Photo by Virginie Nguyen. “(On) difficult terms”, 2013, Adelita Husni-Bey. Commissioned by Beirut (Cairo); work developed through a meeting with the journalists, editors and copyeditors of Mada Masr

Photo by Virginie Nguyen. “(On) difficult terms”, 2013, Adelita Husni-Bey. Commissioned by Beirut (Cairo); work developed through a meeting with the journalists, editors and copyeditors of Mada Masr


Plenary Abstracts


Changing Frames and Fault-lines

Khalid Abdallah

Give me but one firm spot on which to stand, and I will move the earth.

Archimedes (on the Law of Levers)

The story of the Egyptian revolution carries a heavy burden. Its many tales travel across contexts and experience, within Egypt and beyond it, influencing movements and revolutions while building dreams and threatening them. Solidarity fundamentally entails sharing an interpretation of a story. How that story is told and re-told has political and historical implications that are as much about the current moment as they are about the future. Political events are hard to follow at the best of times and solidarity is broken when the thread of a story is lost or events within it become subject to confusingly competing narratives. Meanwhile, a revolution is in itself a radical break with old political frameworks and the interpretations of possibility and the present they represent. And like any story, the longer it gets the more complicated it becomes. At stake is not only solidarity within the Egyptian revolution itself, but also a story of change and how it happens, or might.

Over the past four years I have worked with a range of forms and collaborators to engage in telling many of the stories of the Egyptian revolution, translating experiences and perspectives between a diverse range of contexts and audiences. With each form and each language, each event and each audience, comes a framework within which those stories can be told and shared – some infrastructural, some political, some legal, some linguistic. In this presentation I will reflect on what I see as the fault lines in translating events between contexts and the interpretative lapses that threaten meaningful solidarity. I will also reflect on strategies that have been used to attempt to bridge some of these gaps, giving my reading of certain successes and failures, while asking how to adapt and re-strategise amidst a period of extraordinary struggle and change.


Text and Context: Translating in a State of Emergency

Samah Selim, Rutgers University, USA

This presentation will explore the problems associated with activist translating in revolutionary historical moments like the one that began in Egypt in 2011. Using my experience working as a subtitler with the radical video collective Mosireen in 2012/13, I want to reflect on how the process and experience of translating in a state of emergency – when the state mobilizes its arsenal of violence on the streets – profoundly shapes how we think about terms like profession and objectivity, and about the roles of both translator and audience in building effective cross-border virtual solidarity networks in real time.

I also want to broadly distinguish between what I see as the two closely related and equally urgent modes of political translating work described above; crisis and building. While the former is defined by transposable and widely-circulating spectacles of violence and resistance, the latter seeks to mobilize the broadest possible array of socially embedded source texts (tracts, statements, press conferences, testimonies, manifestos, analysis) in order to fully territorialize the spectacle and give it political meaning. I will argue that building effective and sustainable international solidarity networks absolutely depends on this kind of multi-directional territorializing translation work, particularly at this time when militant popular movements are exploding across the globe.


Alexandria and Activism: Translating Memory, Mythology and Utopianism

Amro Ali, University of Sydney

One of the long-standing fears of Alexandrian activism has been the eclipsing of its people’s local struggles by a Cairo-centric narrative – an issue that is further aggravated by limited bilingualism among the coastal city’s middle class revolutionaries, which makes connecting with international audiences more difficult. Apart from efforts to attract domestic attention to the city’s struggles, a peculiar form of Alexandrian activism evolved that employs the city’s namesake, history and popular culture to attract national and international attention to the issues affecting its urban terrain. This is evident in revolutionary graffiti that makes reference to Alexander the Great and Ancient Alexandria, and in the growth of civic groups that contrast their present problems with a by-gone era of utopian cosmopolitanism and indulge in various forms of nostalgia, symbolised by images such as the Pharos lighthouse or a mermaid.

This trend can be traced back to the 1990s struggle between the state and Alexandria over identity formation. The Egyptian state constructed a discourse of utopianism revolving around Alexandria’s ancient past and the city’s cosmopolitanism of the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century. This was motivated by a wish to brandish the regime’s ‘progressive’ and ‘democratic’ credentials for the benefit of international audiences, fight the Islamist utopian mode of thinking that was beginning to make serious inroads, symbolise a significant break with the Nasserist past, and employ a cultural mask of universalism to disguise the neoliberal policies spearheaded by the Alexandria governorate. Rarely did any of this address the city’s deep-seated problems, and centralisation – a common Alexandrian grievance – took its toll over the decades, resulting in a disembowelled public sphere.

Activists appropriated a variety of narratives and symbols to ‘translate’ and communicate their specific concerns to a wider audience, escape the shadow of the heavyweight capital, and establish a common ground with diaspora and foreign audiences who spotlighted, and sometimes co-worked on, texts and videos with Alexandrians to amplify their story to the world. This produced creative methods of revolutionary activity, drew modest research and journalistic interest to the coastal city, and started a slow process of democratising the activist field. A highly utopian language enabled activists to draw inspiration from and chart their own understanding of ‘The Revolution Continues’ vernacular maxim by devising daily strategies and tactics that can function as alternatives to protesting on the street, which now carried a high risk of imprisonment.

Translation and Solidarity in Words of Women from the Egyptian Revolution

Leil-Zahra Mortada

Translation has been an integral part of Words of Women from the Egyptian Revolution from its very first stages. Subtitling the speech of the women interviewed into a variety of languages is not just an issue of disseminating information and making their unique experiences accessible to as many people as possible, but is part of a broad expression of political commitment that assumes different forms. First and foremost, it is part of a wider post-colonial and feminist commitment to allowing the subjects themselves to shape their own voices and representations. Speaking in Arabic, the women translate their first hand experiences into a discourse that counters the widespread appropriation of the voices of both women and people of colour. These voices have traditionally been constrained and distorted by patriarchal, xenophobic and racist interpretations and streamlined into simplistic generalizations that oscillated between imposition and exoticism. Making subtitles into a wide range of languages an integral part of the project is a further step towards empowering Egyptian women by connecting them to networks of rebellion across borders. Subtitles constitute a tool that extends the messages of empowerment to other locales, makes local political struggles visible to other protest movements, and further fosters international networking and solidarity. This contribution will offer a critical account of both levels of translation as they evolved in Words of Women from the Egyptian Revolution.


The Translation of Protests and Movements across Time, Space and Culture

Cristina Flesher Fominaya, University of Aberdeen, Scotland

Protests and movements in one place can inspire and influence people far beyond the point of origin, with unexpected and impossible to predict consequences. In this talk I will draw on examples from the recent wave of anti-austerity and pro-democracy movements to describe some of these processes across not only space but also time, to show how transmitters and adopters must work hard to effect a process of movement translation across contexts, how these processes are not always successful and why, and how ideas, practices and repertoires can take on a life of their own.


Translating Rebellion: From Local Protests to Global Uprisings

Brandon Jourdan, Global Uprisings

Since 2011, streets and squares across the world have become the site of massive demonstrations, strikes, occupations, riots, rebellions, and revolutions. From the Arab uprisings to the movement of the squares in Southern Europe, and from there to the global Occupy movement and the recent uprisings in Turkey and Brazil, people everywhere have been rising up against the power of governments, corporations and repressive regimes, representing a global legitimation crisis that has affected authoritarian regimes and liberal democracies alike.

