عليك

وائل: أنا مش نايم تقريباً بقى لي 48 ساعة بس بس دا حاجة شخصية، أنا ماكنتش عارف انام

منى: انتَ ليه أول حاجة قلتها دلوقت “إحنا مش خونة” يعني، ليه؟ همّ كانوا بيتهموكوا بكدا؟

وائل: بُصي حضرتك، إحنا عشان مابقيناش نسمع بعض الف..  أنا أنا عايز الاول أقول على حاجة، ودا، أنا عارف إن دا دلوقت، موسم.. ممكن أسميه موسم التخوين. دا ممكن يخوّنِك ودا ممكن يخوّنك. فاكرة لما انتِ اتكلمتِ على الـ، لما أنا حتى كلمتك قبليها وقلت لك يا منى قولي الحقيقة، قلتِ لي: المتظاهرين بيضغطوا علينا والأمن بيضغط علينا والواحد مش عارف يعمل إيه. دا موسم التخوين، بس أنا عايز أقول حاجة. أنا لو قلت لكو دلوقتِ، لو قلت لكل واحد فيكو دلوقتِ إن أنا تعذبت واتضربت واتكهربت وقلعت هدومي وماوريتكمش ولا خدش كنتو كلكو حتصدقوا. صح؟ حتصدقوا لأن أنا عندي مصداقية عند الناس. بس الحقيقة دا ماحصلّيش. أنا ماحصلّيش اي حاجة من ساعة.. أنا كنت مذهول! من ساعة ما ..

منى: إنتَ نزلت المظاهرات

وائل: أنا نزلت مظاهرة يوم 25

منى: إحنا اتكلمنا الساعة واحدة ولا الساعة اتنين صباحا؟

وائل: أنا اتخطفت، أنا اتعاملت جوه أمن الدولة بشكل غريب جدا، بشكل محترم ، بكل احترام، واتكلمت مع ناس مثقفة جدا، جوة أمن الدولة. كانت أول قاعدة معاهم، هم مُقتنعين 100% إن إحنا ورانا ناس أجانب. إن إحنا يا إما بيلعب بعقولنا حدّ يا إما متمولين من حدّ ا ا ا بيوجّهنا بيقول لنا: انزل اعمل كدا، حُطّ الـ post دا على الـ

عارفة انا ماأذانيش اي حاجة، أنا بابا وماما خدوا حسنات كتير من عساكر يعني مش من ضباط، بس دا ما آذانيش. أنا آذاني لما فيه واحد ضابط في أول البتاع كان بيشك إن أنا خاين، الضابط دا غير رايه بعد كدا. بس إحنا مش خونة، إحنا بنحب مصر. أنا لو كنت خاين، على فكرة أنا كنت حاقعد في الفيلا بتاعتي في البيسين في الإمارات وأنبسط وأعيش حياتي. أنا باقبض وكل شوية المرتب بتاعي عمال يزيد وعايش حياتي. وإيه المشكلة، ما البلد، حاقول لك زي ما الناس بتقول: “تولع البلد، تولع إيه المشكلة، هي دي بلدنا ؟ دي البلد دي بلدهم”. دا لو أنا كنت خاين. إحنا مش خونة. أنا الحمد لله من الحاجات اللي أنا فخور بيها إن أنا مروح مفهّم الناس دي وعن اقتناع وأنا فاهم كويس أنا باقول إيه إن همّ عارفين إن إحنا مش خونة ، وإن ماحرّكتناش أجندة إلا أجندة حبنا لبلدنا. هم الأول شاكين، ماكانوش مصدّقين يعني إيه شوية شباب على الـ أنا كنت باسمّيهم على الصفحة زمان “عيال الـ facebook همّ كانوا بيسمّونا زمان، أيام وقفات خالد سعيد أول ما طلعنا خالص. شوية العيال اللي على الـ facebook بيعملوا شوية دوشة، مش مصدّقين إن الشباب دول نزلوا عشرات الآلاف يوم ال 25. همّ ما كانوش مصدقين. إحنا كنا مصدقين على فكرة. إحنا كالناس اللي اشتغلت، وانا على فكرة تاني، أنا أنا أنا مجرد، أنا كنت البوق، كنت زمّارة هي اللي بتزمر وبتقول للناس تنزل فيه ناس اشتغلت، اشتغلت كتير والناس دي هي اللي لازم تطلع وتتكلم وتحكي لك هي إزاي فكرت وإزاي قررت إنها تعمل مظاهرة وإزاي حنعرف ندافع عن الناس وإزاي حنجبر الناس كلها إن المظاهرة تبقى سلمية وإزاي الناس تبقى تمشي في الشارع تنضف الشارع، كل الكلام دا اتفكر فيه، بس اللي أنا كنت عايز أقوله إنه..

منى: وائل، خًد أنفاسك

وائل: معلش انا

منى: إحنا هنا مش جهة تحقيق، إنتَ يا وائل مش مضطر تحلف أو تكرر إن انتَ بتحب البلد دي او إن انتَ مش خاين.

وائل: للاسف للاسف،

منى: وائل .. اسمعني بس

وائل: لا ثانية واحدة ثانية واحدة لأ لأ معلش حاقول لك حاجة

منى: اتفضل

وائل: إحنا دلوقت بقينا في زمن يا منى اللي نواياه طيبة بيتخوّن، عارفة ليه؟ لأن الناس فاكرة إن الوحش هو الأساس، بس دا مش حقيقي. انا شفت يوم 25 شخصيا، أنا كنت فخور إن أنا مصري يوم 25. لما يبقى فيه آلاف البنات ومافيش حالة تحرش واحدة، لما يبقى فيه واحد بسيط جدا قاعد يلمّ الزبالة من غير ما حدّ يقول له. لما يبقى فيه إشارة مرور وماحدّش يلمسها ولا يكسرها. لما واحد يبقى وماسك شومة والناس تزعق له وتقول له: شيل الشومة دي من إيدك. أنا يا منى، أنا وقعت على رجلي طوبة عشان كان فيه واحد بيحاول يرميها، بس عارفة الناس ابتدت تعمل، الناس اللي قالوا عليهم مُخرّبين، كان فيه فعلا ناس جهلة، عارفة إمتى؟ بعد ما اتضرب عليهم رصاص مطاطي، بعد ما تمّ اللي اتعمل… أنا عايز اقول بس تاني: معلش إحنا بقينا في زمن، أنا طول الوقت في الصفحة الناس تقول إيه؟ هو دا قاعد بيعمل كدة ليه على الصفحة؟ إنتو عارفين إن كان حياتي الشخصية متدمرة، أنا كانت مراتي عايزة تتطلق مني عشان أنا مش، مابقيتش أقعد أتكلم معاها. وبعدين واحد قاعد حاطط رجل على رجل يقول دا إنسان خاين، دا أكيد بيقبض. هو دا بيعمل إيه؟ ا ا ا مش عارف إيه. كان فيه ناس كتير بتساعد في الصفحة برضه. الناس دي بتتخون. اللي أنا عايز أقوله: إننا بنحب بلدنا وأنا بارفض إن أي يزايد علينا. زي ما إحنا برضُه بنرفض إن أي حد يزايد على حدّ.

