By Heba El-Sherif
Certain elements will remain specific to our revolution; Kentucky Fried Chicken, the battle of the camel and a promised Egyptian Hyde Park.
Such absurdities will forever bind Egyptians together, provide instant comic relief and endless material for artists miles away from Tahrir.
As we fought for liberty on our soil, thousands of miles away, from his apartment in Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian comic artist Carlos Latuff decided to join the fight in his own way. From the unexpected take off on Jan. 25, Latuff’s political cartoons were spotted amid the sea of signs embraced by Egyptians throughout nationwide protests that forced former president Hosni Mubarak to step down.
In minified twitpics posted on his twitter account, his cartoons celebrated the downfall of Tunisia’s Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, so when Egypt followed suit, activists asked him to do the same.
“Tunisia and Egypt gave to the Middle East a great lesson of resistance,” Latuff told Daily News Egypt in an email interview.
But long before the fed-up citizen snowball rolled across the region, Latuff’s work had provided a crusty backbone to people’s struggles for freedom. He is most famous for his lambasting cartoons of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and also recently for “Tales of Iraq,” a comic series featuring an Iraqi insurgent.
At home, he works for a leftist Brazilian publication.
“I made them on behalf of the people,” said Latuff, explaining that while he is a cartoonist by profession, the illustrations he made for Egypt — and the ones made for Palestine, Iraq, Tunisia, Algeria, Bahrain and now Libya — are free of charge.
In the series of 34 cartoons produced during the Egyptian revolution, Latuff repeatedly used shoes in a nod, as he later explained, to Iraqi journalist Muntazar Al-Zaidi who hurled his shoe at former US President George Bush at the infamous press conference in Baghdad in 2008.
“Different from him [Al-Zaidi], who had the chance to throw a shoe against Bush, my way of throwing shoes is through cartoons,” said Latuff.
In an epic illustration released during the first few days of protests, Mubarak is seen rushing toward a plane headed to Saudi, clinging onto a suitcase stuffed with dollars, shoes hurled at his back.
Another one sees him being kicked in the bottom by a football player, his jersey bearing the sign “#Jan25,” the hash tag used by online activists during the revolution.
When the government cut off the internet on the eve of Jan. 28 in an attempt to cripple online communication between protest organizers, Egyptians were enraged. But that rage only added fuel to fire, because on Friday Jan. 28, they took to the streets defiantly.
In retaliation, Latuff drew Egypt pulling the plug on an ailing Mubarak.
“But it’s important to have in mind that social media was only a tool. Who really made things happen were the Egyptian people,” he said.
In his cartoons, Latuff relies on wit and exercises minimal self-censorship, but perhaps what sets him apart from other cartoonists is his determination to form a thorough understanding of the depicted situation.
He explained that throughout the course of events, he regularly spoke with Egyptian activists online for inspiration and firsthand accounts of developments on ground.
“I made a few [cartoons] at first, and after seeing the cartoons in the hands of protesters in the streets of Cairo, I decided to keep making more cartoons until the last day of Mubarak era,” Latuff said.
Latuff paid several tributes to Khaled Saeid (left), the 28-year-old Egyptian who was tortured to death by police in Alexandria last summer, and whose death gave birth to a movement that played a key role in toppling the regime and brought Egypt’s ruthless interior minister to investigation.
In a series of illustrations, Latuff highlighted the media crackdown that intensified during the revolution. Foreign media coverage, particularly Al Jazeera’s, were criticized for allegedly exaggerating events on the ground. Soon after, journalists, along with foreign lookalikes, were roundly targeted by pro-regime thugs.
In one illustration, central security forces are drawn strangling a protestor, shedding light on a police-state exercising brutality and doing its best to cover it up.
A personal favorite depicts Egypt as a prison cell, black on the inside, the key to which is marked Jan. 25.
“Mubarak got the chair, but people got the power,” Latuff said.
Latuff’s cartoons did not only appear on signs in street protests, his work has been widely distributed and featured on various social media.
Jan. 25 has been dubbed the “witty revolution,” and as I write this, tens of grassroots initiatives are discussing ways to compile the creative artwork these past weeks have unleashed.
Although not homegrown, our books cannot be complete without Latuff’s cartoons.
Cartoon by Carlos Latuff: Police Day Egyptian Women against Mubarak 25 Jan 2011
Cartoon by Carlos Latuff: Police Day Khaled Said Mubarak Egypt 25 Jan 2011
Cartoon by Carlos Latuff: Police Day Mubarak Egypt 25 Jan 2011
Cartoon by Carlos Latuff: Feb11 VICTORY End of Mubarak Era
Cartoon by Carlos Latuff: Feb11 VICTORY Planting Democracy in Tahrir Square