While mainstream media, filmmakers, sociologists, and writers have often worked to explain the local contexts for the rebellions, many have not adequately attempted to try to connect them in their global economic and political context. Many instead have chosen to view the Arab uprisings as simply people fighting for Western-style democracy or the European movements as purely anti-austerity protests or the protests in Brazil and Turkey as fights against urbanization projects.

However, the neo-liberal policies that became globalized over the last four decades led to the transformation of the world political economy and connected populations in a manner often unreported and the timing of the wave of rebellion over the last few years coincided with a breakdown of both neoliberal capitalism and representative democracy.

In many cases, protesters related to other movements much more than to the ruling figures within their own countries. The symbols, tactics, and motivations for going to the streets translated easily across geographic and political boundaries.

This audio/visual presentation will focus on showing how the recent uprisings and protests are connected through the global political economy and how movements have bridged the divide of national boundaries using shared symbols, slogans, memes, tactics, and ideals.


Special Panels


Journalism as Translation

Organized and Moderated by Mada Masr

Across different media platforms, the state-run, the corporate and the independent, there has been a generation of journalists who have been fighting for a true meaning of journalism as an act of witnessing events and mediating them. Working in a context where state-engineered narratives have managed to permeate different media settings, this generation has still managed, through negotiation and struggle, to impose a certain voice that at times is more audible than others. But what is this voice beyond its being a counter-state propaganda? And how does it work itself to reach out beyond the circles of the converted?

The panel will feature Egyptian journalists working across different platforms and speaking of the difficulty of navigating different revolutionary narratives. There will be time for the audience to engage and contribute to the conversation.


Lina Attalah, Chief Editor of Mada Masr
Ahmad Ragab, Managing Editor of Al-Masry Al-Youm‘s Website
Mostafa Mohie, Journalist at Mada Masr and MA Candidate in Anthropology
Mahmoud Ezzat, Poet and Columnist

Emotional Architecture: We started by calling it the summer of two fires and a landslide.

Readings by Lina Attalah, Motaz Attalla, Nida Ghouse, Malak Helmy and Philip Rizk

Emotional Architecture is a project initiated by Malak Helmy and Nida Ghouse in the summer of 2012 as an exercise in addressing the social, intellectual and psychic legacies of entering and leaving collaborations. It started off by thinking through a range of situations – from minor artistic collectives, and temporary social movements, to grand historical narratives – and began by asking: what happens to knowledge that was borne in collaboration when collaborations break up (which they often do)? How do certain dynamics of power become apparent – like a ghost of an underlying governing structure – but only in moments of emotional involvement and heightened awareness in which a threshold has been (b)reached? The aim was to articulate what it is that comes to be known in these encounters with one’s own ideological and/or physiological limits, specifically in relation to collective contexts in which the soul is at work. Instead, what Helmy and Ghouse found was that meaning breaks down and that it grows harder to speak with conviction when one no longer inhabits those conditions, and can no longer see the apparition. Their engagement with these concerns (happened to have) developed at a particular political interval during which the ground of their analysis kept moving and the rules no longer applied.

Helmy and Ghouse have since commissioned texts from those they began the conversations with. These have evolved into two publications, which they intend to continue into a small series borne out of this process. The first is titled We started by calling it the summer of two fires and a landslide. It includes contributions from Haig Aivazian, Clare Davies, Nida Ghouse and Malak Helmy. Concerned with notions of spontaneous combustion and material refusal, specifically in relation to the incineration of significant buildings in Cairo at various points in its history, the writings and images assume the gap that opens up between possible and impossible worlds when things light themselves on fire. The second publication comprises texts by Lina Attalah, Motaz Attalla and Philip Rizk. These narratives are contestations with the physical and mythical violence of the state, as encountered through physiological experiences; the body’s insides – as muscle, psyche, motion – become the interface of the state, and negotiate with it.

The panel will consist of short readings from both publications and will include time for questions and answers.


Panel Abstracts


From Moral Assaults to Mob Sexual Assaults: Translating Sexual Violence amid a Revolutionary Context

Dalia Abd Elhameed, Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)

Within the realm of human rights, translation has always been crucial for documentation and dissemination. Yet, throughout the struggle against epidemic collective sexual violence in the protests in Egypt from 2012-2014, translation was also a discursive tool that enabled us to influence the public debate on the issue. Through translating the press releases of OpAntish (Operation Anti Sexual Harassment) – a grassroot group that used to intervene directly in the mob sexual assaults in Tahrir – and the testimonies of the survivors and the volunteers, these voices reached wider audiences and managed to exert pressure on the government to address the long-ignored issue of sexual violence. More importantly, translation helped in creating a more revolutionary and gender sensitive discourse around violence against women as discussions were taking place to designate the precise terms that would best describe these horrific acts. Feminist activists tended not to opt for the easier choices, like gang rape, and at the same time it was a golden opportunity to defy the morally charged terminology in the current Egyptian penal codes regarding sexual crimes such as moral assaults and indecent exposure. In this presentation, I will be critically examining the role of translation in this long ongoing battle between the state stereotypical terminology and what feminists have been trying to achieve.

Translation and the New Poetics of Egypt’s Revolution

Tahia Abdel Nasser, American University in Cairo

The poetry recited in 2011 as part of the mobilization and documentation of the Egyptian Revolution, and its later translation into a variety of languages, contributed to local understandings of that historical moment and to shaping global perceptions of the events that have been unfolding in the region. This presentation will examine some of the ways in which new poetic production in 2013-2014 extends and reconfigures the revolutionary movement in Egypt, the difference between the new poetics and the poetry inspired by the 2011 Revolution, and the effect that translating new poetry concerned with martyrdom and freedom can have on global understandings of the unfolding narrative of the uprising. I will attempt to demonstrate that despite the various political setbacks over the past three years, the poetry of Tahrir published in 2013 renews the revolutionary ideals epitomized in the poetry that appeared in 2011. The poetry of Amin Haddad, as a case in point, translates the dreams and aspirations of Tahrir, resituated in 2013 and 2014 with the publication of a new volume, Freedom of the Martyrs. I will examine Haddad’s poetry against English translations of poetry since 2011. The role of reception and translation of this new poetry, I argue, becomes doubly significant in the context of a revolution that is being hijacked, an ethical and political act that simultaneously reads and registers the iterations of Tahrir and the developing narrative of revolution in the contemporary local poetry scene.

