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Graphic Literature

Two Million People in the Square: Scenes from the Revolution

By Magdy El Shafee
Translated from Arabic by Humphrey Davies
Throughout the February 2011 Egyptian revolution, Magdy El Shafee and his friends distributed a graphic journal documenting the harsh attacks of the Mubarak regime.
You think that if you set unmarked cars on us to run us down… you’ll win us over? You think that if you set thugs armed with swords and Molotov cocktails on us…you’ll win us over?

We’re the ones whose hearts grew strong when the thugs threw bricks at us. We’re the ones who overturned the riot police trucks.

They’re the ones who overturned the truth and said that decent people were traitors and the toady was a patriot.

One thing only will win us over: for the president to step down and a transitional government to negotiate, at a minimum:

That the ministries of the interior, justice, and information be ours.
The interior to have a civilian to head and reorganize it so as to serve the people and their security, not the president’s, justice the same so as to draw up the articles of the constitution dealing with the formation of parties and the presidency.

The justice ministry also to bring to trial those responsible for all excesses committed against the 25 January Revolution.

$40 billion fund to be taken from Mubarak’s wealth to compensate for the excesses of his reign.

Abolition of the law restricting right of assembly before protesters leave the square.

[Amir Glue]
[We won’t leave, he must leave.]
Crow: I love you, boss.
[Let go of me!]
[We won’t leave. He must leave.]

What the Mubarak Regime means

“I’ll put my head on the block if anyone touches a demonstrator” = swords and machetes used against the demonstrators.

“We guarantee the freedom of all those taking part in the sit-in” = protestors thrown into police trucks on their way home.

“No arrests” = arrest of two from Al-Badil newspaper and nine from Khalid Ali Law Office that obtained a ruling that the minimum wage should be LE 1200 (and just to make it worse, there were two members of Amnesty International with them to see for themselves).

Make up your own mind:

The people say: Step down now!
America says: Step down now!
Germany says: Step down now!
Israel says: Don’t you dare step down!
A man’s a man
And a coward’s a coward
We’re men
and we’re off to the square.

We’ve been afraid all our lives. The first time I felt I was a human being was when I went to the square because the street was ours. It didn’t belong any longer to the thugs who’ve been scaring us. They don’t scare us anymore. I’m going again, so I can hold my head high.

Transitional government for one year to try the corrupt, change the constitution, and modify electoral systems, led by El Baradei and a committee of honest national forces, such as: Goudat El Malt (who outed Ahmed Izz), Ahmed Hishmet from the Muslim Brotherhood, counsellors Zakariyya and Nuha El Zeini from the protesting judges and Alaa Seif el Islam, a young electronic media activist.

No existing parties, so that all honest people who were afraid of the terrorism of the Mubarak Regime can come forward and form new parties on a sound basis.
What We Want

1- An end to the era of harassment
An end to police harassment.
An end to harassment by thugs of people who want to live in safety.
An end to the harassment of girls walking in the streets. The streets belong to us all and we ought to be able to walk in them safely.

2- An end to the era of thuggery

A new police force like those in other countries, whose only job will be to apply the law evenhandedly.
An end to the era of thugs protecting lawbreakers.

3-Distribution of 80 Million pounds from the fortune of Ahmed Ezz

4-We choose our own president

Any one of us has the right to nominate himself for the presidency and to confront the other candidates in open debate. If he wins, he’ll be president for four years. If we like him, we’ll elect him for four more years only and if we don’t we’ll throw him out and bring in his rival, freely and without thuggery.
Then our country will be like Europe and America.
Read Context About Explore Teaching Ideas
Meet the Creator

Find out why the creator of this pamphlet, Magdy El Shafee, is also known as the “Godfather of Egyptian graphic novelists,” in this article from Newsweek.

Then, read about El Shaffee’s arrests over issues of free speech, both before and after the Revolution, in a series of posts from Words Without Borders.

Meet the Translator

Humphrey Davies, sketched by Magdy El Shafee inside the cover of Dushma (Foxhole) magazine, January 2011.

Read the WWB Campus profile, Euphoria is a Kind of Drug: A Conversation with Translator Humphrey Davies.

Hear the Names

Listen to pronunciations of the Egyptian Arabic terms in this story, read aloud by Noor Naga.

(Listen on SoundCloud.)
The Egyptian Revolution

Listen to an on-air report from the protests: “Millions Against Mubarak, from Sharif Abdel Kouddou and Democracy Now!” (12 minutes.)

Organizers of the 2011 demonstrations used social media to rally supporters—for a powerful example, watch this video blog from Asmaa Mahfouz, which went viral after she posted it to Facebook. 

Finally, for more on the “thugs” mentioned in this pamphlet, read the BBC News article “How ‘Thugs’ Became Part of the Arab Spring Lexicon.”

Revolutionary Art & Culture

Watch the teaser and first scene of Microphone, a 2010 film about the underground art scene in Alexandria just before the Revolution.

Then, learn more about the graffiti art that began appearing in Egypt during the revolution in “Egypt’s Murals Are More Than Just Art, They Are a Form of Revolution,” by Waleed Rasheed, one of the leaders of the 2011 protests. Below is a TED talk from Bahia Shehab, who turned grafitti-ed the Arabic word “no” all over the walls of Cairo during the Revolution.

