I have been thinking about Egyptian protest culture for a number of years, although not always as a scholar. For the bulk of that time, much of this protest culture was largely confined to particular segments of Egyptian society, activists, intellectuals and students. The major icon of this culture, Sheikh Imam, was clearly more revered outside of Egypt than at home. However, with the January 25 uprising, what was marginal became a dominant strand in contemporary Egyptian expressive culture. Like so many others, I found myself caught up in collecting, archiving and analyzing the explosion of revolutionary culture in Egypt. Among the first things I collected were slogans.
During the Eighteen-Day Uprising, I noticed that many observers treated slogans as if they were spontaneous linguistic statements of an unambiguouspopular will. This treatment both resonated and clashed with what I thoughtI knew about the history of protest culture in Egypt. On the one hand, it resonated with how activists themselves spoke about their own experiences interms of surprise and spontaneity, and how they routinely considered slogans to be clear proof-texts of an articulate collective voice. But it also clashed with the fact that some of these same activists had for years been planning and practicing just such an uprising, and chanting some of the same slogans that were to resound across Egypt on January 25. The more I listened to activists, the more I began to realize that the meaning of slogans could not be reduced to their immediate context or their semantic aspect, nor was their meaning so straightforward or stable.