Visual Frictions: Practices and Processes of ‘Translating’ Protest Images

Kari Andén‐Papadopoulos, Stockholm University, Sweden

Mark R. Westmoreland, Stockholm University, Sweden

“Politics in the Middle East is now seen” – Lina Khatib

While Khatib (2013) claims that politics in the Middle East has become inherently visual, most theorizations about the role of visibility in contemporary political struggles (e.g. Thompson 2005), and the Arab Spring in particular, perpetuate the dual fallacy of ’visual essentialism’ and ’visual transparency’. Theorists of image activism rarely go beyond an evidential understanding of photography and video as ‘records of the real’ able to ‘reveal’ crimes or causes that would otherwise have remained unnoticed and thus mobilize people against injustice. This assumes that images function like a universal language that translates easily across national and cultural boundaries. Yet, the inherently mixed-media composition of images and the complex way people in different political contexts use and make sense of them dispel any notion of a self-explanatory or ’purely visual’ medium (e.g Mitchell 2005). While today’s new media ecology offers unparalleled opportunities for activist groups to connect globally, the political success of contemporary protest movements relies on translating the meanings of their actions to local and distant publics alike and on bridging ‘old’ and ‘new’ media platforms (Cottle & Lester 2011). So rather than reiterating the fluid rhetoric of ’easy-to-share’ and ’spreadable’ images, this presentation sets out to identify and analyze the often frictional processes of translation evidenced in activists’ efforts to create politically potent images and make them move. Drawing on a study that explores distinct forms, practices, and frameworks of camera-mediated activism in Egypt and Syria, we thus aim to theorize the structural opportunities and constraints negotiated by video activists when working in new media environments as well as the expansive cast of actors involved in producing video activism as integral to the kind of politics anticipated by the uprisings’ concomitant “aesthetic revolution” (Snowdon 2014).

The Art of Comparison: Translating Palestinian Solidarity

Anna Bernard, King’s College London, UK

This presentation will consider strategic comparisons between different international solidarity movements as a form of political translation, focusing on the widespread use of comparisons between the Palestinian struggle and South African apartheid in contemporary Anglophone activism. I am particularly interested in the ways in which cultural activists – including filmmakers, writers, and visual artists – frame such comparisons, and in the relationship between different transnational political discourses, particularly liberationist and humanitarian discourses, in artworks that aim to persuade an undecided reader/viewer.

From a Palestine solidarity activist’s perspective, the comparison to South Africa has important and obvious uses. It seeks to mobilize an international base of support by invoking a movement that was extraordinarily successful in capturing the imaginations of international observers, and it suggests that what worked for South Africa might work for Palestine. From a cultural activist’s perspective, however, the use of analogy as a form of persuasion is not only tactical. It also allows the artist to draw on an already existing visual and narrative lexicon of political protest, connecting the current struggle to past ones through a shared iconography, vocabulary, and emotional register.

The presentation will draw on texts and films that make explicit comparisons between Palestine and South Africa, e.g. Ana Nogueira and Eron Davidson’s Roadmap to Apartheid (2012); that rely more generally on the strategy of comparison as a form of persuasion, e.g. Alice Walker’s Overcoming Speechlessness (2010); and that make use of tactics of persuasion that are recognizable from some of the most successful instances of anti-apartheid cultural activism, e.g. the emphasis on non-violent popular protest in Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi’s 5 Broken Cameras (2011). I will argue that the use of comparison as a means of forging connections between movements makes an important contribution to our understanding of present political possibilities, not only in Palestine and South Africa, but in movements for social justice worldwide.

Translating Sufism. The exceptional experience of disrupting human language to narrate individual desires and collective protests

Elena Biagi, Professor of Arabic language, University of Milan, Italy

Inherent in the meaning, which the words ‘identity’ (huwiyya) and ‘spirituality’ (rūḥāniyya) bear in Arabic, is a perception of human self as a receptive place of movement and change, desire and struggle. Translating Sufi texts is a potentially unique experience, as the translator confronts the limits of human language while rendering the complex narratives of mystics. In this perspective, my paper intends to highlight the revolutionary purport underlying the process of translating Sufism and discuss how that connects with contemporary movements of resistance.

From a ‘pilgrim of the Absolute’ the Sufi becomes a keen ‘explorer of humanity’, whose abysses he sounds, sailing across the intricate fabric of language. Reflecting on the literary imagery used by Sufis will allow us to see the act of translating as deeply intertwined with the individual struggling which leads to protest movements. Contemporary movements of resistance were spurred by the need of re-acquiring an impartial free-thinking, which is necessarily combined with the liberation of language.

My reflections will be located at the nexus of different discourses, including psychoanalysis, which are fruits of interlaced perspectives on human subjectivity. Thus, for example, in psychoanalytic terms, the experience of encounter with language is the source of an impossible desire, a yearning for a primordial experience of merger that cannot be fully recaptured. Similarly, Sufism has made the desiring subject a central issue, while experiencing, at the same time, the (in)ability of words to capture the intensity of this desire: in the attempt toward disclosing their experience, Sufis sometimes resort to expressions that might sound shocking, even hubristic. Yet, it is here, when Sufism becomes an experience of ‘disrupting’ human speech, that we can find a significant appeal to positively agitate language. And it is in the challenge of rendering such a disrupted language that we can see how translation can become itself an experience of inward struggle and resistance.

Volunteer Translation during the Gezi Uprising

Meral Camcı and Aslı Takanay, Boğaziçi University, Turkey

Extensive and fast-paced use of the internet has led to the expansion of global communication networks, allowing numerous initiatives and individuals to connect across borders. Today, self-organized communication and translation activities play a significant role in elaborating and communicating the language(s) of resistance and moulding public opinion on the national and international levels. Translation is no longer confined to servicing mainstream media or other ideological apparatuses, but has become a means of networking and connecting grassroots movements, specifically underpinning the wide circulation of discourses produced on new media platforms (including non-govermental web-sites, blogs, citizen journalism, facebook, twitter, etc.). It has thus become an integral part of social and political movements.

During the Gezi uprising, numerous translation initiatives were launched both in Turkey and abroad, with hundreds of translators voluntarily contributing their time and expertise to support the movement. These initiatives emerged using diverse channels and social networks. Two of their most significant features were that they were self-organized and simultaneous with ongoing events. In other words, contrary to the ‘textbook’ understanding of translation processes, there were no commissioners or ‘project managers’, the ‘work load’ and the duration of the task were unknown, and the texts to be translated were open ended since they were still being (re)written as the events were unfolding. Volunteer translators who contributed their time and effort (either individually or collectively) acted as independent initiatives right from the start. This presentation will offer a critical examination of the processes and ouputs of volunteer translation during the Gezi uprising, focusing on the nature of their contribution and the unique features of the environment in which they were undertaken.

Citizen Viewership: The Interaction Between Image and Narrative in Citizen Journalism

Claire Cooley, The University of Texas at Austin, USA

Citizen journalist images and footage have drastically changed how participants in current political events represent themselves and how activists who see this footage in other contexts conceive of and participate in their own resistance movements.

Journalists and academics have praised citizen journalist footage for providing seemingly objective, on the ground documentation of political events. Scholars such as Lina Khatib have described how citizen journalist images and new technology help to foster deterritorialized democratic communities, and have commended the mobile phone image for its power to mobilize. Citizen journalist images and footage have thus been imbued with an authority that implies an objective and accurate understanding of political events like the Egyptian Revolution, as well as a basis from which to form international, alternative activist and solidarity communities united by similar views of the world.

