You are on page 1of 16

1

*The Language of Revolution – Tidings from the East
Ariella Azoulay

From the moment they flowed through Egypt’s streets, the masses were already being
photographed [See photos “from above”, “as a mass”, “taking photos” or “being
photographed”]. Photographs from such events first reveal all of the day’s happenings
and do so with clear, denotative captions saying, for example, that here we see crowds
demonstrating at Liberation Square [See photo], here a woman yells at a soldier,
demanding he move out of her way [See photo], and there teargas canisters fly at
demonstrators [See photo] or policemen shoot civilians [See photo]. Many of these
photographs express both the photographers’ and the photographed people’s knowledge
of the history of what has long since become a “revolutionary image”. The photographer
knows how to capture the twist of the boyish body hurling stones at soldiers and portray
its contrast to the soldiers who, in comparison, resemble a blunt, fortified wall [See
photo]. The girl walking in the street knows how to wave the two flags in her hands so
that the crowd alongside the road, like the photographer, will follow her with their gaze
[See photo]. The soldier knows how to show restraint when a civilian woman approaches
him, yelling and cursing [See photo]. In these familiar gestures repeated by the
demonstrators I propose to see components of a language rather than planned actions
carried out to achieve a given goal. Like any language it is learned in the environment of
its speakers as well as from its written traces. It consists of a set of signs, some bearing
their own meaning, while that of others is derived from the syntax or sequence of phrases
in which they are articulated. The language of revolution, then, is comprised of a
vocabulary of gestures and a grammar, rigid rules and possibilities of improvisation.
Every such gesture resembles a statement that may be used, repeated, combined with
others, uttered in a slightly different tone, depending on one’s measure of familiarity with
the language, the fluency of the conversation, the attentiveness of the addressees, their
active participation (as soldiers, policemen, photographers or spectators) in a developing
dialogue, being well-versed in its subtleties, able to understand not only explicit content
but also read between the lines, implicitly, with a nod, a flick of the hand. Since it is a
language of gestures, photographs are its writing paper. Here, for example, are several

used repeatedly. throwing stones [See photo]. sometimes even creating a new local idiom: dumpsters lying upside down in the street [See photo]. Repeating the same gestures over such a long period of time and under various regimes – monarchy. climbing on top of tall buildings to make a show of presence there [See photo]. fascism. whose inspiring traces fill the archive. we do not touch historical property [see photo E]. giving testimony about the acts of the governing power [See photo]etc. are the personal “barricades” which demonstrators improvised when the public space filled with supporters of the governing power who began to hurl stones at them [see photo no. We don't destroy the public space. spreading out in forbidden or designated spaces [See photo]. dictatorship.co. overtaking thoroughfares. They were drawn and photographed at different places and moments in the last two hundred and fifty years. http://www. are articulated in a civil syntax.uk/world/gallery/2011/feb/03/egypt-protesters-head-protection- helmets?picture=371390052#/?picture=371390052&index=4 Or for example the “stamping” gesture over the portrait of the leader by means of a hand holding a shoe. I have many samples of the language now spoken in Egypt. Alongside the statements produced out of an existent repertoire. we take care of necessary services for all [see photo C]. we guard property confiscated from looting [see photo A]. singing with strangers [See photo]. see a series of photographs in The Guardian. I thank Yoram Meital who called my attention to this series. we damage only government buildings [see photo F]. make a difference each time. regarding given events. we care for the world we create – we recycle our garbage [see photo B].1 These gestures. In the revolution archive which I have been constructing for some years now. 1]. the civilian use of military means.guardian. some grow at a specific time and place. wooden or metal planks placed diagonally to create shelter [See photo]. setting fire. graffiti on flags [See photo]. communism. damaging portraits of rulers [See photo]. 2 statements which. for example. 1 For another variation on protection from hurled stones. and those who have escaped appellation and continue to darken the lives of the governed population – begs the question what is commonly shared by those regimes that arouse in their governed the same desire to speak a language usually not available for use. elsewhere unprecedented. Such. hands raised in the victory sign [See photo]. democracy. combined with others. . uprooting of existing power symbols. taking over power accessories and neutralizing them. we supply water [see photo D].