منى: وائل، حاجة إنتَ ممكن تكون إنتَ ناسيها شخصياً، وربنا عرفوه بالعقل، يعني مش بس الأجهزة الأمنية هي اللي عارفة كل حاجة، الشاب اللي كلمني في آخر السنة اللي فاتت 2010 عشان يقول لي إحنا بنعمل حاجة على الإنترنت على الـ facebook حملة عشان مصر تبقى نضيفة وعايزين نعمل خريطة بإيه المناطق اللي فيها زبالة، فاكر يا وائل؟ الخريطة اللي فيها المناطق الوحشة عشان المسؤولين يحسّوا على دمّهم وينضفوها. أنا قلت لك يا وائل أنا معاكو والبرنامج حيدعمكم، بس تعمل حاجة تانية، في الخريطة تحطّ الاماكن النضيفة عشان يبقى فيه نوع من الحافز. اللي بيفكر بالطريقة دي في بلده وحاجات كتيرة جدا، مستحيل مستحيل يكون عايز يؤذيها.

وائل: أنا عايز أقول أنا ماكنتش مُتفائل قدّ يوم 25 وأنا النهاردا مش قادر اصدق نفسي لما خرجت مش قادر اصدق نفسي من التفاؤل واللي الناس عملته النهاردا، النهاردا خلاص الناس أثبتت إنها، أنا كنت باقول حتى للضباط في التحقيقات: حدّ بس، أنا عايز حدّ بس يجادل معايا، وقلتها النهاردا للدكتور ، مش انتِ قلتِ إن أنا كنت مع الدكتور حسام؟ أ أ أ ، أولاً، كتّر خير كل واحد حاول يطلّعني، أنا مش ناكر الجميل، أنا إنسان، باحترم اي حدّ حاول يساعدني، بس في نفس الوقت أنا … (about to cry) في نفس الوقت، أنا حرام، حرام إن يبقى أبويا بيشوف بعين واحدة وممكن يخسر العين التانية ويقعد 12 يوم مايعرفش ابنه فين (crying). ليه؟ ليه؟ عايز تُقبُض عليّ؟ ما فيه قانون، اقبض عليّ، ادّيني تُهمة، حقق معايا، حقك، طب اتصل بأهلي قول له لو سمحت يا جماعة أهلك كذا … بس اللي عايز أقوله في الآخر، أنا اللي عايز اقوله في الآخر at least الناس اللي حققت معايا أنا لمست فيهم إن هم بيحاولوا يجيبوا، بيحاولوا يحققوا لمصلحة مصر، دا اللي حقق معايا، وانا مش حاقدر أحكم على النوايا. أنا كنت متغمّي، قاعد مِتغمّي 12 يوم مش سامع أي حاجة، ماعرفش أي حاجة. كنت باقعد، لسه كنت باقول لحمزة نمرة، كنت باقعد من يأسي، كنت باقعد أغني “احلم معايا” ماعرفش إيه اللي بيحصل أصلاً في الشارع، ماعرفش لو الناس نزلت المظاهرات، عمّال افكر أقول، طب يا ترى همّ تراجعوا؟ طب يا ترى؟ هو أنا اتنسيت؟ طب حدّ حيفكر فيّ؟ طب هل حدّ بيقول دلوقتِ يطلعوا وائل غنيم ولا، طب أنا مش عارف، طبعاً مافيش اي حدّ يقولك اي حاجة! أنا ماعرفش خبر واحد، ماعرفش خبر! ماعرفش إيه اللي بيحصل، طبعاً هم عندهم إجراءات أمنية، ماعرفش، دي مش قضيتي، أنا كان كل قضيتي اللي كانت حازة في نفسيتي إن مراتي تبقى عايشة في الإمارات ماتعرفش أنا فين، إن أمي تبقى عايشة في مصر ما تعرفش أنا فين، إن أبويا اللي تعبان في عينه يبقى عايش في السعودية مايعرفش أنا فين، وهمّ عارفين انا فين. وكان ابسط حاجة، دي لا كان حيحصل فيها ضرر أمني ولا كان حيحصل فيها أي حاجة. إنتَ حتى لو شاكك فيّن مُعتبرني ، طلع كل الأدلة اللي عند، أنا الحمد لله قلت على الحقيقة كلها. وماعرفش هي كانت عندهم ولاّ لأ بس قلت على الحقيقة كلها، عشان أنا، أنا فخور باللي أنا عملته وكنت مستعد أدفع تمنه. المهم دلوقتِ اللي أنا عايز أقوله إنه: دا مش وقت تصفية حسابات، فيه ناس كتير قوي أنا أحب أصفي حساباتي معاهم، حتى كشخص، نفسي آخد حقي من ناس كتير قوي، بس دا مش وقت تصفية حسابات، دا مش وقت تقسيم التورتة، ماشي؟ فيه سياسيين كتير قوي حيفهموا الكلام اللي أنا باقوله دا. دا مش وقت تقسيم التورتة. الناس اللي قاعدة بتقسّم في التورتة، دا مش وقت تقسيم تورتة. وتالت حاجة، دا مش وقت فرض ايديولوجيات. الكلام دا أنا باقوله كشخص. أنا دلوقتِ لا، أنا لسه ماكلمتش الناس في الصفحة. خدي بالك، أنا على فكرة، أنا مش فارس. ولا.. سر من اسباب نجاح الصفحة إن إحنا كان قبل أي قرار بيتاخد كنا بنعمل survey وكل الناس تقول رأيها ورأي الأغلبية هو اللي بيمشي. أنا باتكلم دلوقتِ كوائل اللي لسه طالع وكان متغمي عينه ومش شايف اي حاجة خالص، مايعرفش أي حاجة خالص. أنا لسه طالع الساعة 7 ولا الساعة 8 النهاردا. طلعت قعدت يا جماعة مع وزير الداخلية عشان أقول، مش عايز اقول لكو أنا فخور بيكو قدّ إيه. فخور بكل واحد نزل المظاهرة قد إيه. لأن وزير الداخلية قاعد قدامي كأني فرد زيي زيه. بيكلمني من منطلق إن أنا قوي وإن هو قوي. مش بيكلمني من منطلق إن أنا زاد عيل تافه أو إن أنا شاب أهوج, عارفة المفهوم الأبوي. ودا على فكرة حاجة تُحترم ليه كشخص. أنا لسه ماعرفش أي حاجة بس برضه من منطبق الموضوعية أحترم، بغض النظر، بس أنا فخور بالشباب لأن الشباب هم اللي عملوا كدا.


Mona Shazli: Wail Said Abbas Ghoneim.  I learned his four part name by heart from having inquired about him so many times.  We only tried to find out if he was dead or alive. I found out that his family tried hard to look for him in hospitals and by asking lots of people. Suddenly, after being detained at State Security since Friday the 28th, Wael Ghoneim was released today.  Welcome Wael.