Despite the image’s power to mobilize, the mistaken identity of Neda Agha Soltani in 2009 during the Green Movement in Iran shows the dangerous degree to which citizen journalist footage can be misinterpreted and used to further particular political agendas. Just because an image or video shot by a citizen journalist successfully calls an outside viewer to action, or encourages their sympathy or solidarity, does not necessarily mean that viewers have engaged with it critically. As Bill Nichols reminds us, even though photos and footage provide limited, often misleading perspectives, they are often considered unbiased evidence of historical moments. Considering the image’s ability only to portray an enframed moment in time and not an objective truth of a situation, photography scholar Susan Sontag underscores the inclusion of text with images. The inclusion of narrative with images complicates the viewer’s understanding and prevents them from drawing absolute conclusions about an event documented through images alone. But given the ubiquity of image-making and disseminating technology, recent events have been predominantly mediated, explained, and understood through images and not narrative. The preponderance of images over text has also greatly limited the possibilities for translation and thus the creation of the deterritorialized communities that media scholars have largely attributed to the spread of citizen journalist images and footage. This presentation will argue that narrative is critical to citizen journalist footage, specifically in encouraging “citizen viewership,” a practice of spectatorship that challenges the authority of the image. Through critical engagement with both text and image that complicates the image’s representation of an event, citizen viewership is more conducive to fostering international solidarity communities and countering the dominant, hegemonic narratives that they are reacting against. Moreover, narrative can subsequently be translated for other audiences, and is therefore the only way in which the wide circulation of citizen journalist footage and images can meaningfully foster productive, engaged communities across linguistic and national borders.

Ethical Reflections on Activist Film Making and Activist Subtitling

Salma El-Tarzi, Independent Film maker

This presentation will reflect on a number of issues from the perspective of a film maker who has been deeply involved in the events unfolding in Egypt since January 2011. The issues in question concern the creative input of translators and the extent of their ownership of a work to which they have contributed voluntary labour, how and why subtitles may be taken into consideration from the very beginning of the process of making a film or a video, and the ethical contours of the activist film maker/subtitler relationship.

As a filmmaker, I have a very clear line dividing my work as an activist making videos for a collective such as Mosireen, which I do anonymously and without claims to ownership, and my other work that I make as an artist or a filmmaker. With videos I produce for a collective, I am always open to anyone suggesting, or even adding or changing elements of the film as long as within the group we know we share the same political agendas and goals. Within this context, do subtitlers have the same right to intervene as others? Have film makers like myself been taking them and the dynamics of the subtitling process into consideration as we produce our videos? The presentation will reflect on these issues and their implications for the principles of equality and solidarity that drive activist collectives such as Mosireen.

From Local to Global: Blogging about the Egyptian Revolution in English

Doaa Embabi, Ain Shams University, Egypt

This presentation addresses blogging in English about the Egyptian Revolution as one form of activism that has played an important role in generating new understandings of the country and its people. It examines articles published during 2011 on three sample blogs: You’ll be late for the revolution! (by the Finnish anthropologist Samuli Shielke), Tahrir and Beyond (by Gigi Ibrahim), and Rantings of a Sandmonkey (by Mahmoud Salem). As subjective accounts of the events that unfolded in the country since January 2011, these and other blogs constitute small acts of defiance intended to disrupt established, mainstream versions of events. English being the language of choice of the selected blogs (two are written by Egyptians and the third by a Finnish scholar who also prefers to use English rather than his own language), it is clear that the intention is to engage an international audience, in addition to a section of domestic audience that can understand the language. I argue that through subjective processing of events in a language accessible to a global audience, these blogs managed to infuse the concept and practice of the revolution with specific meanings and embed an alternative understanding of it in social consciousness. This has helped to protect new revolutionary forms of organization from local oppressive practices , while at the same time engaging global attention over a sustained period of time. In this context, local components of resistance – such as specific words, names, places, and accounts of events – are transformed through the resources of a lingua franca, and instead of being confined to local counter-hegemonic activities, they also became meaningful to a wider, global audience.

The Contemporary Arch of Contention: The Common Logic of Social Movement Politics from the Zapatista to the “Arab Spring” and Anti-Austerity Protests

Peter Funke, University of South Florida, USA

This presentation examines the relationships, translational practices and inspirational foils and contradictory dynamics that describe the current epoch of social movement and protest powered contention. The core argument I advance is that since at least the 1980s and keyed to the progression of neoliberal capitalism, a shared albeit space- and time-dependent logic of social movement politics has emerged that finds expression in such diverse movements as the Zapatista, the anti-globalization movement, the so-called “Arab Spring” or occupy-type demonstrations. Originating in the Global South in general and Latin America in particular, this meta-logic has been globally transmitted, translated and adapted to particular locations and times. Through various channels, venues, spaces, or on- and offline relays a particular logic undergirds the contemporary arch of social movement politics in Chiapas, Porto Alegre, Cairo, Madrid, New York or Hong Kong.

The presentation starts out from a central moment for the current arch of contention, the Zapatistas in Chiapas and the World Social Forum and the global process it has sparked, to then investigate the linkages, similarities and differences to more recent protest movements and revolutions such as the so-called “Arab Spring”, occupy-type mobilizations and antiausterity protests in Europe. It argues that a new epoch of contention, related but distinct from past movement epochs, has been emerging. The new meta-logic thrives on multiplicity and thus lacks a dominant core or main axis. It emphasizes radical participatory democracy, the innovative uses of new (and old) media and communication technologies, the multi-connectivity and heterogeneity of political struggles with no central actor, issue, strategy, or clearly identifiable ideology. The commonality is not, however, one of linear progression, of adoption and copying from one moment and location to the next, but rather one of being inspired, of adapting, translating, re-translating and thus mutating.

What Word Is This Place?

Sherief Gaber, Independent Researcher and Urban Planner, Egypt

Alongside the political transformations that Egypt has witnessed since 2011, there has been a concomitant transformation within Egyptian cities and a wealth of initiatives seeking social justice in the urban environment. On the one hand, the country has witnessed an explosion within the informal sector, both in the construction of self built and unpermitted housing along the peripheries of its major cities, as well as a proliferation of informal economic activities such as street vending. At the same time, neighbourhood level activism and protest to demand basic urban services and transformations to urban governance have also been a growing phenomenon. Meanwhile, there have also been several initiatives within civil society attempting both to document changes within the urban environment and affect change themselves, seeking social justice within the city.

In this ongoing work, the various organizations concerned with the urban environment – architectural and planning practices, local NGOs and rights groups – have sought new languages to deal with the phenomena they encounter on the ground as well as articulate and promote their programmes of advocacy and intervention. Language-related challenges often arise in attempts to translate new concepts in urbanism into Arabic; examples include ‘the right to the city’, ‘participatory planning and budgeting’, and various descriptions of public space and rights to access. Particularly within the lay Egyptian context, public space is often described as “state land”, resting ownership and control within the government as proxy for any actual public ownership, with detrimental effects; direct/literal translations of ‘public space’, meanwhile, are unwieldy and lack resonance. At the same time, however, many of these groups have found terms within the Arabic language that have no particular English counterparts, terms such as geera (neighbourliness) that might have older histories or roots within Egyptian culture. Many activists are now attempting to deploy such terms to advance contemporary social justice demands.

