If one day, a people desire to live, Then fate will answer their call And their night will then begin to fade, And their chains break and fall.
“Will to Live” Abī al-Qāsim al-Shābī
One of the most inspiring aspects of the Egyptian revolution was the outpouring of creative expression that accompanied the uprising’s social and political movements in the form of protest songs, poetry, slogans, chants, graffiti and installation art, street theatre, cartoons, among other forms of artistic inventiveness. Creative dissidence has always been an integral part of protest movements, as argued by Iraqi poet Sinan Antoon (2011):
Poetry, novels and popular culture have chronicled and encapsulated the struggle of peoples against colonial rule and later, against postcolonial monarchies and dictatorships, so the poems, vignettes, and quotes from novels were all there in the collective unconscious.... The revolution introduced new songs, chants and tropes, but it refocused attention on an already existing, rich and living archive.... Contrary to all the brouhaha about Twitter and Facebook, what energized people in Tunisia and Egypt and elsewhere, aside from sociopolitical grievances and an accumulation of pain and anger, was a famous line of poetry by a Tunisian poet, al-Shabbi.
Antoon evokes Abū al-Qāsim al-Shābī, whose poem “The Will to Live,” referenced in the epigraph, symbolized the battle cry of Tunisians in the anti-colonial struggles of the early 1900s. Refrains from the poem echoed in both Tunisia and Egypt during the Arab spring uprisings over one century later, thereby highlighting the intimate synergies between the creative imaginary and revolutionary action.