Wael Ghoneim: Thank you.  (Looking down, very emotional, hands crossed on the table.) Firstly I would like to say something to everyone, to mothers and fathers who lost their children: (a sign appears with Wael Ghoneim’s name and position as Google’s Regional Marketing Manager) I’d like to convey my condolences and may God accept their children as martyrs whether civilians, police officers or soldiers.  Anyone who died is a martyr.  I don’t want to apologize, because the people who organized the protests never intended to destroy anything not to mention commit murder.  We are all young people who love Egypt and have done this because we love Egypt.  (Camera zooms in gradually on Wael’s face) It was impossible … The first thing we wrote was that “we are entitled to our rights.” Rights will never be gained by destroying personal, private or public property.  We will gain our rights by demanding them.  It was our only hope that everybody would take the streets and say “we demand our rights and we will take them!”

I feel obliged to give my condolences to those who sacrificed their lives.  I want to tell you … We will speak about … In Egypt we like to create heroes but I’m not a hero.  I’ve been away sleeping for 12 days.  The heroes are the ones who took the streets, the heroes are the ones that joined the demonstrations, the heroes are the ones who sacrificed their lives, the heroes are the ones who were beaten, the heroes are the ones who were arrested and exposed to real dangers (with enthusiasm).

I was not a hero.  Unfortunately … what happened to me made me regret that I wasn’t with the people.  I came back from the Emirates to join the protest.  I even had to lie at work and said that there was an urgent personal matter related to my father that I had to attend to.  I said I had to return to Egypt for six days.  I had leave balance.  They told me fine, no problem, is everything OK?  I said sorry this is a personal matter and I flew to Egypt.  I came just to join the demonstration, because I had to join the Egyptian people.  However, before we start our interview, I want to correct some of the information you mentioned.

Mona: Go ahead Wael.

Wael: First of all, Naguib is my colleague in the Emirates.  Second, he is not Syrian.

Mona:  I’m sorry.  His Levantine accent made me think he was Syrian.

Wael: He’s Jordanian.

Mona: Jordanian.

Wael: Do you know why I am clarifying this issue? Because we are not traitors, Mona!  We are not traitors!  We love Egypt!

Mona: Wael, …

Wael: We do not follow anyone’s agenda.  Some of us are rich, live in fancy houses and drive the best cars.  I don’t need anything from anyone.  And I’ve never needed anything from anyone.  Everything that was done put all of our lives in danger.  We could not possibly foresee the dangers we faced.  We didn’t know. We just acted.  We said we will fight for our rights.  This is our country.  We were all subjected to threats and none of us joined the fight for personal interests.  The people who planned and took to the streets were not seeking their personal interests.  I’m not seeking my interests. You know what has tormented me the most while I was detained?  That the people would know that I’m the admin (referring to his role as the administrator of the “We are All Khaled Said” Facebook group page).  I wish no one found out that I was the admin (sobbing) because I’m not the hero. I was only typing on my keyboard (in English), sharing information via the internet, Mona, and have not subjected myself to direct danger.  I don’t want to mention names now because I’ve just been released and I don’t know where they are and I also might put their lives at stake if I say their names.   But there are a lot of people who subjected their lives to danger, for example Mostafa el-Naggar, the one you interviewed.  They were really putting their lives at stake while I was typing on my keyboard.  Ya Gama’a please!  There are no heroes.  The heroes are the ones on the streets.  The heroes are each and every one of us.  The time when one hero would ride his horse to lead the masses is long gone.  So, please don’t let anyone fool you (raises his pointing finger in a warning gesture)!  This is the internet youth revolution.  This is the internet youth revolution which became the young people’s revolution, and later became the Egyptian nation’s revolution.  It has no single hero that dominates the scene.  We have all been heroes.  That is my first point.

Mona: Wael, first of all, I know you have just been released.  I just want you to know we can take a break at any time to catch your breath or to think.  I just want you to know that there’s no pressure on you.

Wael: I haven’t slept for 48 hours, but that’s a personal issue; I just couldn’t fall asleep.

Mona: Why did you say initially “we are not traitors?” Did they accuse you of that?

Wael: Mam, we no longer listen to each other carefully.  I just want to say that it is a trend now to call each other traitors.  Anyone may call you a traitor. Remember when you talked about… when I called you to ask that you say the truth and told me: “both the protesters and the security apparatus are pressuring us and no one knows what to do”.  This is a time where people tend to see each other as traitors.  But, let me tell you something. If I told you now that I was tortured, beaten up, and electrocuted, then took my clothes off but had no scars, you all would still believe me. Right? You’d believe me because I have credibility.  But in fact this didn’t happen.  I was not physically abused since… That surprised a lot. Since I…

Mona: You were in the demonstrations.

Wael: I was in the demonstration of the 25th.

Mona: When did we talk, around one or two a.m.?

Wael: I was seized by state security and they treated me in a very strange way.  I was actually treated respectfully, and I dealt with very refined people in the security apparatus.  When they first interrogated me, they were fully convinced that we had foreign support, either ideologically or financially.  They were concerned someone was dictating to us where to protest and what to post over the internet.  You know, nothing has hurt me; my parents have earned a lot of merits for all the times they were cursed by the soldiers, but that didn’t hurt me.   What hurt me was one of the officers suspecting I was a traitor.  Later on he changed his mind. But we are not traitors; we love Egypt.  By the way, if I had been a traitor, I would have stayed by the pool at my villa in the Emirates, having a good time.  My salary keeps increasing and I had no problems.  I could have said like many do: “To hell with Egypt.  It is not our country.  They own it.”  That’s what I would have said had I been a traitor. But I’m no traitor.  One of the things I’m truly proud of is that I could convince these people that we are not traitors, that nothing has been pushing us except our love for our country.  At first they couldn’t believe that a few Facebook kids – that’s what they used to call us when we were rallying for Khaled Said could mobilize tens of thousands on the 25th.  But we truly believed in ourselves.  My role was only a catalyst that called for people to take the streets.  Some people exerted real efforts and those must be interviewed to describe how they envisioned this and planned for it; how we would defend people, how we would get people to clean up the streets.  But I wanted to say that …

Mona: Wael, please catch your breath.

Wael: Sorry I …

Mona: We are not an investigative authority, so you don’t need to swear that you love your country and that you’re not a traitor.

Wael: Unfortunately … No, hold on.  I want to say something.

Mona: Go ahead.

Wael: We are living through times where evil is the norm so the good are always perceived as traitors.  But this is absolutely not true. On the 25th what I saw personally made me proud to be an Egyptian.  I didn’t’ see a single case of sexual harassment, I saw average Egyptians cleaning up the streets, I didn’t see anyone smashing traffic lights.  I saw people stopping each other from using violence.  A stone was thrown at my foot…  Mona, there were some ignorant protestors, but they only resorted to violence after they had been shot at with rubber bullets, and after they had been attacked.  I would just like to say again that we are living in a time … People were constantly questioning my intentions on the group page.  My personal life was a wreck and my wife wanted to get a divorce because I wasn’t spending time with her.  Yet, I get snobs calling me and others who were helping out with the page traitors who get foreign funding.  I want to say that we love our country and I don’t accept anyone saying otherwise about us or anyone else.