This presentation will examine some of the nomenclature around urban social justice and urban governance in Egypt, looking both at the challenges of translating contemporary international concepts into Arabic, as well as the opportunities for new modes of activism and demands afforded by words and concepts that are specific to the Arabic language.

Representing Protest and Performing Dissent: How Satire Translates, Presents, and Performs Protest in Egypt

Anny Gaul, Georgetown University, USA

Since at least the nineteenth century, satire has been a mainstay of Egyptian cultural production – a means to express political critique through humor. Since the 2011 Revolution, Egyptian satire has seen innovations in both form and platform. Political cartooning and Bassem Youssef’s al-Bernameg are two examples that might be read as venues for the representation of revolutionary moments, and the expression of revolutionary messages, via a reworking of popular Egyptian cultural forms. I propose that we might understand these cultural forms as translating the messages of the revolution into a new medium – not just within a discursive realm, as jokes or humor, but also into the visual realm of drawings and song-and-dance sketches. How does humor work both to universalize and particularize a struggle, and are these aims in tension as they make protest legible to different audiences?

Using theory drawn from performance studies and anthropology, I will analyze satirical coverage of protest in terms of reception and performance, not merely representation. In a crowded ahwa, what does it mean when group of young men fall silent for some of Bassem Youssef’s jokes but not others, and yet sit rapt at attention during a serious interview with an environmental activist? How can we understand the performance of a “fake” news show as a subversion or interruption of the kind of hegemonic media sphere Guy Debord (1967) describes as the most glaring manifestation of “the ruling order’s nonstop discourse about itself”? How does the relocating of cartoons from a printed page to a website reconfigure their reception? Is there a tradeoff between extending reach through “translatability” and expanding beyond a local community?

The presentation will include critical readings of cartoons and segments of al-Bernameg with these questions in mind, in order to understand satire as a mode of translating the revolution.

The Gezi Park Struggle and the Emergence of Activist Translation Initiatives in Turkey

Sabri Gürses, Erciyes University, Turkey

To an outsider, the events that began to unfold in May 2013 in Turkey were unforeseen and unanticipated. But the Gezi Park events had deep roots. On the one hand, they were the culmination of a political and ideological struggle initiated by ecologist, anti-globalist, anti-neoliberalist actors over the past thirty years: signs of this struggle were everywhere. And on the other hand, they were aggravated by the intolerant conservative politics of the government, which has a popular base in Turkey. For the state and official media, of course, the Gezi Park Struggle constituted illegal opposition to the government and found global support from the ‘enemies of Turkey’.

Translation was and continues to be at the heart of this struggle: it has been firmly embedded in strategies of resistance before, during and after the Gezi Park event. Before Gezi, translations of material relating to the global Occupy Movement and the Arab uprisings were in high demand and featured prominently in the press and social media. During the Gezi event, translations – mostly on the internet and in social media – played an important role in spreading news of the struggle and connecting Turkish activists with the global community. Now that this specific event is over, translation allows us to look back and evaluate the event, to see it through other eyes.

Against a long history of commitment on the part of translators and translation associations to abstract principles such as ‘neutrality’ and ‘objectivity’ as the hallmarks of professionalism, one of the most interesting by products of the Gezi Park struggle has been the deep involvement of professional translators and the associations that represent them. This type of activism was the first of its kind in the modern history of translation in Turkey. This presentation will offer an overview of the Gezi Park struggle and attempt to analyse the role of translation throughout the event, and beyond it.

Words and Symbols: Translating Egypt’s Political Cartoons

Jonathan Guyer, Cairo Review of Global Affairs

Political cartoons present a daily snapshot of the gut reactions to current political and social issues. With each Egyptian newspaper publishing about five cartoons daily—and some papers up to a dozen—a range of perspectives is conveyed through punchy imagery and text penned in Egyptian colloquial Arabic. Since the 2011 uprising, a new cartoon renaissance has swept Cairo, with a variety of new comic zines and exhibitions, among other media.

I have critically engaged with the comic art form as a method for “translating” Egypt to the world in a number of venues. This presentation will reflect critically on the translation of Arabic political comics, both in broad and narrow terms. The questions I will address will include the following: How does one translate humour and satire? How does one convey symbols that are rooted in local contexts (and thus illegible to outside audiences)? How does one communicate the immediacy of a political cartoon’s punch line without diminishing from its semantic meaning?

The word karikatur, which can be defined as either “political cartoon” or “caricature”, will be used to frame my interrogation of the multiple meanings of each illustration. Departing from karikatur as an entry point, I will focus on practical considerations embedded in the practice of translation. Interpreting ‘translation’ broadly, I will examine the utility of cartoons as a mechanism for communicating Egyptian politics to an international readership. Cartoons offer analysis and criticism of events, leaders and institutions often absent from the Western media, a deep dive into local concerns that go beyond news reportage. In terms of narrow translation issues, political cartoons are self-contained mini-texts packed with homegrown symbols as well as cultural creations that engage with music, film, and other pop culture texts.

Equally important is how translations of cartoons are ‘packaged’ by artists and various types of organisations. Some Egyptian cartoonists have begun to translate their own illustrations into English online; examples include Andeel on Mada Masr and Doaa Eladl on her Twitter feed. Meanwhile Western organisations also offer translations of Arabic cartoons; dogmatic institutions, namely the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) and the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), privilege certain Egyptian perspectives and downplay others. Their translations tell us more about the Washington-based institutions’ biases than the cartoons at hand. This contrasts with how I have chosen to translate cartoons on my blog and in other publications.

An effective cartoon, however, does not necessarily need a translation (in the narrow sense). When seven cartoonists for an independent Egyptian paper each used their daily frame to publish military boots crushing pencils, in the fall of 2011, their message was all too clear. The essence of a cartoon, I will argue, is its engagement with the reader, pushing him or her to rethink biases.

From Street to Page: Documenting Changes in Popular Political Speech

Amira Hanafi, Writer & Artist

The work of transcribing ‘aamiya to the page is, in a sense, an attempt to avoid translation. In trying to preserve the idiosyncrasies of Egyptian colloquial speech as much as possible, are there transparent methods of typographic representation? This presentation will cover questions of this type that I continue to confront in my project to document changes in public political speech in Egypt since 2011, especially within the context of renewed pressures on public space and the speech that is possible within it. In 2014, A Dictionary of the Revolution used a lexicon of 160 terms in ‘aamiya to simulate public space for political speech with hundreds of individuals in Egypt. From recordings of these conversations, I am fabricating a composite, dialogic narrative, organized as a dictionary. This structure offers an opportunity to escape sequential narration of events, allowing new relationships between events, characters, objects, and concepts to emerge.

Filming Revolution: A New Media Experiment in Translating Complex Experience

Alisa Lebow, University of Sussex, UK

Filming Revolution (Lebow, forthcoming 2015) is an interactive meta-documentary that surveys the field of independent/documentary filmmaking in Egypt since the revolution. Comprised of over 30 interviews with filmmakers, activists, archivists and artists, and linked extracts from their work, this project attempts to map out the range of filmic practices and approaches not only to filming revolution, but to thriving creatively in the current climate and context. Interviews conducted during two separate research trips (2013-14) have been edited based on searchable keywords.

