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Caricatures and Graffiti as Political Expression

Graffiti as political expression is widespread in the Middle East as well – even in the wake of the Arab Spring, dictators couldn’t escape public criticism.

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The use of caricatures and graffiti as political expression is not something new: it has been used over time to express political discontent, mostly. Graffiti is a more recent way of this self-expression, while caricatures were often featured in newspapers and magazines.

While caricatures usually express a general and accepted critique of the current regime (if so) or political or economic situation, graffiti is a form of street “art” that has the advantage of remaining anonymous, therefore presents less risk for its creator.

Recently the Middle East experienced a huge wave of political discontent. In this setting, caricatures and graffiti were featured widely on the streets as a form of expression of deception and overall discontent. These pieces of “art”, so to say, are meaningful and obvious, yet interesting, and bears implicit or explicit reference to the actual situation, as well as a message for the leadership.

Tunisian caricatures and graffiti represents not only the insider dimension of the revolutions, but also its external perception.

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This caricature draws upon the sanctions against graffiti, questioning whether it is a crime, and saying: graffiti creators use quasi bombs. This is comical in a way that it represents the overly serious treatment of governments against those who use graffiti as political expression, whereas it is also truthful, given the high capacity of influence. Like it happened in Syria, a single graffiti led to the outrage of the government, leading to an ongoing civil war.

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This one on the other hand represents the regional perception of the Tunisian revolution. Sitting on the chairs are the leaders of the region, all depicted as broken old men who do not hear the voice of the uprising in Tunisia. According to this caricature, the autocrats of the Arab world were sitting calmly without noticing, or not wanting to notice, the wave of revolution started by the Tunisian uprising. In so doing they overlooked the danger of such a revolution and forgot the power of popular discontent.

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Meanwhile, as presented in the above caricature, the Tunisian wave of revolution swept through the region, taking Egypt as well.  The following caricature represents Mubarak sitting over the oppressed crowd, busy counting the money he gathered while letting his people suffer.

Although Mubarak is gone now, the revolution of Egypt is not a closed issue. The piece below exactly refers to the situation that followed the departure of Mubarak. While AUTocracy was ousted, a new debate started: shall it be replaced by DEMocracy or THEocracy? Interestingly represented by the pyramid in which the basement remains the same, only the top changes.

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Libya was also taken by the revolutionary fervour and resulted in a large-scale massacre, also necessitating foreign intervention. The death of several thousand people is reflected in the caricatures as well, concentrating on the bloodshed in Libya.

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The image above pictures Qaddafi in red – presumably blood-covered – with a lawn mower, going over the people in green.

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This image represents Qaddafi as “wanted dead or alive” – but rather dead, many would have said. The image of Qaddafi’s head over an animal body also draws upon Qaddafi being internationally named as the “mad dog” of Libya, therefore carrying a global reference.

Caricature and graffiti as political expression is also present in similarly war-torn Syria. The case is interesting, given that the clashes actually broke out following a graffiti in the city of Dera’a. Mostly, graffiti and caricatures in Syria draw upon the nature of Assad, being pictured as violent and liar, but also picturing the two sides of the revolution: protestors and the government.

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The above image shows Assad, promising reforms as he did, yet failed to keep his promise. This failure is accorded to his unwillingness of reforming Syria and actually implementing any sort of change in the country. The image captures this momentum.

Meanwhile, the one below shows the struggle between protestors and the government in an explicitly ironic way, both shooting at each other, while disregarding the suffering of the wider population.

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As the images also show, caricatures and graffiti as political expression is widespread all over the world – even the Middle East could not escape it in the midst of its upheaval.

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