3 The same kind of passion has driven masses of people into the streets at different places and times to declare. what it utters is not reducible to a series of mere external “events” that take place “out there”. set the conditions for differential rule and regime-made disasters with similar modus operandi that injure part of the populations they govern. of being together. hegemonic language spoken by those western democratic regimes that emerged as part of a world that colonialism and imperialism made global – was born as a universal language. their language. as a language of transition. gender or wealth. of sharing a world. political regimes all around the globe. and only when used to resist a regime headed by a tyrant. their own for. the nation-states they bred throughout and their control of the main routes in the global world they created. and as long as it does not develop into a language that designates the democratic regimes themselves as a target for replacement. an event that has a beginning and an end. Conceiving as language what is now happening in the public space. This passion exposes. These sovereign democratic regimes have nearly always preferred their commitments to a narrow elite of wealth and power in a global network of sovereign states over commitment to its own governed population. and anything else in their lives now can wait. through their mere presence. a similar heritage shared by various. At the same time this was also a differential language that allowed and naturalized differential models of ruling different populations distinguished on a changing basis of race. as well as identifiable causes and effects after which order – sovereign. whose significance is given and clear and one can either take part in them or only report them. The political. albeit all differences. that this is their place. of course – may reign once again. Even if big empires did withdraw their physical rule of different countries. The universal language of power and the universal language of citizenship and revolution are in fact two contradictory languages whose rivalry and . a civil language that for the past two centuries has occasionally risen to life in various places in the world. The logic of a sovereign democratic regime cannot bear civil language being spoken by citizens and hence requires such reduction of the language of revolution to a local event that depends on specific historical context. This heritage did not enable the development of the language of revolution as a civil language but for a limited time.

preserving differential allocation models of resources and property along the outlines shaped by colonial logic. signifying the crimes they committed against parts of their own populations since constitution. leave!”3. weapons. can the black flag raised over democratic regimes be perceived. Since the eighteenth-century such conditions include sovereign national governing power. Most of the time. hinder the conditions needed for a revolution to continue growing as a complex civil language.youtube. both imperialist and capitalist. making them politically invisible and ready to be 2 He was quoted in an item by AP news agency of January 31st.com/watch?v=gPhj5XnPjaU . Obama’s standing “with the demonstrators” or Hillary Clinton’s calling out to Mubarak to prepare the transfer of power express that same systematic effort exerted since the eighteenth-century – to remove civil language from the scene and replace it with a bundle of demands leaving no room to negotiate the conditions of global possibility for those democracies. and the promise that the movement of oil. because at the same time we have to make sure any change occurs with stability and order. By means of political categories which they produced. A civil language should be able to thoroughly change the hegemonic political discourse and undermine the opposition that organizes it – either a democratic regime or tyranny. In the second week of this revolution. the revolution cannot be reduced to being a means to that end. such that possess meaning within the hegemonic political language – like the ousting of Mubarak and replacing him with a democratic regime. “refugees”. under the headline “Israel agrees to some Egyptian troops in Sinai”. 4 competition is discernible only in moments of revolution. Only when this opposition is defied. Tony Blair. leave. representing the international “Quartet” of Mideast peacemakers between the Israelis and Palestinians expressed this quite clearly: “the watchword is change with care. wealth and labor will be managed along this outline. the sovereign language manages to subdue the inner syntax of the civil language so that it is interpreted mainly as a series of actions that have a recognized goal. “displaced persons” etc. “stateless persons”. The sovereign regimes in the surrounding countries recognizing only this goal as legitimate."2 Although one million demonstrators at Liberation Square sang– “We all stand together asking just one thing – leave. 3 www. they have turned them into “alien workers”. differential management of governed populations. 2010.

