February 11 in 2011 was a day that Egyptians had waited decades to see. After less than a month of widespread popular protests, the country’s ruler of 30 years, Hosni Mubarak, stepped down. The Arab Spring was well on its way, heralding a new era of democratic revolutions in the region. But that sense of euphoria didn’t last for long and the struggle for freedom has since devolved into chaos and wars.
At the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, researcher Nicola Pratt spearheaded a project to archive the Egyptian revolution of 2011 through the prism of art and popular culture. “Politics, Popular Culture and the 2011 Egyptian Revolution” is a free online resource than spans more than 200 items of visual art, performance, photography, graffiti, music, TV, and film made during the uprising and its aftermath.
“Music, graffiti, satire and film all played a vital role in giving Egyptians an outlet for their political views during the 2011 revolution and its aftermath, but by their very nature these things can be ephemeral,” Pratt, who teaches International Politics of the Middle East at the Warwick’s Department of Politics & International Studies, said in a statement. “Our archive captures a snapshot of these popular responses to the Revolution and, we hope, not only will preserve them as valuable records for future researchers in the face of official attempts to impose a historical narrative, but also to spark the interest of new students of history and politics.”
Pratt compiled the archive with the help of Dalia Mostafa, a lecturer in Arabic and Comparative Literature at the University of Manchester; Dina Rezk, a lecturer in Middle Eastern History at the University of Reading; and Sara Salem, previously a research and teaching fellow in Middle East Politics at Warwick and now a lecturer in sociology at the London School of Economics.
Users can browse the archive by theme, media type, or timeline of the revolution. It also includes study guides for independent learners and teachers.
One of the archived works of performance is artist Laila Soliman’s 2011 “No Time for Art (A Salute to the Martyrs and the Living),” which commemorates the stories of victims of police brutality during the protests through a theatrical performance. The archive also features a collection of political cartoons and works of graffiti, which were some of the more common expressions of resistance during the revolution.
In addition, the online archive is rife with images from Tahrir Square in Cairo, the epicenter of the 2011 protests. One of the largest photographic collections in the archive belongs to journalist and blogger Hossam El-Hamalawy, who continued to chronicle protests in the square through 2013.
In the documentary section, the archive features dozen of films, including Ahmed Rashwan’s Born on the 25th of January (2011) which tracks four months of the revolutions through the director’s eyes. The section also includes Mostafa Fathi’s Egyptian Tank Man, a viral video showing a lone Egyptian protester confronting an armored tank that used a water cannon to disperse the crowds.
Warwick’s collection also pays attention to other archival projects like Tahrir Documents, an archive of activist papers translated to English, and Amira Hanafi’s interactive “Dictionary of the Revolution” (2017) which documented the way Egyptians perceive key terms of the revolution. Hanafi has woven imagined dialogues based on tens of interviews she conducted with ordinary citizens.
Nine years after the uprising, Egypt is again ruled by a military strongman, General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who assumed power in a coup d’etat in 2013. Is there still hope for the revolution? “Be patient, Egypt,” said poet Tamim al-Barghouti, whose spoken-word poem is included in the archive, “The light of day is about to emerge.”