Humor and the Egyptian revolution

I am quoted in this NYT piece on the role humor played in the Egyptian revolution. (But why is my name misspelt in two different ways, ya Michael ya Slackman? Come on NYT editors, it's not like I don't have a website. Update: Thanks for fixing it ya MS.) The piece argues humor has been dampened, which I don't quite agree with (saw plenty of it in last Friday's demo) but makes the more important point that it was a crucial tool during the occupation of Tahrir Square:

That is quite a comedown from the heady days when there was a renewed sense of national purpose, of unity regardless of religion or class among those massing in the square. In those 18 days, humor and sarcasm played a crucial role in coping and conquering.

“Mubarak’s people threw rocks,” said Fahmy Howeidy, a well-known columnist and social commentator, referring to thugs who threw stones at demonstrators. “The people charged Mubarak with jokes and comedy.”

At least some of that was planned. “There was a lot of spontaneous humor — it is the Egyptian character — but there also was a desire to show that the demonstrators weren’t just angry young men, that they weren’t just seen as Islamists,” said Mr. Amrani, the blogger.

The organizers used humor as part of their communications strategy, to motivate people and bring out the crowds, he said.

“We had the kids writing slogans, caricatures, stuff like that,” said Laila Soueif, a prominent rights advocate and a math professor at Cairo University. “It was really one of the main tools, it was one of our main weapons.”

She said that when military jets swooped overhead, terrifying the crowd, the young people “started jumping up and down, chanting, ‘Hosni has gone mad, Hosni has gone mad,’ so they made it a joke, and everyone stopped being scared.”

The importance of humor as politics by other means is something I wrote a long piece about for Foreign Policy just before the revolution, about Mubarak jokes

On another note, it's funny that journalists often interview me but are always reluctant to quote me as a journalist, which is mostly how I earn my living (some papers even have policies against it). (Update: I'm glad Slackman did introduce me as an "independent journalist" further up in the piece.")