Archive for the ‘Hosni Mubarak’ tag
Al Jazeera’s news coverage of the Libyan Revolution currently unfolding is hugely symbolical: the left hand of the screen depicts jubilant crowds who have gathered in Benghazi following the news that the rebels have taken control of Tripoli, the right hand side of the screen depicts precisely these rebels as they are trampling, kicking, hitting and even driving over a carpet that depicts Muammar Gaddafi. Al Jazeera thus sets out one of the overriding dichotomies evoked by the Arab Revolution: hope symbolised by the jubilant crowds in Benghazi and fury symbolised by those defacing the image of Gaddafi.
The defacement of Gaddafi’s image in the Al Jazeera’s news footage has been, in fact, a reoccurring theme during the Arab Revolution. As the autocratic regimes of Tunisia and Egypt were toppled, it was representations of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak respectively that were attacked by protestors. Even in countries where the political shift has yet to occur, representations of dictators such as Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen or Bashar al-Assad of Syria are a common target for those seeking the end of their reign.
The Libyan Revolution in particular vividly illustrates that the defacing of a dictator’s image holds, in itself, a political power protestors appear to tap into. A recent news photograph depicts rebels as they poke their guns into a Gaddafi poster. The gun penetrating the surface of the poster is symbolical for the rebels penetrating the instruments of power of the regime in Tripoli. Importantly, in the photograph a hand holding a mobile phone can be seen reaching into the image. The mobile phone is recording an action which is similarly performed all over liberated parts of the country. The defacing of the poster is not simply an action worth recording on the mobile phone, or, by extension the news photographer on site, but also, it becomes a recognisable gesture symbolising the eventual toppling of Gaddafi himself.
To deface, as the dictionary notes, is to mar or spoil the appearance or surface of an image. Derived from the Old French word desfascier, it literally denotes the disfigurement of the ‘face’. In the true sense of the word, defacement of an image presumes that the image depicts a human being. As all the aforementioned regimes are ruled by individual men, it is only natural that it is their image that is consistently attacked. In other words, an autocracy, or a form of government in which one person possesses unlimited power, is the very precondition for the popularity of the defacement of rulers during the Arab Revolution. In Libya, after being visually bombarded with images of Gaddafi in heroic poses for more than four decades, the frustration of the Libyan people is most bluntly observed in the way they attack Gaddafi’s image. Attacking representations of Gaddafi becomes the conduit for political and ideological opposition.
Another news photograph depicts a little girl as she is kicking a drawing of Gaddafi. A reading of the photograph suggests that while the little girl is not participating in the armed uprising as such, she is, symbolically, standing up against his tyranny. The defacement of Gaddafi thus becomes a gesture that is not exclusive to those participating in the armed struggle. In the photograph, like in many other similar photographs, the physical contact between the shoes and Gaddafi’s face connote the ultimate insult in Arab culture as George W. Bush once famously dodged shoes at a press conference in Baghdad.
It is important to note however that there is a significant difference between defacing an image and destroying an image. Representations of Gaddafi are penetrated, torn, drawn over, kicked, hit, spat at, maybe even burnt – yet ultimately, as an image, it often survives. In the photograph above, the paint of a Gaddafi street mural is crumbling away in parts where it has been most consistently trampled. Yet Gaddafi right hand fist can still be seen as it is defiantly raised towards the sky. So rather than concentrating on what defacement is doing, let me spell out what it is not doing: it is not entirely getting rid of an image, a representation, a poster or any other type of visual propaganda imaginable. The partial preservation of Gaddafi’s image suggests that, ultimately, in order to move towards an unknown future, a reminder of the past must be stay in sight.
This is a screenshot from a Facebook user based in Cairo where, at the moment the screenshot was taken, a popular uprising is taking place. In order to protect the identity of the user, I blacked out their names and personal details. Consistent with various different Egyptian Facebook users, the profile photograph has been changed in recent days to reflect the countries mood. A number of users uploaded the Egyptian flag, others show images of Karl Marx or Che Guevera, yet the vast majority of politically motived profile changes on Egyptian Facebook accounts include a photograph taken by an anonymous person depicting the initial protest march on the 25th of January 2011 at El Tahrir Square in Cairo. As reported in an article on Fastcompany.com, the photograph was posted by a Facebook campaign called Mama Qarat.
The use of this specific photograph for a profile change is an important aspect in the current protest and the visual culture of ideological change. Taken from a high vantage point, the photograph depicts masses of people gathering in Cairo’s biggest public square protesting against the government and the president Hosni Mubarak. The location depicted in the photograph has a political significance since El Tahrir Square, or Freedom Square, has been the central focus for a number of protests in Cairo: from Anti-Iraq War to Pro-Palestinian marches, the square is a strategic point for political expression. Apart from that however, little detail is visible in the image. The masses remain absolutely anonymous. This is an important aspect because the image itself doesn’t compromise the identity of an individual protester (nor did I wish to compromise their identity by showing their profile information). By choosing this photograph as profile shot, the Egyptian Facebook user is equally willing to suspend his or her photographic identity in place of a greater cause.
The photograph is also highly self-referential with regard to the context it is disseminated in. While it depicts masses of people, the photograph itself is uploaded by masses of people signifying their allegiance with the anti-government protests. In other words, the photograph signifies the popular uprising in two important ways: in what it depicts, but also, in the way that it is circulated via the social network. Here, it is also important to point out that the existence of social media in itself is a critical agent in uprisings in Iran, Tunisia and most recently Egypt. This is the power of the so-called flashmob: an almost instantaneous gathering of a large mass of people effectuated through social media such as Facebook or Twitter.
The recent changes by Egyptian Facebook users underlines the significance of the social network in the creation of a critical mass which has proven to take down autocratic regimes in the past. The changing of the profile photograph is significant because, apart from the Facebook users name, the profile photograph is the first visual encounter with the user, and, importantly, Facebook informs other users when the a number of ‘friends’ change their profile photograph. As the anonymous photograph is uploaded at a rapid rate in Egypt, the photograph in itself becomes the agent of political change.