Films about the Egyptian revolution, especially those made by outsiders and produced within or about the first year, have attempted to frame it in narrow temporal or spatial terms (“18 days”, “the square”). This has proven to translate easily in the international imaginary of these events, yet it has not seemed to ring at all true for practitioners and activists in Egypt. Rather than framing, there would seem to be a refusal to frame and box-in any simple notions of the revolution, resisting the tendency to speak in the language of power by monumentalizing and rigidifying events that defy such reductive interpretations. The Filming Revolution website attempts to match this open ended, counter-monumental, rhizomatic emergent structure by translating it into a homologous platform (non-linear, non-hierarchical, spatially and temporally open-ended) that loosely parallels the sentiments and strategies expressed within it without attempting to master or constrain them.

The Filming Revolution website is made primarily for an English speaking audience (most of the interviews were conducted in English, but about one fifth were conducted in Arabic, with translation) who want to hear directly about the experience of those engaged with the struggle to represent the momentous events of the last few years. It is designed to speak to filmmakers, film scholars, historians, activists and artists from around the world, interested in thinking together with this diverse community of filmmakers from Egypt. Can these more complicated, less artificially constrained articulations of the revolution and its spirit also resonate effectively (i.e., translate) outside of Egypt? The website is also meant to be of interest to those in Egypt and other countries experiencing the political upheavals of the day, by charting the range of practices and viewpoints in a platform where they can resonate with one another. How do these ideas translate to an audience that has experienced these events in other contexts? Additionally, will these ideas translate back to those who have lived and filmed the events of the past 4 years, serving hopefully as a useful reflection for the practitioners themselves? This will be the first time the website is presented publicly in Egypt, and it will be extremely illuminating to hear back from the people involved (directly or indirectly) with it.

Tagline ‘Gaza’: Language(s) and Culture(s) of Metropolitan Solidarity

Karim Mattar, Assistant Professor of English, University of Colorado at Boulder, USA

This presentation focuses on the figure of the Gazan child as a cypher of conflicting humanitarian, ethical, and political inscriptions in what Anna Bernard calls “metropolitan culture”. Given Israel’s blockade on the Gaza Strip, not to mention the brutality of Operations “Cast Lead”, “Pillar of Defense”, and “Protective Edge”, the child, in his/her traumatized innocence, has emerged as a particularly volatile media image of the region’s crises and catastrophes. Focusing on Selma Dabbagh’s novel Out of It (2011), I start by exploring how this figure has been appropriated in the metropole to domesticate critique of Israeli neo-imperialism in the more universally acknowledged, thus ‘acceptable’, terms of trauma, PTSD, and physical violence. While certainly effective in garnering wider public awareness, such re-presentations potentially obscure the deeper history of colonial violence into which the Gazan child is born, and by which his/her current experience is inevitably mediated. I then turn to a series of recent Gazan literary and cultural texts – Fida Qishta (dir.), Where Should the Birds Fly (2013); Atef Abu Saif (ed.), The Book of Gaza (2014); Refaat Alareer (ed.), Gaza Writes Back (2014)) – by or about Gazan children, that present their voices in their immediacy. I argue that such voices, while highly affective and to a degree tragic, also, in the fluency of their habituated idiom, reflect a local and multilayered historical consciousness that remains untranslatable within the parameters of metropolitan engagement. Thus de-universalizing themselves, these voices and the textual forms through which they circulate inscribe, I conclude, a language of resistance to both Israeli silencing and metropolitan (mis)translation.

On Translating a Superhero: Language and Webcomics

Deena Mohamed, author of Qahera, Egypt

Experiencing the Egyptian revolution as a teenager meant living through a period of history that witnessed my generation both shaping and being shaped by momentous events. This dynamic also impacted a webcomic I created in June 2013, at the age of eighteen, originally in English and later in both English and Arabic. An anti-misogyny, anti-Islamophobia superhero, Qahera (Cairo) is a character who engages with her environment critically and hopes to improve it, a character whose inception would have been unlikely had revolutionaries and activists not already mobilised a passionate desire for positive change in Egypt. Without the revolution and the engagement of the outside world with it, it is equally unlikely that many would have cared about an initiative such as Qahera, which now attracts considerable attention both domestically and internationally.

However, just as the revolution itself has been translated, repackaged and re-interpreted in the process of engaging with different audiences within and outside Egypt, so has Qahera. This presentation will reflect on the role played by language and translation in radically transforming the content of a webcomic whose purpose varied as its audience grew and encompassed different constituencies. For English-speaking readers, Qahera began as a venture against Islamophobia and the often taken for granted, imperialist assumption that Muslim women are oppressed and subjugated. For Arabic speaking readers, Qahera was introduced through her opposition to misogyny in a comic that criticized sexual harassment in Egypt. Somewhere along the line, she was redefined in the traffic between the two languages. Ultimately, though challenging the experience of translating the comic into Arabic proved very positive. I suddenly found myself free to talk about the unsung heroism of Egyptian women, their activism, Egypt’s failings and strengths. What had started out as a joke intended to challenge sexism and liberal feminism suddenly became a much more complex venture, partly because translating the comic into Arabic made it go viral that much faster. My audience did not just diversify, it expanded rapidly.

Translating Dissent: Identity Construction during the Partition of the Indian Subcontinent in 1947

Hina Nandrajog, University of Delhi, India

Literature about the partition of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan in 1947 has been complicit in creating a metanarrative through its volubility in filling in the blanks left by the historiography of the event. Scholars have frequently routed their search into the partition of 1947 through literature when confronted by the terseness of historical record. Through a reading of selected texts, this presentation will briefly outline the metanarrative created by literary texts and their translations.

The presentation looks at translation as an act of assertion of the relevance of writing in the source language by attempting to bring particular regional texts into the mainstream ‘canonical’ literature. What is often ignored is that the retrieval of literary material is couched in an invisible politics. The parameters by which works of art are judged for ‘translation-worthiness’ serve ultimately to perpetuate and strengthen the dominant discourse and feed stereotypes of a culture and a people by being lauded as ‘representative’ texts. Translation becomes more an act of devotion to these ‘representative’ texts and to the ‘significant’ authors in that language. Greater visibility may be bestowed on those texts that, consciously or unconsciously, illustrate a desired Sikh/ Hindu/Muslim identity – either grand magnanimity or tragic victimhood or both – during the partition and independence of the country into India and Pakistan. It is largely mute on the havoc wreaked by one community on another; or at best, rationalizes it as justifiable retribution. Translation, thus, becomes a self-conscious act of assertion of a new identity for a people and to construct a new metanarrative. A few resistant voices may be acknowledged, illustrating Ashis Nandy’s point about ‘manageable dissent’ but the more radical dissent is subsumed in the politics of translation.

However, in order to fulfil the destiny of our literature and merit true appreciation, translation needs to be an act of rebellion and self-reflexivity as well. Only then will our literature speak in an authentic voice and resonate with the readers. It is imperative to retrieve the dissenting voices even after 68 years of partition to revolutionize the relations among the three dominant communities in the subcontinent today. Otherwise there is the fear of always being ‘handcuffed to history’.