Mona: Wael, I would like to mention an incident that you may have forgotten.  You were the young man who called me at the end of last year to describe a nationwide campaign to map dirty areas in order to pressure authorities to clean them up.  I supported you, but also recommended that you add clean areas to the map to motivate the authorities to take action.  Someone who thinks this way would never harm his country.

Wael: I’ve never been as optimistic as I was on the 25th.   I was totally impressed by what the people have done; the people proved… During the interrogations I even asked the officers to try to argue against this.  I also asked Dr. Hossam the same thing today during the meeting you mentioned. I would really like to thank everyone who tried to get me out as I’m a grateful person who respects everyone who helps me, but at the same time (on the verge of sobbing) it is unfair for my father who is half blind to spend 12 days not knowing his sons whereabouts. Tell me why (sobbing). If they want to arrest me they can do so legally with a specific accusation.  Interrogate me, it’s your right.  But inform my family!  What I finally want to say is that I felt that the people who interrogated me were at least genuine.  They were trying to work for the benefit of Egypt.  But I can’t judge intentions.  I’ve been blindfolded for 12 days unaware of the news.  I used to sing “Ihlam ma’aya” out of despair and ignorance.  I used to wonder whether the people backed down; whether anyone still remembered me; whether anyone called for Wael Ghoneim’s release.  They didn’t inform me of any piece of news. What has hurt me is that my wife in the Emirates, my mother in Egypt and my half-blind father in Saudi Arabia didn’t know my whereabouts.  Informing them would not have caused any harm to security nor should it be considered a security leak.  Even if they suspected me, interrogate me.  I said all the truth as I was proud of what I’ve done, which they may have known anyways.  What matters now is not settling accounts.  Personally, there are many people I’d like to get even with.  For many politicians who would understand me: this is not time to slice the pie.  Thirdly, this is not the time to force ideologies.

There are a lot of politicians and leaders who will understand what I am saying; this is not the time to divide up the pie.

I haven’t yet talked to the page member. Please take care, I am not a hero, nor… One of the reasons of the success of our page is that we used to do a survey before we made any decision and the opinion of the majority is the one that wins. I am speaking now for ‘Wael’ who has just been released, was blindfolded, hasn’t seen anything, doesn’t know anything. I was just released at 7 or 8:00 pm today. I came out and went to meet the minister of interior… I can’t express how much I am proud of you ya Gama’a; the minister of interior was sitting with me, as equals; he was not talking down at me … (addressing Mona) as they used to treat us in a patriarchal manner like shallow, irrational kid. I am really proud of the young people who have done this!


The commentary on this translation takes up a few pages.  Our group felt that it was necessary to provide fairly extensive comments on this translation in order to adequately contextualize this interview which played a crucial role in re-energizing the revolution at a critical moment.  In addition, this long interview provided a variety of interesting linguistic challenges and nuances that were worthy of comment.

Translating an interview involves forms of reconstruction that entail a complex process of listening to the interview multiple times, reworking segments of the interview, thinking about the context and the speakers, reshaping the ideas in the target language and, ultimately, rewriting. This more or less sums up the path taken by our group in translating the first 15 minutes of Wael Ghoneim’s heartbreaking and dramatic interview with TV host Mona El-Shazly on February 7th. Wael Ghoneim is a young Egyptian professional who graduated from Cairo University‘s Faculty of Engineering, received his MBA from the American University in Cairo, and is currently Google’s Marketing Manager for the MENA Region. Wael had no history of political activity before 2010 when he created the “Kolona Khaled Said” (We are all Khaled Said) Facebook group. He was agitated by the story of Khalid Said, a 28 year old man who was arrested, tortured and killed by the police after he forwarded a video of police officers dividing up confiscated narcotics. The Facebook group has tried to expose the use of torture by the police and repeatedly called for protests against them, while attempting to maintain the anonymity of its administrators. It called for protests on January, 25th 2011, Egypt’s Police Day.  Many supporters responded to the call on what became known as Egypt’s Day of Anger.

Being one of the masterminds behind the January 25th revolt, Wael Ghoneim was arrested on January 26th at 2 am.  He remained detained and blindfolded at State Security for 12 consecutive days, unaware of the turmoil taking place all over Egypt. Local and international calls maintained pressure on Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik’s government and the ex-ruling National Democratic Party to release Wael, which happened on the evening of February 7th.

14 days into the Egyptian uprising, people were losing hope and dividing into two camps, one calling for the overthrow of the Mubarak regime and the other calling for an end to the revolutionary movement. President Mubarak’s emotional second speech on February 1st divided the Egyptian street. The aging ex-President appealed to the masses in a humble and patriarchal tone to allow him to complete his presidential term in a dignified manner. Millions of Egyptians, especially those on the sidelines, were persuaded by his appeal.

For two weeks, Egyptian state-sponsored and affiliated private media portrayed the people protesting on the streets as immature, reckless, irrational, poor and homeless youths; many who had never taken to the streets believed it. The official and semi-official Egyptian media also alleged that foreign news channels including Al Jazeera, Al Arabia, CNN, and BBC Arabic, were seeking to divide Egypt and create a sense of despair. This drove many Egyptian viewers away from the international news media and back to state-sponsored pro-Mubarak news sources. In short, the uprising was slowly losing momentum and nothing was happening to reverse this situation.

Wael Ghoneim’s sudden release and his subsequent and emotional public appearance effectively managed to bring people back to the struggle against the regime. Wael’s exceptionally emotional performance throughout the interview, highlighted by his breaking into tears and his sudden departure from the studio when shown photos of deceased protesters, far outweighed the impact of Mubarak’s performance during his latest speech. Furthermore, Wael provided an image of the protestors very different from those shown by the state-sponsored media; he himself was well-educated, spoke good Arabic in addition to English, had a very reputable job, and was affluent. He contradicted the widely accepted negative stereotypes about the protestors and made many relate to him and the demonstrators and respect their efforts. The interview won the hearts of millions of Egyptians. Consequently, Tuesday February 8th marked a very important turning point in terms of the number of protestors in Tahrir Square and all across Egypt demanding Mubarak’s immediate removal.

Regardless of how one assesses Wael Ghoneim’s efforts throughout the Egyptian Revolution and beyond, this interview was a significant event for the uprising and it was the reason why our group decided to translate a segment of it.

Mona El Shazly, the presenter of a very popular talk show on the Egyptian Dream 2 channel started her interview by welcoming Wael. The phrase Hamdulillah 3ala al-salaama (حمدلله على السلامة) is mainly used when someone has returned from a trip or has recovered from an illness. It is used here because he had just been released from detention, which is comparable to recovering from a disease or returning from a journey. Unfortunately the word ‘welcome’ in English does not adequately convey the meaning of this phrase which we found very difficult to express in English.

