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Drawing on human rights
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 27 - 11 - 2008

A cartoon compilation on a human rights theme has just been released, Amira El-Noshokaty reports
Cartoons and Human Rights is a new publication from Hisham Mubarak's Law Centre (HMLC). The book, almost a hundred pages of new, already published, and banned cartoons, draws upon three of the hottest topics debated in Egypt this year: the increase in prices, the emergency law and torture.
Author and activist Wael Tawfiq, who compiled the book, told Al-Ahram Weekly : "The book comes as a result of a discussion between myself and Ahmed Seif El-Islam, the executive director of HMLC."
Tawfiq admits that human rights covered a range of topics, but says the immediate question is what the public really know about it. With a mission to reach the vast majority of ordinary people, he thought of using the shortest and most informal way of addressing them: through the art of cartoons. Seif El-Islam agreed to publish it in book form. In his introduction, Tawfiq explains that although the term "human rights" has grown popular the majority fails to comprehend the basic concepts of such rights. "Hence came the idea of creating simple and comic cartoons that criticise as well as make people more aware of human rights," he says.
Although this is not the first book of its kind, the fresh ideas and the focus on the status quo, with no censorship, blows as a refreshing breeze through the atmosphere of received social awareness. The caricatures, although highly critical, reflect a genuine sense of humour that has always been embedded in Egyptian culture, which has long enjoyed the ability to laugh at its own misfortune.
Cartoons, or the art of caricature, is the comic and exaggerated portrayal and critique of the negative aspects of everyday life, in the simplest form. Although it was first introduced to the world of journalism in Holland in the 17th century, and in England in the 18th, the art of caricature has been known since the dawn of time. According to the study conducted by Tawfiq and published in the same book, prehistoric drawings provide ample evidence of the genre. The Egyptian Museum alone holds drawings of a wolf saving a goose and a lion playing chess with a sheep.
The study reveals that the first attempt at cartoons in Egyptian journalism was made by Yaqoub Sanoua when he brought out his famous magazine Abu Nadara (The One With Eye Glasses), which was followed back in 1915 by Al-Lata'f Al-Musawwara (Pictorial Jests) and Al-Kashkoul (The Copybook) in 1921. In Rose El-Youssef magazine, and later in Sabah Al-Kheir in the 1950s and 60s, the form became more rounded and mature. Cartoonists like Salah Jaheen, Hegazi, Zohdi, Bahgat Othman and others reflected and touched upon the nuances of Egyptian society as never before. In 1990, Caricature, a large-sized magazine, was published by the Egyptian Society for Caricature, and was headed by Mustafa Hussein and included brilliant caricatures by prominent caricaturists, among of which was Mohamed Hakem.
The HMLC book that came out in 3,000 free of charge copies is the first of an annual series that will portray major topics in the most satiric form.
"We have 10 artists, most of them young, working on independent and opposition newspapers," Tawfiq says. The book also includes drawings by prominent cartoonists Amr Selim and Essam Fahmi.
"I show the drawings on a quality basis as well as the ability to convey the idea in the simplest form," Tawfiq told the Weekly, while emphasising the caricature's appeal to the public. He once wrote a newspaper article that included a cartoon, "it was the first thing that caught the reader's attention when I published it," he recalls.
Although the book has limited distribution avenues, the reactions to it are positive in the media as well as in human rights circles. Cartoons and Human Rights is available on the HMLC website, and several other sites have offered to host it.
Currently Tawfiq and HMLC are taking the idea one step forward. "We shall issue small pamphlets with the basic information on personal legal rights in various situations, be it when one is asked to show an ID card in the street or at a police station. The series will definitely include cartoons," he concludes.


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