Subtitling for Words of Women from the Egyptian Revolution: Localizing International English and Situating Translation

Ethel Odriozola Monzón, Translator with the Zenobia Traducciones Cooperative, Spain

The aim of this presentation is to open up a space for dialogue with other translators and activists about some of the questions that emerged from the process of subtitling video interviews for the Words of Women from the Egyptian Revolution project. I will focus on my own experience of subtitling a number of interviews from English into Spanish, bearing in mind that the original language of the interviews is Arabic, not English. The discussion will revolve around two key issues: localizing international English, and situating translation.

In Words of Women, as in many activist translation projects, English is used as a bridge, providing a convenient basis for fast translation into other languages, especially during periods of crisis. This clearly has certain disadvantages, especially in view of the colonial history of English and the different levels of access to it, the latter possibly restricting the range of expressions and linguistic strategies that can be deployed to communicate with a heterogenous audience. But using English as a bridge language also offers some interesting possibilities. Frequently, for example, restrictions on the range of expressions that can be deployed results in translations that preserve more of the flavour and distinctiveness of the original culture, and that extend English itself when a straightforward translation of a concept that exists in English is embedded in structures that are alien to the English language. Here, the subtitles or translation may succeed in enabling a closer gaze at the subjectivity that underlies the speech than a traditional translation might. One of the possibilities worth exploring here is enriching international English by systematically including untranslatable Arabic words in the subtitles, as in the case of feloul, thus encouraging the receiver to make the effort to engage with the interviewees and their world more actively.

Drawing on Donna Haraway’s concept of situated knowledge, it is also worth thinking through what it might mean to situate translation. In any translation process, many decisions are made: ideological, political, strategic, including various types of cultural adaptations, which of course alter the meaning of the original speech to varying degrees. Translation is nevertheless rendered ‘invisible’ throughout, in many ways and from a wide range of positions. I would like to explore the possibility, even in subtitled videos, of including an “epilogue” in which some of the important decisions are explained in an effort to situate the translation and the translator, to acknowledge our own gaze, our limits (including our ignorance of the culture depicted in the video) and alternatives that were not pursued. This might allow a fuller comprehension of what is being transmitted, open up the possibility of a more active interaction with the receiver, and render the whole process of translation/mediation more transparent.

Negotiating the Meaning of Democracy: The Case of the 2012 Egyptian Constitution and Dr. Nivien Saleh’s Online English Version

Barbara Quaranta, University of Molise, Italy

Democracy nowadays is considered the only acceptable form of government and is also held to be a universal value that everyone should pursue, in such a way that the concept cannot be questioned. Normative liberal political theory is considered the main starting point to evaluate the quality of democracy in the whole world and, according to it, the stages of democratisation that occurred in western countries in the past should be used as preconditions for the establishment of democracy in cultures and countries where democracy is poor or does not exist yet. In this thinking, the degree and the quality of democratisation in such countries could be measured based on value standards developed in the so called ‘advanced democracies’. The Egyptian revolution that started in 2011 could be interpreted as one of the many processes of redefinition of the western political notion of democracy, that nowadays take place in a variety of non-western countries. Far from supporting the normative stance of liberal democratic theory as it is, different strands of thought, both internationally and within the Egyptian revolution, have tried to redesign democratic standards in order to adjust them to the political interests of local groups. This process of redefinition is particularly interesting from a translational point of view, since it views translation as a communicative cultural process and the notion of meaning as a changing, context-bound, negotiable concept. Instead of seemingly moving toward an opposite direction, the 2012 Egyptian Constitution was part of such redefinition and Dr Nivien Saleh’s online English translation of it represented an attempt to create a supportive narrative among the European intellectual middle class by a second-generation Egyptian academic.

Translation and Multilingual Tweeting: Narrating the Transition to a New Presidency in Egypt

Neil Sadler, Centre for Translation & Intercultural Studies, University of Manchester, UK

A salient feature of the digital life of post-revolutionary Egypt has been its multilingualism, with many prominent commentators opting to tweet about current affairs in both English and Arabic. Yet the ways in which English and Arabic are used by bilingual and multilingual writers in the Egyptian context remains largely unexplored and poorly understood. Are English language tweets predominantly translations of Arabic tweets simply intended to convey the same message to a wider audience or are these writers employing multiple languages creatively to disseminate different ideas and tell different narratives to different readerships? This presentation will explore the use of English and Arabic, including use of MSA and Egyptian dialect, in the streams of three prominent multilingual twitter accounts, “Sandmonkey”, “Zeinobia” and “Mosireen”, over a seven-day period centred on 16 July 2014. The study will first identify the proportion of tweets published in English and Arabic in each case and then assess the proportion of these that can be clearly identified as translations of other tweets. It will then interrogate the extent to which it is possible to say that the English and Arabic tweets tell the same story in different languages, and to what extent the English tweets represent a “translation” of the Arabic in a broader sense. Although focused on a small number of Twitter users and a short time period, it is hoped that the study will provide fruitful insights into the dynamics of multilingual tweeting and the overt use of translation by Egyptian activists more generally, helping to expand our understanding of the interplay between different languages and levels of language in this context.


Translating History: Genealogies of Revolution

Sherene Seikaly, University of California Santa Barbara, USA

As the first euphoric days of the Egyptian revolution unfolded, activists, bloggers, journalists, artists, and analysts began drawing comparisons with previous moments of upheaval and revolt. The examples were many. Some looked to the French Revolution, the European revolutions of the late nineteenth century, the Paris Commune, the regional revolutions of Simon de Bolivar, and the guerilla wars of the 1950s and 1960s in Cuba and Nicaragua. Others looked to the struggles of pan-Arabism, the Palestinian resistance movements of the 1960s and 1970s, and the first Palestinian intifada. However, the most common metaphors came from Egypt: the ‘Urabi revolt of the late nineteenth century, the nationalist revolution of 1919, and the Free Officers Movement of 1952. In shaping these genealogies, people drew on a broad register of collective memory, knowledge, and experience.

This presentation will explore how activists, analysts, artists, journalists, and bloggers shaped historical narratives and genealogies in the wake of the January 25 revolution in Egypt. Which moments did people highlight and which did they elide? What can these inclusions and exclusions tell us about historical narration and memory? Through an analysis of texts, articles, and interviews with activists, the presentation will study how various actors construct historical continuities, ruptures, and narratives. In attending to the genealogies of precedence and exception that revolutionaries shape, it casts a critical light on historical narration and collective memory as a creative process of selective translation.


Translating Emotions

Bahia Shehab, American University in Cairo, Egypt

Sublimation in psychology is the diversion of an impulse from its immediate goal into one of a more acceptable social, moral or aesthetic nature. It is considered a mature type of defense mechanism where socially unacceptable impulses are consciously transformed into socially acceptable actions or behaviour, possibly resulting in a long-term conversion of the initial impulse, and sometimes the purification and refinement of the individual involved. Translation is the process of rendering something into another language or the conversion of something to another form or appearance. During the Egyptian Revolution, art sublimated violence and translated emotions. Music, theatre, video art, graffiti and cartoons were just a few of the examples of protest that overtook the streets and cyberspace. Strong emotions brought about intense creativity and in the process artists and laymen alike provided us with exceptional examples of how to express without violence.