Wael started speaking using a Classical Arabic expression of condolences and referring to the martyrs in tears. He used Fusha (the term referring to standard, classical and/or literary Arabic) expressions of condolences in the middle of his ameya (colloquial) discourse.  Linguistically, this natural and smooth fluctuation between Fusha and ameya and the expressions Wael uses convey his above average level of education, culture and professional standing. His occasional use of English terminology reinforces this image and, for the Arab people listening and watching, is a sign of his belonging to a high social class.

Wael repeats certain words and phrases which he wanted to emphasize.  This repletion is maintained in the English language text in order to better convey the ideas and feelings he was stressing.

Wael refers to the song Ihlam ma’aaia by Hamza Namira, a young new singer. The video for this song is about a little boy making paper boats and thinking of sailing, and it is all about dreams. Wael said that he was not a hero and he didn’t participate in the demonstrations because of his detention, he was just singing this song.

Wael used the expression ya gamaa’a to address the people watching the program. Our group has decided to not translate it into English and leave it as it is in Arabic. The word Jamaa’a in Arabic has a religious connotation and has been used in the English language to refer to Islamist groups like Al-Jama’a Al-Islamiya.  In order to reflect the harder pronunciation of Arabic letter jeem in the Egyptian dialect, we spelled it with a g instead of a j.  It is worth noting the use of this term in English in a context devoid of any religious connotation; the expression ya gamaa’a (يا جماعة) is commonly used to address a group of people.

Among the challenging terms to translate was the word HaDritik (حضرتك). Wael uses this term to address Mona, the presenter of the program. First, we considered translating it as ‘Ms. Mona’, then we felt it too formal, so we decided to use ‘Mam’ which is a term used in a comparable way, however حضرتك has no exact equivalent in English.

There is a cultural expression used by Wael as a reference to the fact that he has been insulted in jail by the officials, he has been referred to as ‘son of a …’.  This is understood from the expression:  My mom and dad have collected so many hasanat (حسنات). Although there is no exact equivalent to such an expression in English, we used the term merits as it seemed the most appropriate of the translations supplied by the Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic.

Another term that has a cultural connotation and was a bit difficult to translate is the word 3eyaal (عيال). It means more than just the English ‘kids’. It implies irresponsibility, irrationality, being young in age, trying to act like adults, losers, etc.

Haatit rijl 3ala rijl (حاطط رجل على رِجل) is another expression that has no equivalent in English and a literal translation will not convey the same meaning. The expression describes how a person sits in a manner displaying a relaxed confidence while displaying a snobbish attitude to those around them.

We as a group decided to keep the word Haram (حرام) as it is in Arabic, to add it to the English dictionary. The term, meaning forbidden, was used to convey the Wael’s sense of injustice for the fact that his parents spent so many days after he was detained without knowing anything about his whereabouts and wellbeing.   Wael’s sobbing and emotional state while he used this term to express his outrage over this situation amplified the impact of his message.

All of the text that appears in parentheses in the English translation should be read as “stage direction” or explanatory notes only.  Nothing that was actually said in the interview appears in parentheses.

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Nawara Negm’s Al-Jazeera Interview on January 26th

For our second assignment, we focused on two interviews that we felt were instrumental in sustaining and inspiring the revolution.  The first interview we considered was that of Nawara Negm on Al-Jazeera on January 26th.  You can watch it at

This interview was slightly more than a minute long and yet served as a main catalyst for further protests.  Here is the original Arabic text:

نوارة نجم على قناة الجزيرة

مش هدفنا أن نحن نزعج النطام ولا نخض النظام ولا أي حاجة…امبارح الناس لما هتفت الهتاف إللي قالته: “الشعب يريد إسقاط النظام “الناس ديْ كانت جادة وهذه حقيقة إنتفاضة الجمال و نحن فاض بنا الكيل ونحن سنستمر حتى نسمع كلمة “أنا فهمتكم” – هذاهو مطلبنا الأخير – مطلبنا النهائي وهذا هو سقف مطلبنا – يعني ده – مش هانوطي السقف عن كدة.  الألاف هاينرلوا إن شاء الله , الألاف متشجعين – إمبارح الناس عندها أصرار غريب – النهارده بعد ما انضربنا بالقنابل المسيلة للدموع – وإمبارح بعد ما ضربوا الناس بالقنابل المسيلة للدموع، أنا كنت موجودة لمّا الناس كانت بتتضرب وترجع.  وبعد إللي حصل إمبارح وبعد اعتقال ألف واحد – أنا أحب أصحح للجزيرة: أنا أخذت من مركز هشام مبارك القانوني أن نحن عندنا ألف اسم معتقل غير الناس المتغيبة إللي نحن مش عارفين هما فين – بعد هذا الناس – الناس نزلت النهارده – بالألاف – تاني – في عدة أماكن – وفي عدة مجافظات – ونحن مستمرون حتى نسمع كلمة أنا فهمتكم

Two groups considered this interview, and each took a different track in translating Negm’s words.  Both groups contained native and non-native speakers of Arabic and English, yet several difficulties were encountered in translating some of Negm’s humor and cultural references.   One important element found in this week’s translations is our groups’ decision to include Arabic words (from the source language) in our English translations (the target language).  This is a conscious decision on the part of our translators, for those words left in the source language are left in order to illustrate particular thematic concepts or messages that can be understood even by non-speakers of Arabic.  The second group explores the theatricality of televised speech through the addition of stage directions, obviously not included in the original text.  It is hoped that our audience will be able to absorb these words and better appreciate the text as a whole through these choices.  Enjoy!

Group 1:


We don´t wish to bother the regime – or anything of the sort. Yesterday, when the people shouted “Al Shaab yoreed eskat el nizam” – Those people were serious. This is the rebellion of patience and endurance. We´re done. And we will keep on until we hear those words « Ana fehemtokom». This is our last demand – our final demand; we will not accept anything less. Thousands of impassioned people will come, thousands of people will participate inshallah. People have demonstrated a surprising persistence; after being hit by tear gas, yesterday, I saw them all return to the scene.  After what happened yesterday and the arresting – I would like to correct a statement made by Aljazeera, according to the Hisham Mubarak Legal Center, one thousand people have been arrested and add to this, those who have disappeared. Despite that, thousands of people are still marching in the protests today in several places and governorates in Egypt and we will continue until we hear «Ana fehemtokom».


This interview with Nawara Negm, for many reasons, is considered a very important turning point in the media’s encounter with the revolution, given the critical moment and the background of the person interviewed. First of all, the interview took place on the 26th of January; only one day after the protests first broke out, an uncertain time for the revolution.  Also, this interview was with a political activist and a participant who was very close to the leaders of the youth movement who helped organize the first protests.  This interview also took place in a time when Egyptian national television was still in a state of denial and complete separation from reality.

