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  • Jacob Høigilt (a1)

Adult comics are a new medium in the Arab world. This article is the first in-depth study of their emergence and role within Arab societies. Focused on Egypt, it shows how adult comics have boldly addressed political and social questions. Seeing them as part of a broader cultural efflorescence in Egypt, I argue that, against patriarchal authoritarianism, adult comics have expressed an alternative ideology of tolerance, civic rights and duties, individualism, creativity, and criticism of power. Specifically, they present a damning critique of Egypt's authoritarian order, as well as of the marginalization of women and broader gender dynamics in Egyptian society. Through frank humor, a playful style, and explicit graphics, they give voice to the concerns of young Egyptians. Connecting comics to other art forms such as music, graffiti, and political cartoons, I situate them within a critical cultural movement that came to the fore with the Egyptian uprising of 2011.

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Author's note: I thank the three anonymous IJMES reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions. Thanks also to Jonathan Guyer and the many Egyptian comics creators who gave willingly of their time and helped me to navigate the emerging field of Egyptian comics. This article was written with the support of the Research Council of Norway (Grant 213473).

1 Muhammad Shinnawi, interview with the author, Cairo, 10 December 2012.

2 Douglas, Allen and Malti-Douglas, Fedwa, Arab Comic Strips: Politics of an Emerging Mass Culture (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1994), 61 . Douglas and Malti-Douglas write that in the early 1990s Samir had a print run of 80,000 copies per issue—a vastly greater figure than any other literary product at the time.

3 This is true of the new adult comics that have appeared in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, and Tunisia. In this article I focus exclusively on Egypt; I intend to widen the scope in a forthcoming monograph on Arab adult comics.

4 Armbrust, Walter, Mass Culture and Modernism in Egypt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996); Jacquemond, Richard, Conscience of the Nation: Writers, State, and Society in Modern Egypt (Cairo and New York: American University in Cairo Press, 2008).

5 Dorfman, Ariel and Mattelart, Armand, How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic (New York: International General, 1984). For a study of British comics and ideology, see Barker, Martin, Comics: Ideology, Power, and the Critics (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989). Two recent edited volumes deal with issues ranging from the political economy of comics to their contributions to feminism and gay and lesbian studies. See McAllister, Matthew P., Sewell, Edward H., and Gordon, Ian, eds., Comics & Ideology (New York: Peter Lang, 2006); and Cortsen, Rikke Platz, La Cour, Erin, and Magnussen, Anne, Comics and Power: Representing and Questioning Culture, Subjects and Communities (Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015).

6 McAllister, Matthew P., Sewell, Edward H., and Gordon, Ian, “Introducing Comics and Ideology,” in Comics & Ideology, 5.

7 Geertz, Clifford, The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 220 .

8 Thompson, John, Ideology and Modern Culture: Critical Social Theory in the Era of Mass Communication, 1st ed. (Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1991), 7 .

9 McAllister, Sewell, and Gordon, “Introducing Comics and Ideology,” 8.

10 M. Lynx Qualey, “Another Pop-Literary Comics Magazine Launches in Egypt: ‘Garage,’” Arabic Literature (in English), 31 August 20015, accessed 7 September 2015,

11 The Comics Publishing Facebook page can be accessed at The publishing house is a sister of Riwaq Publishing, which has enjoyed great success in recent years, bringing new authors to the fore. See Both accessed 10 September 2016.

12 Most of the information about the festival was distributed via Facebook. See CairoComix's Facebook page, accessed 25 August 2016,

13 Flash seems to have ceased publication since the early 2000s. I thank Eva Marie Håland for getting hold of a copy of the magazine for me.

14 Menna Taher, “New Wave of Comic Books Flourishes in Egypt—Visual Art—Arts & Culture—Ahram Online,” Ahram Online, 24 October 2011, accessed 23 August 2016,

15 Douglas and Malti-Douglas, Arab Comic Strips, 60–83.

16 Majdi al-Shafiʿi, interview with the author, Cairo, 11 December, 2012.

17 Hanan al-Kararji, interview with the author, Cairo, 7 February 2016.

18 See the Comics Gate website, accessed 25 August 2016,

19 See the Kutubna website, accessed 25 August 2016,

20 This funding enabled the team behind the magazine to publish new issues on a regular basis, as well as the creation of a short magazine devoted to comics and graphic design. The magazine is titled al-Fann al-Tasiʿ (The Ninth Art) and was produced by the team behind Tuk-Tuk.

