Egyptian political satire by Amr Okasha in Rome

Vignettes and history of satire at the Academy of Egypt

31 October, 16:54

    (ANSAmed) - ROME, OCTOBER 31 - The recent history of Egypt as told through the biting satire of the vignettist Amr Okasha is on display in Rome through November 12. Part of the activities for the reopening of the Academy of Egypt in the Italian capital, the forty caricatures by the young artist are a vehicle for him to tell of his experience and that of the many that came before him. The result is a fascinating look at political satire through drawing, a practice that dates back to the Khedives, ''when the only ones to create vignettes were Armenians, Greeks, Spaniards and Turks, and only foreign magazines published them''.

    At 42 years old and after 38 years of drawing, Okasha is one of the most well-known Egyptian caricaturists. He mainly publishes in the newspaper Al-Wafd - for whom he has been working since 1991 - and Al-Dostur. Many of his vignettes, however, have been taken up by English-language media outlets such as the Associated Press, BBC and The Economist. Others, like the Washington Post, instead often ask him to express his opinion through his satirical images. ''When Mubarak fell,'' he said, ''I drew a vignette for them: the destruction of a statue of a pharaoh, surrounded by people running in all directions with fragments of it in hand.

    Egyptians were contributing to the dissolution of the regime". The second vignette published, he continued, ''was one in which a sailboat flying a US flag had just thrown President Mubarak overboard. Three sharks surrounded him: Turkey, Iran and Israel''. The caricatures are much more eloquent than many editorials put together. Portraying the powers that be - in the case in point, Mubarak - has never been easy.

    ''Especially since it was prohibited to draw him in his entirely. The first vignette I was able to draw him completely was one in 2010 during Obama's historic speech in Cairo.'' Before then, ''it was impossible to touch him, his wife Suzanne or his sons - especially Gamal.'' Censorship has existed to varying extents in all eras - in the time of the Khedives as well as under the British protectorate, the age of King Fouad and then Farouk. ''Farouk,'' Okasha said, ''prohibited any caricature from bearing his features.'' At that time the first vignettes in Egypt were by foreigners and were published mainly in the Armenian and French press. ''Publishing the first vignettes in Egypt was Le Journal d'Abou Naddara, founded in 1877 by Yacoub Sanou,'' Okasha said.

    The father of modern Egyptian political caricature was instead the Armenian Saroukhan in 1924-1925.

    ''We had to wait until 1929 before there were Egyptian drawers, as well as the appearance of the historic publication Rose Al-Youssef.'' Pressure on newspapers did not let up with the coming of Nasser. ''In the 1950s there was another crackdown. In every daily or magazine,'' Okasha said, ''there was someone - not a journalist - charged with monitoring who set down rules as to what could be published or what the vignette of the following day could be on.'' Foreign policy and the Arab-Israeli conflict was the major issue focused on in those years. After the October War, however, the attention shifted to domestic policy and social issues.

    Okasha's vignettes now take aim at any and every issue - or almost. Having declared his opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood, under Morsi both he and his family received death threats. ''Under the Beblawi government, instead, nothing is prohibited,'' he said - but avoids vignettes on the military and General Al-Sissi. ''I don't want to do anything that could harm the current situation,'' he said. ''We are going through a very difficult time.'' His next vignette will be coming out in Al-Wafd on Saturday. ''Beblawi as a tiny boxer, surrounded by four heavy-weights: strikes, terrorism, inflation and the economic crisis. I wonder whether he will be able to defeat them.'' (ANSAmed).

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