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Humour fuels Egypt protests

Egyptians are known for their humour and they haven't lost it even as they've sought to overthrow their government. Amitava Sanyal reports.

world Updated: Feb 11, 2011 09:06 IST
Amitava Sanyal

In the end was the word and the word was with the crowds. ‘LEAVE’ (Iskuth) scream dozens of banners, posters and graffiti in a violent red – around Tahrir Square and at other places around Cairo. For anyone unsure of the who and what, there are several others naming and shaming Hosni Mubarak in clearer terms.

Among the wittier ones was a placard at Tahrir that read: “Will you please go? I’ve to home and take a bath.” Khaled, a service manager at computer giant Oracle’s Cairo office who’s been making the pilgrimage to Tahrir every day, says he spotted one that read, ‘I got married 20 days ago, I want to go back to my wife.’ “When I asked him why his wife wasn’t with him, he replied, ‘She’s cooking at home’,” says Khaled.

One guys printed banner reads: ‘Give me my freedom, release my hands.’ Scribbled below is the message ‘My hands are tired of holding this banner.’

Then there are the poetic ones, points out Hamdy Kenawi, 33. Black Arabic letters on the walls of the SAS Airline office in the northern end of Tahrir scream: “We have waited for 30 years and now you have just hours left.”

Reem Kelani, a British-born Palestinian musicologist and performer who is in town to research the works of composer Sayyid Darwish, points out that some of the songs being sung all around Tahrir today are the same ones that were sung here during the 1919 revolution against the British.

Among them is ‘Biladi, biladi’ (My country, my country), which was adopted in 1979 as Egypt’s national anthem, ‘Ana el-Masri’ (I am an Egyptian) and ‘Oum ya Masri’ (Rise, o Egyptian).

Nationalistic fervour apart, Egyptians, known for their dry sense of irony, let rip some of the juiciest revolutionary humour at the slightest provocation. Among the more popular jokes doing the rounds is this one: A crowd goes to Mubarak and says, ‘We have come to bid you farewell.’ Mubarak asks, ‘Why, where are you going?’

One guy wrapped in the Egyptian and perched on the shoulder of a friend is singing, “We don’t want a dollar or a Kentucky, we want a country that’s free…” The reference is to the state media propaganda that the Tahrir protestors are being financed by unnamed foreign agencies and given Kentucky fried chicken for free. The KFC outlet at Tahrir sports numerous graffiti right under the beard of the company’s mascot, Colonel Sanders. As we walk back from Tahrir, several people ask us, “Enta kelth Kentucky?” (Had a Kentucky?)

A half-an-hour’s walk away from Tahrir, IT engineer Nasrallah’s computer screen wallpaper is a morphed image of Mubarak begging street-side. Beside him on the pavement are Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and Tunisia’s Ben XXX. The placard in front of them reads: ‘Donations in dollar only’. Amen.