And look photos of graffiti by Egyptian women during and after the Revolution.
Finally, hear the music that began appearing during and after the revolution in the NPR story “Authentic Egyptian Music Is From The Streets.” (You’ll find full songs in the sidebar.) 

Background on Egypt
A black, red, and white mural reading "Freedom Egypt"

Mural, Egypt, 2013, photographed by stttijn. License: CC-BY 2.0.

To learn more about Egypt’s history, read the BBC’s timeline of key events from 7000 BCE to 2018.

To find out about current events, visit the newspaper The Egypt Independent


Mubarak: Hosni Mubarak was the president of Egypt from 1981 to 2011. He stepped down after 18 days of protests in February 2011.

Ahmed Ezz: In early 2011, Ezz was a senior member of Egypt’s ruling party and the owner of Ezz Steel, a company accused of monopolizing Egypt’s steel industry. He was arrested shortly after Mubarak stepped down.

More from the Author

Watch a video of the making of Magdy El Shafee’s comix magazine, Tok Tok, and visit its bilingual website.

(Watch on YouTube.)

Then, read excerpts from Metro, also by Magdy El Shafee. It was the first Arabic adult graphic novel in Egypt, and it was first published in Words Without Borders. (It was translated by Chip Rossetti, who also wrote the introduction to the Egypt unit on WWB.) 

Arabic speakers can take a look at’s series on Arabic comix and graphic novels, which begins with a viewing of the Tok Tok video above.

Who Influenced Magdy El Shafee?

Magdy El Shafee says that his novel Metro came out of a 2002 workshop led by another comics artist, Golo. Look at Golo’s Proud Beggars, also available on WWB Campus. 

More from the Translator

Read Humphrey Davies’ recent translations of several Egyptian novels: Leg Over Leg, Private Pleasures, and Midaq Alley.

Life After the Revolution

Listen to stories of post-revolutionary Egypt from This American Life:

Then, watch a Vice video on Egypt under el-Sisi from the protests of March 2014. (20 minutes, click “Show More” beneath the video on YouTube for more background information.)

Finally, get the latest news from the New York Times’ Egypt coverage.

Comics After the Revolution

What happened to comics, and their creators, after the Revolution? 

Hear from Magdy El Shafee and others in “CairoComix: Excavating the Political,” by Jonathan Guyer, published on the independent Egyptian website Mada Masr. Then, read the Guyer’s 2017 article on “Egypt past, present, and future,” which also describes what’s happened to sites like Mada Masr over the past few years.  

For more recent satire, follow cartoonist Andeel on Facebook, or watch his web series “Big Brother,” in which his character suggests some…interesting ways to solve Egypt’s problems. Below, you’ll find the 2018 episode, “Agonies of the Rich.” (With a few implied four-letter words.) 


Finally, find out what happened to the Twitter accounts of such Egyptian cartoonists as Ganzeer (also featured on this site) during a series of 2019 protests. 

Selling the Revolution

Listen to the NPR story “Graffiti Reclaims Egypt’s Revolution From Marketers” to find out about “revo-branding“—the use of revolutionary images in ads.

Then, watch an example of revo-branding: a cell-phone ad set to the patriotic song “Egypt is My Mother.”

(Watch the video on YouTube.)

The translated lyrics (from NPR) are:

Egypt is my mother, its Nile is my blood
Its sun is in my tanning, its semblance is in my features
Even my color is wheaten, the color of your goodness
Egypt, Egypt.

More Revolutionary (and Post-Revolutionary) Culture

See more Egyptian street art in the blog suzeeinthecity, from journalist Soraya Morayef. Then, read about the groundbreaking cultural historian, artist, and feminist Huda Lutfi, and look through her work.  

Finally, listen to a story about Bassem Youssef, the “Jon Stewart of Egypt,” and the success (and consequences) of his satirical show about the Egyptian revolution. 

​Taking On Thugs

Some women who were taking part in the
revolution experienced brutal harassment, mostly from the ‘thugs’ the pamphlet
describes. Watch a video about a self-defense program to teach women to respond to street harassment.

(Watch the video on Youtube.)

Revolutionary Love

For a story of love before, during, and after the Revolution, read Lena Merhej’s comic Manal and Alaa

Censorship in post-Revolutionary Egypt . . .

Watch the documentary “Authorized to be Shown,” about censorship of the arts in Egypt. 

(Watch the video on YouTube.)

Then, read a 2019 article in which Egyptian novelist Mansoura Ez-Eldin says that it is the “silence or self-censorship of creative people that actually threatens Arab creativity.” 

Mansoura Ez-Eldin, 2012. By Lesekreis. CC 0 license.

. . . And Beyond

Watch an American Library Association video featuring the “Top Ten” most challenged books in the US. 

Next, listen to a panel on National Public Radio discuss “What people miss in the conversation about banned books.” The panelists point out that comics are often among the most frequently banned books in U.S. schools. (We suggest starting around 12:55.)   

Finally, read “An Iranian Metamorphosis,” a graphic memoir from an artist imprisoned for a single word. 

More Graphic Nonfiction With a Message

Read Slaves of Moscow, graphic reportage about a shocking modern-day instance of slavery. 

Then, read a comic about the power of storytelling, and browse through the archive of Symbolia, an online magazine for illustrative journalism. 

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