Nawara served as a voice for the demonstrators and gave a clear and direct statement about the main goals of the revolution, targeting those who were still uncertain about participation.  In addition, viewers could sense the firmness and persistence of the protesters in her expressions, body language, and voice tone.  This persistence is visible when she repeated firmly some of her statements such as “we will not leave until we hear the word “fehemtkom”.  That was a clear message to people who thought that the protests would vanish in few days. This expression is very important as well, as it contrasted the statements of the Egyptian officials that “Egypt is not Tunisia”. It shows the close connection between the two revolutions and its main objectives. This Arabic word “fehmtkom” or “I understood you” has gained a lot of attention and became a symbol of liberation among Arab people. That’s the reason why our group decided to keep it in Arabic to preserve the perceptive associations of the word. The same can be applied to “alshaab yoreed eskat enezam” equivalent to “the people want to overthrow the regime” which has turned out to be the most widespread slogan in the Arab world at this time.

Susan Basnett’s analysis of translation problems are applied here in regard to the loss and gain approach, and untranslatability. These cases can be traced in the slogans as in “ashaab yoreed eskat enezam”, some culturally loaded expressions as in “the entifada of the camels”, and religious expressions as in “inshaallah”.  As mentioned above, we decided to translate some of these, while we left others in the original language.

It is important to mention that Nawara Negm´s debut into the public sphere was at the heat of the January 25 revolution. Through her voice, people could hear the narrative of the revolution day by day; the persistence, disappointment, hope, and ultimately, victory of the protesters.

Nawara, born in 1973, is a journalist, satire writer, blogger, and political activist. Being the daughter of a poet, Ahmad Fouad Negm, and a journalist, Safinaz Kasim, paved the way for Nawara’s career as a writer. She has been a strong advocate for democracy, human rights, and freedom of the press. This interview with Al Jazeera took place as early as January 26th, a very critical moment in the age of the revolution, where she manages to give a vivid image of the square and the police forces´ suppression as an eye witness.

Group 2:


Nawara: (deadpan) We’re not trying to “startle” or “disturb” the regime, or anything. Yesterday when people chanted they said “the people demand the downfall of the regime.” These people were serious.  This is really the intifada of those who have had enough, and we will continue until we hear the words, “I have understood you.”  This is our last demand, our final demand, and our entire demand – meaning this – (cuts the air with her hand) we won’t lower the bar any further.  Thousands will take to the streets inshallah. Yesterday they hit us with tear gas, today they hit us with tear gas.  Thousands were inspired yesterday and today people are remarkably committed. I was there when people were gassed and they came back. And after what happened yesterday, and after the arrest of a thousand people – I would like to correct Al Jazeera on this – (points index finger to emphasize) – I confirmed with the Hisham Mubarak Law Center that we have the names of a thousand detainees, apart from those who have disappeared. After this, again, people went down today in thousands, in a number of places, in a number of districts, and we will continue until we hear him say, “I get you” (smiles).


Nawara Negm’s speech, as translated above, was part of a three-way interview given to Al Jazeera on 26th January.  The medium of Al Jazeera is significant, as it played an instrumental role in assisting the mobilization of the masses through interviews with activists such as Negm.  Significantly, Al Jazeera’s broadcasts were blocked in Egypt by the regime on 28th January.  This interview is worth translating, as Negm openly declares the revolution has begun to a viewing public that has been following Tunis with envy.  She expresses her solidarity with the protesters, using “we” repeatedly to show she is among them.

Negm is solemn and firm in her tone, almost as though reading out a communiqué, although her colloquial style and repetition of words and phrases is informal.  She uses local Egyptian dialect to show solidarity with the street, and switches to a more formal language register when making declarations or statements.  She is framed centrally to grab the reader’s attention.  Negm is well known for being an activist, blogger and journalist.  She is notably the daughter of leftist poet Ahmed Fouad Negm and Islamist feminist Safinaz Kazem, and as such would’ve been recognized by her audience.

Notorious for her dry wit, Negm begins with a sarcastic, almost rhetorical phrase. Irony and sarcasm in an oral performance or interview is difficult to inject into a written translation.  Susan Bassnett, in her book ‘Translation Studies’, addresses the problems of translating vocal performances that include subtle movement and changes in intonation as well as language.  She writes, “work in theatre semiotics has shown the linguistic system is only one optional component in a set of interrelated systems” (Bassnett, 2003, p.120).  One of the ways in which we represented the dynamics of Negm’s oral performance was to annotate the translation with stage directions – intervening as a director would to add notes regarding body language and eye contact, thus adding a subtext to the speech that is present when spoken aloud.  We also tried to indicate her sarcasm by adding quotation marks around the verbs in English.

This translation captures the underlying humor found in the source language through the use of “I get you” in place of انا فهمتكم at the end of the speech.  This colloquial way of saying “I have understood you” illustrates Negm’s switch to the Tunisian dialect at the end when adopting the words of Tunisian president Zine el abedine ben ali.  Here, the expectation is that Mubarak will soon be saying the same thing.

We had particular difficulty in translating the phrase, إنتفاضة الجمال ,  as the colloquial meaning was unclear without greatly changing the source text.  We decided against translating intifada, as the word has become well known in the target language and seems preferable to the translation – ‘sprung into action’, which loses some of the original meaning. We also kept Inshallah in the target language.  We discussed using the common translation “God willing”, but decided it altered Negm’s use of the word.  Although she is veiled, Negm is well known for being a leftist activist, and we felt here she was adopting the language of the people.  Lawrence Venuti, in the Translation studies reader, writes about the pros and cons of domesticating or maintaining words and phrases in the source material, thus rendering the translator more or less visible by his/her choice of language.  He argues translation studies have moved away from the invisible translator who “masks an insidious domestication of foreign texts” (Venuti, 1994, p.16-17) towards a more transparent discourse that purposely selects to leave some words in the source language where this adds to the reader’s understanding of the material.


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“Al Midan” by Abdel Rahman al-Abnoudi

Our first assignment was the translation of a selection from “Al Midan”, a poem by Abdel Rahman al-Abnoudi composed in colloquial Egyptian Arabic on the occasion of the January 25th Revolution. Listen to his recitation in Arabic here.

A few of these lines also accompany the brilliant Sout el-Horreya video (link), and we came across two English translations of these lines.

Version I

Dark Egyptian hands that know how to characterize
Reach out through the roar to destroy the frames
The creative youth came out and turned autumn into spring
They have performed the miracle and raised the murdered from murder
Kill me, killing me will not bring back your country
In my blood I shall write a new life for my home
My blood is it or the spring? Both in green color
Am I smiling because of my happiness or my sorrows?

Version II

Egyptian hands understanding how to differentiate
Breaking the mirrors of deception
The beautiful youth showed up to change it is winter to spring
And made the miracle and awoke the deadened country from its death
Kill me, killing me won’t return your rule again
I’m writing with my blood a new life for my country
This is my blood or is it the spring
Both of them are green
And am I smiling from my happiness or my sadness?

