Martyrs and TrickstersAn Ethnography of the Egyptian Revolution

Martyrs and TrickstersAn Ethnography of the Egyptian Revolution

Walter Armbrust

Print publication date: 2020

ISBN: 9780691162645

Publisher: Princeton University Press

Abstract

The Egyptian Revolution of 2011 began with immense hope, but was defeated in two and a half years, ushering in the most brutal and corrupt regime in modern Egyptian history. How was the passage from utmost euphoria into abject despair experienced, not only by those committed to revolutionary change, but also by people indifferent or even hostile to the revolution? This book explores the revolution through the lens of liminality—initially a communal fellowship, where everything seemed possible, transformed into a devastating limbo with no exit. To make sense of events, the book looks at the martyrs, trickster media personalities, public spaces, contested narratives, historical allusions, and factional struggles during this chaotic time. It shows that while martyrs became the primary symbols of mobilization, no one took seriously enough the emergence of political tricksters. Tricksters appeared in media—not the vaunted social media of a “Facebook revolution” but television—and they paved the way for the rise of Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi. In the end, Egypt became a global political vanguard, but not in the way the revolutionaries intended. What initially appeared as the gateway to an age of revolution has transformed the world over into the age of the trickster. The book is a powerful cultural biography of a tragic revolution.