158. and by the citizens. Syria and Algeria. 36-47.”. Haaretz 6. those borders imposed first by the Anglo-French colonial enterprise in the Middle East and later by founding of the State of Israel. Perhaps then the Middle East will open to a new horizon where citizens write their own future and past out of the new partnership that revolution enables them to revive. as a general appellation for all of the governed in a given territory.5 Thus understood.2. This continuum arouses fear in Israel. Ravid. fuelled and imposed upon the region. pp.2011 . 5 exploited or deported. To escape this seemingly inevitable opposition. 2009. "Peres: Israeli-Palestinian peace urgent in light of Egypt crisis". but rejects the whole in order to be able to imagine new possibilities of civil governance. Perhaps it will shred to bits the “hostility among nations” which political and military leaders have ignited.” Radical Philosophy. Its synchronic reading is attuned to the civil language spreading through the Middle East in recent months. not only in Tunisia and in the pre-revolutionary rumblings in Jordan. 5 quoted in Haaretz. Either way the demonstrators themselves should evacuate the public space as soon as possible and may be supported as means for changing or reforming the regime. 4 More on the analysis of the (civil) revolution not in keeping with the French Revolution. perhaps for the first time in two centuries we shall witness an uprising that might cross sovereign borders. We who view the revolution are invited to take one of two positions whose opposition is constructed as inclusive and exclusive: one may either support the old tyrant or celebrate the new democratic regime. of the citizens for the citizens. see my essay “The Absent Philosopher-Prince: Thinking Political Philosophy with Olympe de Gouges. but also in continuum with the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli regime. as expressed by Israel’s president Shimon Peres when he appealed to world leaders: “The dramatic events of the recent period make it necessary for us to take the Israeli-Palestinian conflict off the regional agenda. it can be read as a language that occasionally bursts forth into public space at unexpected places but doomed to remain silenced under the political regimes inherited from the eighteenth-century4. Diachronically.com Barak. I propose reading the goings-on in Egypt both diachronically and synchronically. and invent a new form of regime that adopts several institutions and principles of the democratic systems.

square. The citizens’ triumph in controlling the bridge is important and symbolic. sculpture base – serve the impressive presence of world figures. The festivity is derived from the fact that masses of Egyptian demonstrators managed to take hold of the bridge where they had previously only been allowed to walk as individuals. create a civil assembly. it is the still photo that enabled me to see beyond the photographed news item. It is rather an occasion for the gathering of citizens in masses to discuss their future in civil language. limited time while control of traffic arteries from which citizens are removed is ongoing and strictly maintained by state apparatuses. However. I first saw the photograph on Nicholas Mirzoeff’s blog: http://nicholasmirzoeff. and whenever they wished to speak in public. The bridge is no longer one of those delineated places where demonstrations may be held for a given. public building. is a 6 Video segments from this event posted on Youtube allow the viewer to reconstruct further moments in the struggle between demonstrators and police on the bridge. taken at the Qasr Al-Nil bridge [see photo no. diplomats and other representatives of wealth and power as in the Suez photo. 6 Most of the time. Reading photographs not merely to seek their news content is a part of learning this language. revolution as a civil language is a dead language. collecting.com/RTL/ . writing its inner grammar. 2]. albeit festivity of a new kind. Photography takes an active part in reviving this language. What has been said with it in previous times and other places resides in photographs. pillars.6 In spite of the fact that this still photograph contains sufficient signs of violence exerted by policemen against the demonstrators some hours earlier in an attempt to disperse them. of interiorizing and honing it. I shall begin with a photograph by Peter Macdiarmid from January 28th. In the case of Egypt these cooperation and dependency are obvious. usually in cooperation with international powers on which it depends in order to preserve itself. among other places. The determination with which masses of citizens stand on the bridge and the brilliant choreography by which they turned the armored vehicles into their dance stage set. it resembles photographs of festive occasions. preserving and expanding its vocabulary and creating new possibilities of thinking the future through it. This is not an event in which the architectural elements combining the national and the colonial – bridge. the security forces regarded it as a “strategic spot” – another military term in the language of sovereign regimes – and closed it to traffic.

This was a constituting event in the region.7 That photograph. Even today one can hardly avoid observing the fact that the suppression of demonstrations in Suez is more violent than that exercised in other Egyptian towns. the local aspect of the global project – forced local labor that was used to dig the canal. goods and people. significantly reducing the distance between Asia and Europe and laying the infrastructure for the exploitative nature – actual ever since – of transporting wealth. look more like sophisticated use of light and smoke to create atmosphere and less like sights of the violent suppression inscribed in photographs of the parallel demonstrations that took place in the same day in Suez [See photos from Suez]. This reaction expresses the development of the language of demonstration from one of static public squares into a dynamic one of bridges and thoroughfares. but was perceived by the European entrepreneurs as totally acceptable when it came to a country like Egypt. This moment. . was the foundation for color drawings that were produced from the event. such as the one printed here [see picture no. it was bound to imperialism: its first inauguration in 1872 related to French imperialism. and when the objective it served – “expansion of the West” – raised no qualms. inscribed in the still photo. as has indeed been impacted since the masses took to the streets. and the second – to British imperialism. In those years. as it did then. forced labor was already prohibited by law in France. in most of which they stood facing each other as “two sides”. The gala opening in the presence of various world leaders and some local nobility makes one forget. under the name Khedive Ismail Bridge. The festive sight emerging from the photograph evoked my own photographic memory of another. under the name Kobri el Gezira Bridge. 7 On both occasions when Qasr Al Nil was erected. the demonstrators weave themselves into a human carpet and inhabit the entire bridge (except for some spots seen in the photo – green armored cars and orange fire fighter vehicles). a part of a world struggle to ensure the free traffic of oil tankers through the canal that is located in Egypt but actually supervised by various world powers who fear for the stability of oil prices. earlier festive occasion – the inauguration of the Suez Canal. was preceded that day on the bridge by various forms of confrontation of demonstrators and police. taken in 1869 at the official opening ceremony of the canal. 7 reaction to the regime’s canceling train traffic and closing off central thoroughfares in Egypt in order to prevent the citizens from becoming a power. 3]. In this still photo. while the water cannons and the bright smoke billowing over the demonstrators.

Even if this deployment was meant. goods that Israel forbids them to receive in other ways under the siege. such that are temporarily or intentionally absent . as publicized. are non- 8 More on “untaken photographs” and their civil use see Ariella Azoulay. especially since some of the models of control and the practices they entail are exercised away from camera lenses. which in its turn would ensure that we do not notice that the language of street uprising now spoken in Egypt through improvised barricades [see photo no. with hardly any media coverage and without even a single photograph in the public space. The absence of such photographs creates holes in the citizens’ field of vision and action. in Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu permitted President Husni Mubarak to assign two battalions (about 800 soldiers) to the Sinai Peninsula – which Egypt controls. Relating to these absent photos is a part of honing the grammar of civil language. and those – Gazas. it was meant no less to help Mubarak help Israel preserve its own control of Gaza and ensure that the severe siege it has laid upon Gaza in the past few years would not be broken by smuggling from Egypt. Verso. And why should we notice a continuum? After all. The agreement to move forces was reached by the two leaders during the civil uprising in Egypt. Thus. Civil spectators take part in creating the objects that will be seen – including what I call “untaken photographs”8. has already been in use for some years several kilometers away. they differ: these – Egyptians. in the last days of January. for example. are citizens subjugated to Mubarak whom they wish to replace. In any case. to ensure that civil interests would not disrupt “world order”. a language that refuses to view only what is framed and defined as objects of denotation but chooses to use photography as a complex civil regime. 8 Compared to sovereign rule inside the State. with barricades that Gazans build to hide the tunnels they dig to ensure a minimal flow of goods from Egypt. to help Mubarak preserve his power at home. the control and subjugation of nation- states to global regulations show a relatively minor visual presence.and not only in interpreting what was framed to their gaze but crossing its boundaries whenever these threaten to be closed. 4]. military forces are already there. as the revolution peaked. Civil Imagination – Political Ontology of Photography. but according to its peace treaty with Israel must not deploy military forces to the area. . 2011. without consulting their governments.

