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The Egyptian Revolution: Sherief Gaber on political participation and perseverance

Capitalism CC by nc 2.0 Adbusters Culturejammers HQSherief Gaber; Photo: (c) privat

In January 2011, Sherief Gaber boarded a plane in Texas to join the uprisings that had just started in Egypt where his parents are originally from. He spoke to Goethe.de about the ongoing revolution and his work with the independent media collective Mosireen.

You came back to Egypt during a wave of enthusiasm, when the hopes for change were high. Two years later, people in Egypt seem exhausted.

Well, it looks really bad, but substantially I think the movement is much stronger now. I went back to Egypt with a sense this was not just Egypt but a site of potential transformation on a global scale. And although it hasn't fully occurred yet, people are starting to become politicized in many ways, trying out new organisations. Ultimately that’s what’s going to make a real difference. Both good and bad, there is a laboratory happening here that is really engaging what the public could be.

Know your Constitution: Freedom of Opinion and Expression; Mosireen Youtube Channel; December 2012

Would you say that although most of the demands of the revolution have not yet been met there is progress?

Definitely, the number of people who are involved in politics and have a sense that this type of activity is a part of whatever life they are living has increased considerably. A lot of really interesting organisations have been founded that deal with social justice in ways that will potentially be very powerful. “No Military Trials” for example or the “Anti Sexual Harassment taskforce”.

You’ve been working with Mosireen almost since it was established after Mubarak stepped down in February 2011. One of your projects was the public 'Tahrir Cinema' screenings - a kind of digital occupation of public space.

We support the revolution and its demands, and that’s not going to come through government or a political party; it will come from specific actions, through providing a revolutionary perspective. In a city like Cairo where there is so little public space to begin with, the opening up of any amount of it creates a super-rush to begin with but then a serious conversation follows. There’s a very distinctive difference between watching something at home and watching it in the street with others, engaging in discussions and fights. It gives us a basis where you take space as the starting point, allowing you to read complexity into things and to read across different disciplines and different frames of reference.

You’re talking about the relationship between the media and public space – how important are new technologies and the digital sphere for political and social change?

Of course, digital tools can be used to shortcut traditional organizing. But there have been enormous digital campaigns that have done nothing in real life; and we’ve also seen the opposite. I think that both physical space and digital space are tools it’s important to use and understand but the question of when they become useful is entirely context-dependent.

Evolution of a strike; Mosireen Youtube Channel; April 2012

Mosireen has also conducted workshops outside of Cairo. What do you think of the underlying assumption that digital education is also political education?

It’s a popular refrain that we should go out into the country, partly based on the proposition that if only they knew what we know they would think like us. I find it silly and patronising. The ability to transfer ideas and images across distances and contexts can be very useful. But this is a situation where you’re not going to organise but only facilitate organisation. Of course, it’s funny to be out in a village on the edge of Cairo and see graffiti you’ve seen downtown an hour away, knowing that they’ve downloaded the stencil off of a website. That is great in many ways but it doesn't guarantee any outcomes. Look at how effective the Muslim Brotherhood is in distributing propaganda online and speaking to its base. I don't think there’s anything potentially emancipatory about this technology.

So Mosireen's work won’t be “done” for some time?

I don't think we’re ever going to feel that we’re “done”, that we’re in a place we need to stay - partially just because things continue to change. Of course, finances are always going to be an issue with an organisation like ours that has very strict rules: We aim to be fully supported by community contributions particularly by people using our space and its resources. We want to encourage people to support us because they feel this is something they are benefiting from, whether directly or indirectly.

Sherief Gaber was born to Egyptian parents in 1984 in Boston. During his childhood and early youth, Gaber travelled to Egypt regularly. When the revolution started he returned to Cairo and joined Mosireen, a non-profit media collective that has documented the protests and the violations of social justice. Mosireen had been nominated for Reporters without Borders’ 2013 Netizen Prize.

Sara-Duana Meyer
is a curator, writer, literary scholar and cultural producer currently based between Munich and Cairo. Her work focuses on art of resistance and art in public space, as well as urban culture, globalisation, and visual culture. In 2011 she co-founded Spring Lessons, a forum for socio-cultural projects and artistic research.

Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
April 2013

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