Without guns, words make the difference: Emad Abdellatif

Mary Mourad, Tuesday 29 Jan 2013

Author of 'Rhetoric of Freedom' speaks to book fair visitors about the dangers of today’s political discourse in light of the few substation advances 2 years on from the uprising

Discussing Rhetoric of Freedom
Nabil Abdel-Fattah, Ammar Ali Hassan and Emad Abdellatif disucssing Rhetoric of Freedom at Cairo International Book Fair

Rain, dust, mud; book fair goers wouldn't miss the discussion on Emad Abdellatif’s new book, Rhetoric of Freedom on Monday.

With Abdellatif present, Nabil Abdel-Fattah, head researcher at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, and Professor Ammar Ali Hassan, writer and political sociologist lead the discussion as part of the Cairo International Book Fair’s 44th cultural programme.

Abdellatif’s new book, published by Dar Al-Tanweer, analyses the political discourse surrounding the revolution. The first strategy he used he titled the section Discourse of the Squares. He reads the slogans, banners, pictures and symbols used throughout the demonstrations across the country, focusing on the most frequently seen. Abdellatif’s analysis isn't limited to squares in the physical sense, but also expands the idea of a revolutionary meeting space to the internet, looking at the discourse across Facebook pages and other social networking websites.

The second analysis strategy is based on the discourse on ballot boxes; i.e. the entire voting process from the experience from the first post-uprising referendum on 19 March 2011 until the presidential elections in June 2012. The author considers this the "loudest" form of discourse and attempts to understand the role Islamists played in mobilising and gaining votes, using promises, attacking "the other" and using advertisement that were mere lies which could not be fulfilled.

The last part of the book " discourse of the screens" focuses on the media and publications through a collection of previously published as well as new, original research papers. This section includes the common discourse across mass media channels, both public and private, and takes a close look at the anti-revolution rhetoric, specific media coverage of the historical Mubarak trial and the presidential elections that saw the Muslim Brotherhoo'ds Mohamed Morsi come to power.

Abdellatif concludes by arguing that what we see now in the streets - the violence and killing - is but the result of two long years of a separatist discourse that continues to describe "the other" as an enemy and that discriminates based on affiliation, as well as a major gap between talk and action.

"I will quote George Orwell: we can fix politics by fixing the rhetoric. We are reaping the fruit of silence over violence these past two years and unless all these charges for treason and alienation for anyone who’s not in the same camp, unless the electronic militias are stopped, we aren’t likely to see true change," Abdellatif concluded in his remarks.

Nabil Abdel-Fattah commented on the book describing the pleasure of reading such solid analysis of political discourse combined with Abdellatif's flowing, beautiful language.

Abdel-Fattah argues that the revolution began with middle class discourse, which hasn’t necessarily penetrated to lower social classes, but it has indeed become diversified.

He also noted how Abdellatif captured the way everything that was sacred before the revolution had become desecrated; how the post-modern young and unafraid language is teeming with a sarcasm that pre-revolution would have been taboo.

For Ammar Ali Hassan, the book's key attractive point is how Abdellatif was able to analyse the solid act of revolting as an active form of rhetoric, representing not only words on a virtual network or invented slogans, but rather as a production of creative rhetoric grounded in the Egyptian traditional culture, which draws on sarcasm and even music.

In the end, Abdellatif said the world in his recent Facebook status message, "How much we need Gandhi today. When we're able to put guns aside, words make all the difference!"

Short link: