Abstract

Narrating the Egyptian Revolution through Jokes: Is it still a Laughing Revolution?

HEBATALLAH SALEM

American University in Cairo

This research examines jokes in the year since the start of the Egyptian revolution. The first eighteen days, which ended with Hosni Mubarak stepping down from the presidency, were nicknamed “The Laughing Revolution” because of people’s hope and joy. Since then Egyptians have felt mounting frustration and dismay because of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ efforts to stall progress and change. Jokes reflect the Egyptian people’s changing perception of the revolution and thus offer a narrative that provides the observer with an inside-out perspective because they are a form of folklore that the people both consume and produce. Additionally, jokes are a type of speech act that the protesters use as a tool to mock and challenge authority as well as to express themselves. The global community generally does not have access to these jokes because of the language barrier and because they are not transmitted through any official media channels; thus translating them gives non-Arabs access to an unseen perspective of the revolution and Egyptians’ emotions. Language is also examined as a weapon of resistance. The jokes are analyzed linguistically to bring to light how language is manipulated in order to criticize authority and gain popular support, particularly the strategic use of the language of authority, cultural icons, and popular imagination. We note how jokes create symbols that enter into popular culture which either disappear or continue to be used as the basis for new jokes.