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Karima Khalil: Messages from Tahrir
It’s been almost six months since January 25th, and the Tahrir-themed books, art pieces and films keep on coming. This could cause a certain sense of fatigue or overload in some Egyptians, but every now and then a stellar project shines among the rest.
Messages from Tahrir: Signs from Egypt’s Revolution is the latest Tahrir-themed publication by AUC Press to fixate on the 18-day protests that shook the whole country. The book’s simple formula is a winner with over 150 pages of photographs by 36 professional and amateur photographers who participated in the protests. The photographs focus on the banners, posters and signs held by the diverse protesters in Tahrir Square. One of the greatest attributes of the Egyptian revolution was the sharp wit of the protestors; the humour displayed in their posters proved a resilient and powerful tool in the long days spent in the square, and this is perfectly captured in Messages from Tahrir.
The book’s editor is Karima Khalil, a medical doctor and an amateur photographer who participated in the Tahrir protests and wanted to capture the spirit of the square. Messages from Tahrir is evocative and nostalgic for those who were there, and insightful for those who weren’t.
It’s more than just a coffee table book; Messages from Tahrir perfectly captures the fury, humour, despair and determination of the multifaceted groups of protesters. Children, old men, people with disabilities, grieving relatives, doctors and university professors; they are all present in the photographs. Some faces you may recognise from your visits to Tahrir; others are the products of good fortune when one of the 36 photographers captured a perfectly symbolic moment.
Slogans like ‘Not for me, for my grandchildren’, ‘They Shot us with rubber bullets, We will not despair, we will not submit’ ‘Freedom equals life’ show the bravery and the determination of the protesters. Other posters like ‘Leave, I miss my fiancée’, ‘Leave, my wife wants to give birth and the kid doesn’t want to see you’ or ‘What curfew? You idiot, do you think I am a chicken?’ are among the many hilarious slogans that could leave you laughing out loud.
The 36 photographers who contributed to Messages from Tahrir are just as diverse as the protestors in the book, and include the likes of activist Hossam El Hamalawy, journalist Sarah Carr and professional photographers Mohamed Gabr, Stefania Zamparelli, Mohamed Boraie and Rania Helmy. Several amateur photographers provided material for the book, including school student Mariam Ehab Soliman.
Little fault can be found with Messages from Tahrir, save for the few awkwardly cut out photographs against a bright yellow background that stands out from the seamless layout of images. All photos come with captions translating the Arabic slogans or giving short anecdotes on the photo subjects. The book opens with a short introduction briefly detailing the 18-day protests and the events that unfolded.
This book is highly recommended for anyone wishing to remember the humour, creativity and determination of the people in Tahrir Square. All proceeds from the book’s sale will be donated to the Nadim Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence.
Hitchens has no time for self-pity because, as he states, “To the dumb question ‘Why me?’ the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?”
For a book that’s subject is so inherently sad, you do find yourself laughing out loud an awful lot. His description of his “firm deportation […] from the country of the well across the stark frontier that marks off the land of the malady” is remarkably objective and humorous.
A picture is worth a thousand words, and when it comes to the January 25th revolution, pictures are worth millions of words. Still frames that express anger, courage and even humour are what make Tahrir Square stand out. The photography book displays the work of Swedish photographer Mia Gröndahl, who took the photographs during her time in Tahrir throughout the January 25th revolution.
In Tahrir Square, Egyptians debated, chanted and shouted their anger towards injustice and poverty, demanding the removal of the old regime and refusing to leave before it does. Gröndahl managed to capture all these emotions with her camera, as well as in the words of people who witnessed and participated in the events.
One photo shows the massive banner in the centre of the square that reads 'People demand the removal of the regime.' Gathered around it were hundreds of thousands of Egyptian protesters from every social class and gender. Another photo shows a child carrying a sign that reads ‘Mubarak is stealing my future.’ The book is full of similarly touching images, though some images and angles are repeated; thus somewhat redundant.
aren’t only captured through pictures of children’s eyes or of an old man
shouting his lungs out in the square, but also told by writers, journalists, professors
and public figures who give their perspectives on the events in Tahrir. Their personal experiences are conveyed in an exciting and personal manner.
Tahrir Square is a book that will definitely get its reader lost in it; it's also insightful to read real stories from the square. However, with so many similar photography books focusing on the revolution, Tahrir Square isn’t necessarily the most memorable or the best quality in terms of images and content.