These transliterations are just that: literal, word for word translations, designed to address a perceived immediacy of communicating meaning. They deprive the reader and listener from the full body of the poem: its music, rhythm, image, linguistic register, social and cultural signification and so on.

Our assignment focused on an introductory segment of the poem:

ايادي مصرية سمرا ليها في التمييز

ممددة وسط الزئير بتكسر البراويز

سطوع لصوت الجموع شوف مصر تحت الشمس

آن الآوان ترحلي يا دولة العواجيز

عواجيز شداد مسعورين اكلوا بلدنا اكل

ويشبهوا بعضهم نهم وخسة وشكل

طلع الشباب البديع قلبوا خريفها ربيع

وحققوا المعجزة صحوا القتيل من القتل

اقتلني قتلي ما هيعيد دولتك تاني

بكتب بدمي حياة تانية لأوطاني

دمي دة ولا الربيع الاتنين بلون اخضر

وببتسم من سعادتي ولا احزاني

Our class is divided into three groups that bring together native and non-native speakers of both the Source Language (Arabic) and Target Language (English) in a collective approach to the process of translation, which is fraught with a myriad of challenges. The role of non-Arabic (specifically native English) speakers is particularly important in the production of the translations: they harbor a natural affinity for the use and signification of the various symbols that constitute the language, and always necessarily inform the decision-making process in a variety of ways. Similarly, native Arabic speakers carry the responsibility, as translators, of applying their command of Arabic, as well as a degree of social and cultural insight, to unpacking, deconstructing and rethinking signification: what does a word, sentence, idiom, or even an image, or a particular juxtaposition, actually mean. In all cases, the translators’ awareness of subjectivity, difference and diversity is at the forefront of decision-making, and the interactive process of translation is therefore incomplete without a profound appreciation and navigation of audience: that which prompts the production and dissemination (that is, the life) of a work, and that which attracts and guides the process of translation itself.

What follows is each group’s translation, followed by their comments. It is important to remember that there is no singular, final product, and therefore, we encourage your feedback. Please comment below or e-mail us your thoughts, reflections, and insights, or even alternative translations, at



Group 1 Translation:

Egyptian hands, tawny and discerning
In lightning, stretched, the stands, smashing.
People’s voice shines. Egypt is unveiled under the sun.
O state of the barren, begone!
Greedy and dull, it devoured our land.
In form, greed and disgrace, all of the same brand.

There arose wonderful youth blossoming autumn into spring
Making the miracle, raising the phoenix from the ashes.

Kill me, it matters not. Your reign is gone.
For my land, my blood writes a new tomorrow.
Is it blood or Spring? Both green as one.
And do I smile of happiness or sorrow.

Group 1 Commentary:

For many reasons, the Midan poem of Abdel Rahman AL ABnodi has been a quite challenging piece of translation. The poem is loaded with emotions, very rich with imagery, and ornamented with poetic music; both in rhythm and rhyme. Hence, our main concern was reaching a balance between conveying the massage and meanings of the original text, portraying the imagery, and in the same time preserving the musical rhythm scheme and rhyme.
Our approach was first to translate the meanings using the closest possible synonyms. It is worth mentioning that  online dictionaries have been a great asset in this case. Secondly, we revised several times to bring about the necessary rhyme and rhythm scheme which was essential to reflect the spirit of the original text.

Group 2 Translation:

The Square

Tawny, wary Egyptian hands
Outstretched among the roar, smashing the stands
The bright voice of the crowd, behold Egypt illuminated by the sun
Dinosaurs, it’s time for you to run
Old and fierce, they devoured our land like a storm
They resemble each other in their greed, meanness and form
The exquisite youth made spring out of autumn
They achieved a miracle; resurrecting the victim
Kill me, my death will never bring back your regime
Is this my blood, or the spring, both sprouting in green?
For my homeland, I record with my blood another chapter
Do I smile because I’m happier or because I’m sadder?

Group 2 Commentary:

A group of four students from the Translating Revolution course who live in Maadi came up with this translation of the first 12 lines of Abd al-Rahman al-Abnudi’s poem الميدان.The members of the group read the poem on their own and each brought their own translation to the table.  After comparing each other’s interpretations of the poem, the group set out to integrate their ideas into one version.  One of the first translations had a rhyme scheme similar to the one above but some of members felt that too much of the meaning would be lost for the sake of maintaining the rhyme so the group settled on two versions: one with a rhyme and the other focusing more on capturing the nuances of the Arabic text.  Ultimately it was decided to create one version that rhymes while integrating as much as possible the textual nuances of the non-rhyming version.  The result of this effort is the text above.

The group faced several challenges related to maintaining the rhyme scheme while attempting to be “faithful” to the Arabic terminology and idioms.  For example, the term “البراويز” in the second line of the Arabic text can be translated as “frames.” The term “stands” was chosen instead in order to rhyme with the “hands” of the preceding line.  This was justified by the understanding that frames in this context refer to the structure or mold holding together the regime that the protesters on the square were challenging and the image of stands holding up the regime is analogous to this meaning.

“يا دولة العواجيز” is translated as “dinosaurs” in line four.  In the context of Mexican politics the Spanish term dinosaurios refers to the traditional hard liners of the PRI party that monopolized Mexican politics for most of the 20th century.

The adjective “bright” was added to “voice” in the third line despite the fact that it is an unusual picture to use with a sound. However, it ties the efforts of Egyptian youth to liberating Egypt, which allowed us to see the country differently but clearly now as it has been “illuminated by the sun”.

The phrase “like a storm” was added to the fifth line in order rhyme with the word “form” at the end of the sixth line.  Furthermore, the intensity of the Arabic phrase in line five is better conveyed with the addition of the reinforcing phrase “like a storm” after “they devoured our land.”

In their translation of the eighth line, the group used the term “resurrected” which is not directly related to the Arabic word but does hold strong significance in the English language. The religious connotations added in the English text by tying the word “resurrected” to the word “miracle” in the same verse, adds to the importance and depth of the action undertaken by the Egyptian youth.

The order of the 10th and 11th lines was inverted in this version for the sake of maintaining the AABB rhyme scheme.  In the final lines, the idea of writing a new life in the Arabic text was expressed as recording another chapter in order to rhyme with the final word of the poem: sadder.

Group 3 Translation:

The Midan

Egyptian hands, tawny and wise
Smashing the frames, in thunder they rise
Flared in one voice, see Egypt in the sun
Oh state of old men, your time is now done
You ravaged our lands, rabid and old
One like the other, in greed, filth and mold
Wondrous buds bloomed, turned fall into spring
Raising the dead, the miracle youth bring
Shoot me! My murder won’t bring back your state
For my people I write in my blood a new fate
My blood or the spring, both they are green
I smile – in joy or sorrow, remains to be seen.