21 Sabin, Roger, Adult Comics (London: Routledge, 2013), 3652 .

22 Estren, Mark James, A History of Underground Comics (Berkeley, Calif.: Ronin Publishing, 1993), 17 .

23 Muhammad Shinnawi, interview with the author, Cairo, 10 December 2012.

24 El Chazli, Youssef, “Alexandrins en fusion: Itinéraires de musiciens égyptiens, des milieux alternatifs à la révolution,” in Jeunesses arabes, ed. Bonnefoy, Laurent and Catusse, Myriam (Paris: La Découverte, 2013 ), Kindle edition, chap. 38.

25 The first edition was published in 2006. By 2009, it had reached its fourteenth edition, a remarkable feat in a market characterized by extremely low sales figures.

26 Ranya Amin, interview with the author, Cairo, 26 June 2014.

27 Sharabi, Hisham, Neopatriarchy: A Theory of Distorted Change in Arab Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988).

28 Ibid., 66.

29 Ibid., 41.

30 Scott, James C., Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992).

31 Wedeen, Lisa, Ambiguities of Domination: Politics, Rhetoric, and Symbols in Contemporary Syria (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999 ).

32 Sharabi, Neopatriarchy, 47.

33 See, for example, Hinnebusch, Raymond, “Authoritarian Persistence, Democratization Theory and the Middle East: An Overview and Critique,” Democratization 13 (2006): 373–95; and Al Kharouf, Amal and Weir, David, “Women and Work in a Jordanian Context: Beyond Neo-patriarchy,” Critical Perspectives on International Business 4 (2008): 307–19.

34 Jad Chaaban, “Job Creation in the Arab Economies: Navigating through Difficult Waters,” Arab Human Development Report Research Paper Series (United Nations Development Programme Regional Bureau for Arab States, 2010), accessed 10 September 2016,, 20–21. It should be noted that it is notoriously difficult to compile reliable statistics for Egypt, as the gray area of the economy is large and it is difficult to access many parts of the population.

35 Diane Singerman, “The Economic Imperatives of Marriage: Emerging Practices and Identities among Youth in the Middle East” (working paper, Wolfensohn Center for Development and Dubai School of Government, Dubai, UAE, 2007), accessed 16 February 2016, For a good summary of the situation in the Arab world generally, see Filiu, Jean-Pierre, The Arab Revolution: Ten Lessons from the Democratic Uprising (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 3233 .

36 Wāsṭa, which means “intercession” or “intermediation,” is the common Arabic dialectal term to denote personalistic networks of patronage in a hierarchic system. As succinctly described by Oliver Schlumberger, it is a social mechanism that determines “who gets what.” Schlumberger, Oliver, “The Arab Middle East and the Question of Democratization: Some Critical Remarks,” Democratization 7 (2000): 114–15.

37 Herrera, Linda, “Young Egyptians’ Quest for Jobs and Justice,” in Being Young and Muslim: New Cultural Politics in the Global South and North, ed. Bayat, Asef and Herrera, Linda (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 132.

38 David D. Kirkpatrick, “Egypt's New Strongman, Sisi Knows Best,” The New York Times, 24 May 2014, accessed 29 August 2016,

39 Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures, 220.