invest resources in improving the services provided them. Its echoes arouse in a mass that is attuned to the possibilities it revives by reminding us that the governing power is provisional. amongst strangers. those who usually tend to forget that the governed are the source of governing power. it sows confusion. are the source of their power and ability to maintain order and enforce the law.the citizens of the State of Israel take part in oppressing the Gazans. When citizens take to the street and use the language of revolution. and not use them in order to justify world- embracing moves that are not connected to the concrete reality of their lives or that injures it in various ways. Gaza is placed on the margins of world order and there seem to be nothing urgent about it. that the governed are those who condition the governing power through the recognition they either grant or deny it. They look as though an ancient secret has just been revealed to them – the governed. Instead of recognizing in the rebellion in Gaza elements of civil revolution against the very same regime that subjugates them and that nevertheless they trust. and therefore their uprising should win the sympathy and support of the world. not the ruler. making them transparent. Those in power. This is a passion to see the governing power act for the sake of the governed and with them. they express a civil passion that is aroused in public. When civil language is spoken passionately in the public space. The source of their power – the governed masses – now demands its . instead of being urgently extinguished as are other revolutions by the “solution” of democratic sovereign regime. Look at the soldiers in the photos coming in from Egypt [See more photos soldiers/policemen]. Israelis should now adopt the civil dialect that has burst forth in use in the Middle East and insist on the abolition of the Israeli regime as part of a new Middle East. can no longer so easily deny the change that has taken place in the game they are now playing. limit the erosion of their quality of life. close to power and identifying with power. 9 citizens and not under any sovereign regime – after all Israel does not recognize its own domination of them and therefore according to the Israeli official perspective there is no leader whom they could wish to oust. stateless. In order to stop the oppression of Gazans. create positive contents to generate a different tomorrow. a passion that enthusiastically sweeps even a greater mass than has already been seen on the streets. Thus. instead of joining the Gazans by taking to the streets with broken furniture to build barricades in front of the Ministry of Defense .

. Without massive cooperation on the 9 Spoken by Amar Yousef. It is a calculated. The body gesture of one of the demonstrators. quoted by Ynet on February 3rd. In order to continue attributing the source of their power to the sovereign ruler. stylized move that ensures the two halves of the portrait to remain identifiable for what they are even as they fly off in the air. most of the soldiers and a substantial number of policemen do not behave as the representatives of the power against which the demonstrators have taken to the streets. In the two photos in which an officer is seen carried on the shoulders of demonstrators. trying to block the advancing soldiers and to distance them from the officer who has defected. in an item by Hassan Shaalan. These photographs and many others show that the language of revolution never consists solely of the conduct of citizens demonstrating throughout the city. Not all of them are willing to do so: “I was asked to kill protestors. “Egyptian policeman: People’s demands just”. unlike him. as done by some soldiers and policemen – their numbers as yet unknown – and without showing any sympathy for such a move. In the second photograph. 6 and 7]. showing the same officer in a more isolated spot.with hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in the background. a line of uniformed soldiers is seen marching. and made them both forget the fact that they are all governed who can act to change the regime while it moves against them. the scene appears more complex. allows us to assume that they do not quite accept this move on his part. 1 share. taking off his uniform.9 But here another secret is revealed to them – one that has managed to create an imagined structural barricade between governing and governed. The act of ripping itself is not some furious shredding. In one of them the photographed and photographer look as though they just got together for a photo opportunity to express this awakening. Behind the officer carried on people’s shoulders. gathered in the street and on the bridge – was photographed ripping Mubarak’s portrait in half. None of their gestures bespeak their crossing the lines. It necessarily includes evident presence soldiers refraining from crushing the movement of demonstrators – without which one could not speak of revolution. even without explicitly crossing the lines. Still. and even non-violently. they now need to exert violence. 2011. The officer framed in the center of the image . the public expression of this awakening is plainly visible [see photos nos. so I decided to resign from my post” said one of the policemen.