I will be sharing examples of creative protest that inspired many to take to the streets and hopefully illustrating in the process how art was used as a tool to translate emotions: how songs at times replaced angry chants, how humour stood up to regimes and new media took centre stage, how comics summarized emotions, and how stencils replaced bullets.

Translation and The 100 Thousand Poets for Change Movement

Stefania Taviano, University of Messina, Italy

Translation, both in its narrow and broad senses, is a vital component of global phenomena such as Hip Hop, where it shapes the language(s) that songs are written in, whether the language in question is English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) or Arabic. As I have argued elsewhere, translation can take different forms as a key component in the construction of Arab Hip Hoppers’ identity as musicians and activists. Translation is also central to the work of the 100 Thousand Poets for Change Movement for Peace and Sustainability (100TPC). This is a global movement of poets, writers, musicians, artists and activists who come together “to create and perform, educate and demonstrate, simultaneously with other communities around the world whose major concern is transformation towards a more sustainable and peaceful world”.

While translation, in its narrow sense, allows protest movements to communicate throughout the world, as Rizk (2013) argues, translation in the broader sense also plays a vital role in empowering and connecting these movements. Various textual, metatextual and paratextual strategies are often embedded in or used to frame the poems, songs and videos of solidarity events organized by 100TPC in ways that reveal and evoke its connections with other movements without the need for interlingual translation. Indeed, in a wider and more complex sense, translation is inherent to the 100TPC movement: it works by drawing on shared common values and goals that travel across languages and cultures and are ‘translated’ and reinterpreted in each local context. As Rothenberg explains, “What people see is common ground, a vehicle for change. They find their activism as an artist. It empowers them, knowing it’s going on all over the world” (in Ransom 2012). The fact that 100TPC could transform into 100 Thousand Mimes for Change in Egypt testifies to this. It underlines the potential for alternative forms of resistance to be born of a single initiative, defying not only the need for translation from one language to another, but even that of communication through words. Another example is the Solidarity Events for Justice for Andy Lopez, a 13-year old boy shot dead by a sheriff for carrying a toy gun, which took place on 7 June 2014 around the world. The posters used for local initiatives combined different languages in innovative ways to bring the message home to a local audience. For the Italian event in Bologna, the poster featured a logo with a portrait of Andy and the sentence I am Andy Lopez and my life matters in English. For the Los Angeles event, on the other hand, the second part of the sentence was replaced by the Spanish la brutalidad policial. Neither version restricted itself to the official language of the country in question, and yet both appealed to different constituencies within each country.

Translation also plays an important role in Girifna, a Sudanese non-violent resistance movement which, among other things, provides information about the escalating violence of the Sudanese Security Police through subtitled audio interviews as well as poems and songs. The 100TPC movement and Girifna are only two among many examples testifying to the need to engage with the role of translation in global protest movements, as well as in mediating other key issues in the global village we inhabit, including diversity and cultural identity.

Translation and Representation in Egypt’s Continuing Struggle: Diaspora Praxis and Politics from the UK

Helen Underhill, Institute for Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester

As mobilization connected to the 2011 revolution continues inside Egypt and beyond its borders, the translation and representation of particular moments and actors shapes and further entangles the various understandings of the struggle. In this presentation, I draw on the praxis of British Egyptians and Egyptians in the UK who mobilised in the continuing Egyptian struggle to explore the connections between translation, representation and the agency of the diaspora activist. In exploring the mobilisation of particular groups of activists based in the UK, I seek to explore how particular representations emerged at different moments of the revolution and highlight their significance for Egyptians engaging in diaspora politics.

Beginning with translation in its literal sense, I illustrate how and why activists used translation as part of their mobilization online and at demonstrations in the UK and in Egypt. I show how activists within the Egyptian diaspora used subtitling, interpreting and translation within their activism, and highlight the importance of understanding the various spaces and practices of diaspora politics to the contemporary global political context and to the continuation of Egypt’s revolution.

After discussing translation within activist praxis, I turn to translation in its broader sense as a way of understanding how groups within one movement in the UK contribute to the representation of Egypt’s continuing struggle. By examining their use of specific words and phrases, I show how UK-based activists employ language to shape a particular understanding of the Egyptian revolution, and I argue that such representations are consequential to how events are perceived and understood globally. By connecting the notions of translation and representation, I suggest we can further our understanding of the role of diaspora and transnational activists in the contemporary global political context and, subsequently, better understand Egypt’s revolution.

The Revolution Will (Not) Be Sanitised: Questions Around Translation and the Media-friendly Spectacle

Nariman Youssef, Egypt

On 12 February, the morning after Mubarak’s ouster and the transfer of power to the military council he appointed, the BBC News website featured an interactive map of Tahrir Square. It was an aerial view taken some time towards the end of the two-week sit-in, with clickable icons offering close-up photos of the various areas of the square: ‘Tahrir campsite’, ‘recycling bins’, ‘nursery’, ‘bloggers tent’, ‘field hospital’, and so on. On the one hand, the map nicely illustrated the acts of organisation and innovation that gave Tahrir a staying power and a strong, almost Utopian, aftertaste. But on the other, by enumerating and labelling the square’s minutiae under a fairytale header (‘the camp that toppled a president’), it excluded the messy and contradictory details that fall outside this neat image and repackaged the revolution into a closed narrative.

I have often since thought of this instance of repackaging as a perfect example of a trend of ‘sanitisation’ which continued to dominate the narratives of the Egyptian revolution in (global and local) mainstream media. This sanitisation foregrounded the inspiring spectacle and presented revolution as an idealised peaceful strive for an abstracted democracy. It was enacted in daily translation activities, in the context of ‘making news’ and in other (more creative) contexts of retelling, and was partly created and supported by participants on the ground. In this presentation, I want to explore further what it means to sanitise the narratives of revolution. I will be surveying a number of stories told in translation, investigating the motivation behind their choices of inclusion and exclusion, and finally looking at the consequences of the sanitisation trend on the public debates raging in —and about— Egypt today.

BDS Italia and the Circulation of Alternative Narratives: Translation and the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Italy

Federico Zanettin, Universita di Perugia, Italy

The coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in mainstream Italian news media during periods of crisis such as the bombardment of Gaza in July/August 2014 looks more like a series of Israeli army bulletins than serious reporting by professional journalists. As one commentator puts it, during the latest attacks on Gaza Italians had to witness two massacres, one of the people of Gaza and one of Italian media. This presentation will examine some forms of resistance to these massacres that involve acts of translation by both responsible professional journalists and activists who have played a key role in providing Italian audiences with alternative narratives. It will discuss the embeddedness of translation in the circulation of international news, looking at how it is used to serve different ends in institutionalized and grassroots media organizations and collectives. More specifically, I will look at the way information about the occupation of Palestine is filtered and framed through translation, comparing the websites of a number of major Italian newspapers with the BDS Italia website, which is promoted throughout Italy by associations and groups who endorse the 2005 call from Palestinian civil society for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

1 reply


  1. The Only Thing Worth Globalizing Is Dissent: Translation and the Many Languages of Resistance | Mona Baker

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