Commentary A:

We opted for a rhymed translation of al-Abnoudi’s poem – keeping both the metre and rhyme scheme central to the process.  Although this presented a double bind for translation, we felt it best reflected the style of al-Abnoudi’s poetry – written in colloquial, Egyptian Arabic, reminiscent of songs or nursery rhymes.  Abnoudi’s poetry isn’t ‘street’ poetry, but traditional rhythmic language that is meant to be recited, performed and memorised. For this reason we felt the music and orality of the performance needed to remain within the target language (TL) text.

We decided to keep the name of the poem – Al Midan – rather than foreignising it to ‘the square’, as Al Midan has become synonymous with the revolution and therefore is loaded with meaning, which is lost when translated.
We found it important to retain some rhyme scheme, though not necessarily the original, throughout our process of translation. This created a challenge on its own, but allowed us to navigate the music and rhythm of the poem and provided a larger keyhole for finding a parallel in English.

Though the poem is in ‘ammeya, it is not quite street poetry either. It retains the rhythms of spoken poetry, which is usually memorized and recited.

The struggle to find equivalence in the target language required us to grapple with the linguistic aspects of contemporary poetry, particularly poetry that can and should be read aloud. We attempted to find a balance, and had to regularly check ourselves so that we did not slip into using archaic modes of recitation, yet also avoided adopting street register.

Frequently, we shortened and re-situated the syntax of Abnoudi’s lines, in part to preserve the rhythm we were searching for, but also to accommodate the meaning and weight of certain images, for example “in thunder they rise”. In other instances, we took the liberty of altering the Abnoudi’s signifiers altogether, such that “el shabab el badi’ ” became “Wondrous buds”.

Commentary B:

When translating this segment from the poem, we started by breaking down the poem by each four line stanza to see if there was any thematic pattern.  However, the rhyme scheme we chose as a group changed the rhyme scheme to couplets, so we translated line by line.  When I translated the poem alone, I chose embedded clauses such as “in thunder they rise” and rearranged the clauses for different impacts.  However, in the group we developed a stress pattern based on lines containing two phrases, so each line was kept basically the same as in the source language.

Several choices were made regarding word choice and the poem’s thematic content.  The phrase “الشباب البديع” was translated as “wondrous buds” rather than “creative youth” to fit the theme of spring and renewal, in that both “wondrous” and “creative” evoke feelings of approval.  With regard to the line “وجققوا المعجرة صحوا القتيل من القتل”, we added the clarifier “youth” to clear up any uncertainty regarding this theme of nature.

Overall, our group thought that preserving a couplet rhyming structure would capture some of the sense of music found in the source language.  Some word choices came about due to a need to preserve this rhyme, hence some ambiguity is present.  However, we feel that the rhyme adds to the clarity and power of this poem without distorting the thematic meaning found in the source language.

Commentary C:

The process of translating poetry is a trying one. Since this particular occasion began with its source language as Arabic, a rich language that carries with it an oral tradition of recitation (i.e. the formalization of Arabic was inspired by the Qur’an, a text with complex rhythmic arrangements coupled with varying rhyme schemes meant to be recited), it creates distinct issues when approaching its re-presence into English. In a sense, this process of translation is a re-creation of situated meanings to a system that does not have the appropriate signs to convey such meanings. Hence, the translator is the artist of the new text, finding inspiration within the source text, to then internalize the series of signs, both the articulation of the signifiers and the abstract representation of the signified, and re-situate these meanings into an incomparable medium, that of another language. The issues that arise from this process are compounded by the lyrical complexity of poetry as well as the play on words that arises from such a tradition. With that being said, let us explore the difficulties to this process as well as the decisions taken when faced with such obstacles.

To begin with, the first issue our group wrestled with was that of keeping the continuity of the meter and rhyme scheme. Since this poem is meant to be memorized and recited, it is an important attempt to translate this into English. Though I had reservations on this specific question since these structures have, for the most part, been cast to the wayside in contemporary English poetry, our debate on whether to keep it or not ended with the decision to translate some form of meter and rhyme scheme into the target language. In my opinion, it is an attempt at retaining a cultural heritage that finds its historicity of expression through the language itself. In deciding to continue on with these parameters, we determined that they did not have to be fixed to the A A B A rhyme structure that Abdul Rahman El-Abnoudi had used in the poem. Thus, the first decision was made in which the continuity of these structures were kept but through a variant expression, that of an A A B B rhyme scheme.

Another issue that arises in translation is that of syntax. By exploring the various meanings each word had within the poem along with the arrangement of each word and the words associated with it, we began to unlock their situated meanings, whether as an associated collective or through their individual representations. For example, we chose to use the word buds for الشباب in the 7th line since we wanted to continue with the imagery of nature utilized in the poem. By introducing the word youth in the 8th line, it creates an associated meaning with buds. Hence, the continuity of the imagery of nature is retained while also keeping its situated meaning as that of young, youth, etc.

These were our primary concerns in moving the source language text through the process of transformation into the target language. Poetry, with all of its complexities, is a trying endeavour in translation but is one that is worthwhile. By delving into Al Midan, and encountering an intimacy with the poem, the spirit, or invariant core, is recognized and thus its voyage through the process of translation is able to be tenderly handled by the translator.

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We are the privileged students of ARIC 402/513 – Translating Revolution, a Spring 2011 course taught by Samia Mehrez, professor of Modern Arabic Literature at the Arab and Islamic Civilizations Department in the American University in Cairo, and Director of the Center for Translation Studies.  The purpose of this blog is to share some of the translations we produce in this class and document some of the challenges and questions we meet throughout. Course description can be found below.

We welcome – in fact, encourage – contributions from our readers. Please send content (chants, slogans, jokes, songs, poetry, signs, photos, cartoons, videos, articles, interviews, etc) that is recognizably associated with the ongoing Egyptian Uprising that you feel should be translated, to the following address:

Please note that all original work published on this blog is the property of its author. To reproduce, copy or otherwise circulate this material, please ask permission by leaving a comment on the relevant post along with your e-mail address. We will get back to you.

Here is the course description:

The Egyptian Revolution of January 25 2011 has produced an unprecedented proliferation of political and cultural documents and materials whether written, oral, or visual that together historicize in a remarkable way the momentous events that have unfolded since the first day. Given their range, different linguistic registers and referential worlds, these documents and materials present a great challenge to any translator.

In this course we will try to archive, read, and selectively translate materials ranging from chants, slogans, jokes, poems, but also eyewitness reports, media coverage, interviews, diaries as well as presidential and cabinet speeches and declarations, not to mention military communiqués and revolutionary ones. Hence this course will expose students to various kinds of special texts and the different translation issues and problems that they raise.

To complement the practical work in this course, students will read a selection of texts in translation theory and practice that will inform their own translations of selected texts. Readings will focus on various questions in translation including issues of language variation, literary devices and compensation, as well as creative transformation (adaptation, re-writing, etc). Students will also explore problems of genre, issues of terminology and special language, the problem of target readership and purposes as well as the translator’s role in society as an agent of social change. Taught in English and Arabic.

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