But the local goal identified by this name does not quite exhaust the burning need to turn shared political space into a space where talk is bound to deed and deed to result. The demonstrators’ demand to oust Mubarak – and a similar demand under other regimes – is a local name given to revolutionary fervor. From this I propose to conclude the most important characteristic of a revolution under western sovereign regimes – a revolution taking place when masses unidentified along the existing political map. most of them strangers to each other. will renew the connection between deeds and results. when two modes of power face each other in the public space and the power that has established itself as the law cannot win and is not able to restore recognition of its exclusive hold of violence and authority in the shared space – we face a revolution. Revolution. intervene in its proceedings and imagine its horizons. the demonstrators wish to vest meaning in their own deeds and view their immediate results. then. is marked by them as the first objective that. In order for the language of revolution to resound in the street. His ousting – so they say in the city square – is the obvious result of his deeds. then. namely changing the regime which is sometimes symbolized by the demand to oust the leader who has managed to tyrannize and make the citizens forget their citizenship. [See photo of the civil organization of the square] In other words. having been reached. Through this demand. Revolution is the demand for a change of language. certain conditions are required to ensure that the demonstrators’ move would not turn into just another riot which the police are committed to crush on the spot [See Photographic examples]. 1 part of soldiers. Unlike the language they . take to the streets and their demands are not crushed on the spot but manage to create a counter-weight to the governing power’s ability to crush them immediately. not fixed in space. No wonder. that contest the existing structure of sovereignty and interrupt its performative reiterations. the language of revolution could not be spoken on the streets. even if for a very long time now his deeds have made him unworthy of ruling them. is not the description of “results”. “political achievements” or a “bundle of reforms” but rather a description of new power relations. today makes way for tomorrow and the future seems an accessible material that the governed want and can work towards shaping. that a leader who stays in power for three decades.

thereby putting an end to the possible creation of a civil space where citizens act for their own lives and do not play a secondary role in politics unfolding over their heads and in an international scene that it serves. sound like that empty language that does not tell of deeds and does not bear their stamp. 1 speak in public. Mubarak’s first promise to step down in September. Creating a liberal democratic regime in Egypt will quench revolutionary fervor and re-presence the “either-or” rationale as inevitable – either sovereign rule or revolution. The politics of liberal democratic regimes continues to be set in motion by the imperial structure by which sovereign states who wish to put an end to wars in their own domain export weapons and encourage wars in faraway lands. and detached from any reality in which they can play a role beyond their labor potential. with no environment in which to shelter and live. and the regime must let them act towards living a worthy life shared with others. and is therefore rejected by the demonstrators face on. “We demand our rights at the townsquare!” Revolution is the demand of citizens to speak civil language. including those in power with whom they share the space. the revolution can become a living civil language of everyday life. . run these wars by remote control. After Mubarak stepped down. “At the square!” they cried. transport cheap labor and get rid of it after use. protestors insisted on not clearing away the language of revolution but rather to see it continue further. Without underestimating the achievements of this revolution in terms of possible relief for Egyptian society after ousting Mubarak. so doing. like the request of senior army officers to stop the demonstrations since their demands have now been met. turning large parts of the world’s population into persons devoid of civil status. erect checkpoints. and democratic and liberal reforms that may accompany them – all of this will not really make the need for ongoing civil revolution superfluous. seal borders. to exercise civil skills and. Once we understand that this need was not made superfluous in any of the democratic regimes the world over. remind themselves and the governing power that the regime that has long been set is neither a law of nature nor an act of fate.

