Egyptian Cartoonists Respond to Violent Crackdown

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: President Obama today joined the chorus of world leaders condemning the bloody crackdown in Egypt. Speaking from his vacation spot on Martha's Vineyard, Obama said America's cooperation with Egypt can't continue as usual while civilians are being killed there. So he announced that he's cancelling joint military exercises with the Egyptian military scheduled for next month. But he didn't announce a hold on U.S. military aid to Egypt, as some have demanded. The president said America cannot determine Egypt's future. We want Egypt to succeed, he said. We want a peaceful democratic prosperous Egypt, but to achieve that, the Egyptians are going to have to do the work.

President Obama: We don't take sides with any particular party or political figure. I know it's tempting inside of Egypt to blame the United States, or the West, or some other outside actor for what's gone wrong. We've been blamed by supporters of Morsi, we've been blamed by the other side as if we are supporters of Morsi. That kind of approach will do nothing to help Egyptians achieve the future that they deserve.

Werman: President Obama, speaking about Egypt today. Egypt's political woes have been documented on an almost daily basis by the country's political cartoonists. Cartoons in Egypt appear everywhere, in daily newspapers, online, on buildings, and recently, even in impromptu galleries set up at pro-Morsi protest camps. Jonathan Guyer is a Fulbright Scholar researching political cartoons in Egypt. He says the cartoons he's been looking at today are as varied as Egypt's politics.

Jonathan Guyer: The old guard, the sort of guys who'd been drawing for 40 years, the octogenarians, fervently support the military. And that's what we're seeing in today's cartoons, sort of, the Islamists caught red-handed covered with blood. Now the independent cartoonists, the younger guys who really have come of age during this revolution are obviously conflicted, and they're acting as ombudsmen and criticizing the government and the military for this really deadly and disturbing crackdown.

Werman: Give us an example of one thing you've seen that has been critical.

Guyer: Well, we've seen the repurposing of a lot of anti-military cartoons with a general on a pile of skulls for example. One of the harshest ones I've seen was from a Muslim Brotherhood affiliated cartoonists based in Gaza, where the chairman of the armed forces was wielding a bloody chainsaw. Now this didn't appear in Egyptian press, and I don't think it will, but it's on Facebook, it's online, and, and that's where cartoonists are posting because military censorship is a real thing in Egypt and a lot of cartoonist friends are telling me that their work is being sort of toned down or not being published in the mainstream press.

Werman: Does the interim government have any kind of allies in the media? Allies among cartoonists, and how are they depicting what's going on?

Guyer: There are semi-official newspapers in Egypt, and they are very much steadfastly supporting the military and the interim government. One example was, chairman Al-sisi, the head of the armed forces and the effective ruler of the country, looking in the mirror and seeing Gamal Abdel Nasser, basically the military grand hero of Egypt, shaking his hand heartily as if Nasser fully supports whatever the military might do today in Egypt. Sort of giving a blank check to the military. But this is a lot of what we're seeing in the so-called liberal press.

Werman: Yeah, I mean evoking the icon of Nasser is one thing. But what do you draw though after, you know, some 500 people are dead?

Guyer: This is one of the things that impresses me the most about Egyptian cartoonists, because tragically this isn't the first massacre that's happened this month, or this year, and cartoonists are always ready with a punch line the next day. One of the most powerful images to come out of the ouster of president Morsi is by a young cartoonist named Andeel. He drew a postcard of an Egyptian family, sort of splattered with blood. And it said portrait of the great Egyptian people. But it's obviously making a mockery of all of those who have supported the coup and called it a popular uprising even as an untold amount of people have been killed in tragic bloodshed this week.

Werman: And I gather Jonathan, there are secular cartoonists in Egypt who have been rather supportive of the Egyptian military. After yesterday's crackdown are they changing their tune?

Guyer: Not so fast. A lot of what we see isn't just pro military, but it's anti Islamist. And there's been a new trope of depicting the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists, something that chairman Al-sisi of the armed forces said last month, and this has really struck a cord with a lot of independent cartoonists, especially the pro military camp. And I've just seen cartoons of Islamists, of Brotherhood guys wielding all sorts of machete's, machine guns, you name it.

Werman: They're blaming the Muslim Brotherhood for what happened?

Guyer: Yeah, for example Amr Okasha of the Waft party and its official newspaper has been drawing the Islamists sort of the cause of violence and cyanide, the cause of their own demise in Rabaa al-Adawiya, the encampment that was attacked yesterday. It's pretty widespread pointing the finger at the Muslim Brotherhood. Whether or not they are to blame this has become a narrative that is widespread in the Egyptian press. Now what we saw in the protest encampment at Rabaa al-Adawiya was an impromptu gallery of cartoons, a kind of peaceful resistance of Muslim Brotherhood cartoons being hung and there was a kind of dynamic art gallery that was being updated every week. And today it's blood and it's mud, and it's gone.

Werman: Jonathan Guyer is researching political cartoons as a Fulbright Scholar in Egypt. He's also associate editor of the Cairo Review of Global Affairs, and he blogs at Oum Cartoons. I assume that's not to confused with Oum Calsoum. He's speaking with us from Istanbul. Jonathan, thank you.

Guyer: Thank you Marco.

Werman: You can see two days cartoons by some Egyptian cartoonists and a link to Jonathan Guyer's blog, Oum Cartoon at While you're there you can hear my interview today with reporter Ashraf Khalil who's in Cairo. He described a sense of shock among people there who are just now beginning to understand what happened yesterday. Again, that's all at