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 …
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):
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: http://english.aljazeera.net/video/middleeast/2011/03/20113144019276272.html
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:
You have all my love …
My poverty, humiliation and debt
My disappointment, salary, the needs are not met
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. “http://www.ebnmasr.net/forum/t43525.htm
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.