the different revolutions were caught in the language of sovereignty except that now it was the sovereignty of the people. these were women-goddesses represented acting in a more elevated sphere than that of the polis. 1 By narrowing down revolution to a national context. typical example of this – from the Goddesses of Wisdom and Justice through Courbet’s Marianne. both their part in the revolution and the fact that the revolution did not necessarily better their lot but rather 10 More about this heritage in Ann Stoler’s discussion Imperial Debris: On Ruins and Ruination (Ed. Stoler). and to weave them into the larger narrative of civil awakening of the eighteenth-century. two modes of power. 2011. We must begin to reconstruct the revolutions which we passed by without recognizing them as such. The French Revolution and later revolt are a familiar. In several of these revolutions. In our global world today. Instead of appearing as a struggle to replace the sovereign language by a civil one. these women-heroes took the place of concrete women who had participated in the revolution. we must reject the separations that turn us into spectators viewing the revolutions of others. shaped by the heritage of imperialism and the political language it has passed on to us10. took part in the civil struggle of the eighteenth-century. In all modern revolutions. one or two figures ended up as the revolution’s icon. they were dispossessed of its achievements which were mostly kept by and for white men who mouthed the universal discourse inherited by our democracies. and history unfolding in front of our very eyes. each time dispossessing a different population group. as a civil history of which we are necessarily a part. associating it directly with well defined goals and results and designating the democratic regime as the people’s ideal history and political discourse have prevented revolutions since the eighteenth-century to appear as acts in a single interrupted struggle of civil discourse rising up against another discourse – the sovereign discourse of the nation-state. too. This awakening must be told in such a way as not to let us forget that although blacks and women. and begin to tell history anew. the history whose traces are found in the archives. Duke University Press. . In the political imaginary developing at the time. as a part of their conclusion. women have taken an active and significant part. a struggle of two languages. Thus. without recognizing them as “our” revolutions. Ann L.

intervenes in spoken space. again.1. 21. out of our way!” or. Reading these gestures as icons means creating them as icons while stripping them of their concrete characteristics and relating only to a single one that has been iconicized. Thus when we unproblematically place a photograph such as this one – taken in Egypt by Amr Abdallah Dalsh . and the female figure chosen by the Nouvel Observateur to illustrate the revolution in Tunisia – who. and give up reading the concrete gesture in the photograph. emerging from between the shoulders of two armed soldiers.2011. . 8]. iconization makes the concrete abstract. On the level of viewing. we turn the female figure once again into a silent symbol [see photo no. is part of the effort to neutralize revolution as a living language. in François Mori’s photograph. that of a woman charging ahead bearing a flag or carried aloft on the shoulders of the crowd and signaling the victory sign with her fingers have now been seen both in Tunisia and in Egypt.11 But the iconicity of the gesture is not given. placing it as its symbol. Like other gestures.see note above). 1 worsen it in many realms were erased for years. for replacing the ousted president. unlike the famous Marianne figures from Courbet to May '68 revolution. fixing the model. sanctifying it and using it to harness the viewers to see the familiar and forget the difference that comes about with performative repetition. “Take off your uniform and join us!” She is not baring her breast nor is she carried aloft by demonstrators. 12 Such as this (shown in the same continuum created by Gunthert . and first and foremost. Rather. like her predecessor [See photo]. Andre Gunthert criticizes what he calls the simplistic mechanism of illustration that creates the equation “revolution=female figure” and in the absence of “female figure=no revolution”. perhaps. to neutralize women’s concrete contribution to the revival of the language of revolution and blurring the fact that. half-nude. 11 In his essay. their names do not appear on the lists of candidates for senior posts. and no less than that. and is certainly not merely a result of the photographer’s or painter’s action. brings out the outstanding gesture of a shout – “Out of my way. See his essay “Rattraper la revolution”. a woman in public space shouting her political demands out loud as she is born on others’ shoulders. http://culturevisuelle. in his essay he threads the female figures unproblematically according to the model that has been iconicized.somewhere along a continuum that stretches from the French Revolution through May 1968. she resembles the demonstrator whom François Mori photographed in France last year12. The creation of an icon out of a civil revolution. thus missing the difference between the female figure yelling in the street.org/icones/1338. A look at the Egyptian woman wearing an orange shirt. However. filters details that would disrupt the iconic model.