40 Ibid., 219.

41 McCloud, Scott, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (New York: William Morrow Paperbacks, 1994), 41.

42 See Tuk-Tuk 5 (2012).

43 Michael Collins Dunn, “Why Is a Taboo Word Taboo? The Curious Case of أحا (a7a),” Editor's Blog, Middle East Institute, 24 January 2014, accessed 29 August 2016,; Adel Iskandar, “Egypt's Deafening Three-Letter Yell,” Egypt Independent, 17 July 2012, accessed 25 August 2016,

44 Muhammad Andeel, interview with the author, Cairo, 8 February 2016.

45 Sharabi, Neopatriarchy, 24–32.

46 Amnesty International, “Circles of Hell: Domestic, Public and State Violence against Women in Egypt,” Amnesty International, London, 2015, accessed 25 August 2016,

47 Ibid., 25. These figures are high, but it should be noted that Egypt is not an exception when it comes to violence against women. Norway, this author's home country, is commonly considered to be among the world's most advanced in regard to women's rights, and has a well-developed legal framework to deal with domestic violence. Nevertheless, in a 2005 nationwide survey 14.4 percent of surveyed women reported having been the victim of “less serious” domestic violence, and 8.2 percent had experienced serious violence (kicking, strangulation, etc.). See the Norwegian Women's Shelter website [in Norwegian], accessed 28 September 2016,

48 Walby, Theorizing Patriarchy, 135.

49 Amnesty International, “Circles of Hell,” 45–47.

50 Samiha Shafy, “‘Horribly Humiliating’: Egyptian Woman Tells of ‘Virginity Tests,’” Spiegel Online, 10 June, 2011, accessed 25 August 2016,

51 Ahdaf Soueif, “Image of Unknown Woman Beaten by Egypt's Military Echoes around World,” The Guardian: Comment is Free, 18 December, 2011, accessed 28 September 2016,

52 “Egypt: Keeping Women Out. Sexual Violence Against Women in the Public Sphere,” FIDH, Nazra for Feminist Studies, New Women Foundation, Uprising of Women in the Arab World, Cairo, 2014, accessed 25 August 2016,

53 Abouelnaga, Shereen, “Reconstructing Gender in Post-Revolution Egypt,” in Rethinking Gender in Revolutions and Resistance: Lessons from the Arab World, ed. Said, Maha El, Meari, Lena, and Pratt, Nicola (London: Zed Books, 2015), 3559 .

54 Sami, Hala G., “A Strategic Use of Culture: Egyptian Women's Subversion and Resignification of Gender Norms,” in Rethinking Gender in Revolutions and Resistance: Lessons from the Arab World, ed. Said, Maha El, Meari, Lena, and Pratt, Nicola (London: Zed Books, 2015), 86109 .

55 “Al-ʿAr bi-l-Zayt al-Harr,” Tuk-Tuk 7 (2012), 48–58.

56 Groensteen, Thierry, The System of Comics (Jackson, Miss.: University Press of Mississippi, 2007), 44 .

57 “Shawk,” Tuk-Tuk 7 (2012), 35–38.

58 On how panels contribute to the form and meaning of comics, see Groensteen, The System of Comics, 39–57.

59 Majdi al-Shafiʿi, interview with the author, Cairo, 11 December 2012.

60 El Chazli, “Alexandrins en fusion,” 363–64.

61 Soueif, Ahdaf, “Foreword,” in Walls of Freedom: Street Art of the Egyptian Revolution, ed. Don Stone and Karl and Basma Hamdy (Malta: From Here to Fame, 2014), 5 .

62 Hale, Sondra, “The New Middle East Insurrections and Other Subversions of the Modernist Frame,” Journal of Middle East Women's Studies 10 (2014): 56 .

63 Stone, Hamdy, and Hamdy, Walls of Freedom, 89.

64 It is symptomatic of the dire situation faced by the press in Egypt today that Mada Masr exists only online. See

65 Adel Iskandar, “Big Words on Art: The School Playground and the Cloud of Bollocks,” part 3, Status Hour, 22 December 2014, accessed 29 August 2016,

66 Marcia Lynx Qualey, “Popular Egyptian Cartoonist Islam Gawish Arrested,” Arabic Literature (in English), 31 January 2016, accessed 29 August 2016,

67 “Egypt Author Ahmed Naji Jailed over Explicit Novel,” BBC News, 21 February 2016, accessed 28 September 2016,; Sultan Sooud al-Qassemi, “Why Is a ‘Free’ Egypt More Prudish about Sex than Saudi Arabia?,” International Business Times, 3 March 2016, accessed 28 September 2016,

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International Journal of Middle East Studies
  • ISSN: 0020-7438
  • EISSN: 1471-6380
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