and that together they can revive it. eager to replace the language of sovereign democratic regimes. new alliances and pacts. media people and others – and will put an end to the revolution in the form of another politician that will take his place. Muslims. one can see in Egypt’s revolution not only a direct sequel of Tunisia or a preview of forthcoming ones in Syria. this will happen only if its formation will not resemble another sovereign regime headed by a man. 1 However. to be used only rarely. partnership [See photo no 9 – organized square]. Through the reading of revolution’s complex expressions. where things will become unbearable. Christians and Jews. inviting him to recognize the language of revolution as his own. diplomats. will liberate themselves of the spectacles of the sovereign regimes . curiosity. Only if a popular regime develops whose principles will be learned from the ways in which the revolution took place – without or with a variation of sovereign rule and while creating a language rich in expression. under other regimes. If what looks like a wave of revolutions in the Middle East will indeed bring along a new tomorrow. warning him that time is short. rewrite vision documents in order to shape ways of life shared with others. a civil language that is spoken by many. then the language of revolution that the citizens of Cairo revived in the streets of their city will again be a dead language and what we see as an achievement today might turn out in time to be the shattering of a dream. to redefine movement in spaces. resist its return to its familiar status as a dead language forbidden for use most of the time. ridding them of the death traps they have constituted for people forced into statelessness. closing her resounding mouth and turning her into a silent symbol. innovation. Algeria or Jordan. take new advantage of frontiers. in public. If Mubarak’s resignation will have the effect prayed for by the professional actors of political life – politicians. her photograph – and that of others like her – should be read as yet another civil expression calling on the soldier to wake up. endless conversation about every dimension of life while making room for creativity. hope. and much more. speak it as a language. instead of fossilizing the female figure. local organizing with its own character. All of these must and can be parts of a civil language. that together they can speak revolution. Such civil language will grow as the tidings from the East only if all citizens of the region. but rather a direct continuation of the demands by refugees the world over to get back to their countries.

** [They are governed alongside millions of Palestinians. Only a revolution across national borders might develop into a real civil revolution that will sweep the entire region and offer an alternative model for western democracy that currently participates in oppressing the citizens of the region. This is how the civil language. cannot be reduced to achieve concrete goals. in order for the revolution that started in Egypt to develop into a civil revolution and not end as another democracy participating in global crime against millions deprived of citizen status. Language develops according to the needs of those who speak it. only when they understand that they are not governed alone by the Israeli regime . And until the citizens of the entire region wake up.] . like any language. 1 that recruited them to fight citizens like them on a national. and more millions of Palestinians who in 1948 became non-governed of this regime and live along the borders of their homeland. Language is the form of people’s existence together. creates new idioms and skills. A new Middle East will be possible only when the citizens of the Israeli state will wake up. gender.that democracy they idolize and hail as the only democracy in the Middle East. the citizens who do not see their own regime as a tyranny because it does not injure them directly. the revolution in Egypt must be read as a continuum of revolutions which sovereign rule has always interrupted prematurely by dictating to them a goal that was agreed upon and curtailed them as a language. need to wake up too. This is certainly true for the citizens of my own country. However. too. waiting for the day when they will be allowed back home. alternative narratives have to be prepared. civil language. However. racial and religious basis. should be: not aiming to topple the governing power but rather to create the conditions for suspending the governing power and establishing a civil space that enables citizens to shape their lives together. Israel. is transmitted from one to another and shapes itself thereby.