The chanted slogans of every revolution encapsulate its goals and values, reflecting the hopes of the people -- the real heroes behind it; and they can also be used as mechanisms with which to manipulate the masses. In both cases, the chanted slogans -- which belong to what historian Mohamed Afifi calls 'the other history' -- have invariably been marginalized, or altogether omitted, from history books and political memoirs.
"History, as we all know, documents the history of presidents, kings, leaders, big events but it does not pay enough attention to those who were behind it, those who chanted on the streets and died," Afifi said.
Chants of the Egyptian Revolution and Its Full Texts, a new book newly launched in Cairo’s Supreme Council for Culture, sheds light on the Egyptian revolution from a different perspective by placing its chants under the spotlight.
Book author Kamal Moghith, also an education expert, said the idea emerged when he tried to capture the pulse of Tahrir Square in his retelling of the events of the revolution to his two daughters overseas. In order to do that, he would tell them the slogans being chanted there, as evidence of the vitality of the revolutionary spirit running through the square.
"Tahrir Square made me feel that I was in a place worthy of being documented, so the next generation can come to know what was being said and chanted in this place. I have been in protests since the 70s and we did not care for the chants; they used to vanish with the end of the protest, but Tahrir Square was different," Moghith recalled.
What struck the author as strange was that in every political memoir he had read, chants were always marginalised. According to Moghith, the fact most chants cannot not be attributed to a specific author contributes to this phenomenon.
The importance of a chant, in his perspective, arises from its being the product of the struggle of political organisations which crystallises its ideas and stances.
Moghith not only documents the chants in his book, but he also indexes and categorises them in the first chapter, according to functionality and usage.
He gathers fragments from the chants of the protests during the Ottoman era in Egypt, the July 1952 Revolution and the 25 January Revolution – to which he dedicates the larger part of the book. Under this period, he creates subdivisions that distribute the chants along a timeline, beginning with 25 January 2011 until the ouster of the Islamist president Mohamed Morsi on 3 July 2013.
The discourse of chanted slogans is important because it is one being posited by the educated layers of society and the middle class but is directed towards society at large, which makes sharing the discourse of the workers and peasants necessary, Moghith opined.
Yet, the author sees that the chants may also be used as manipulation mechanisms, like when “a very reckless chant drives the masses away from the goal they took to the street to fulfill. I distinguish mainly between two different types of chants: the spontaneous ones and the ones that are crafted behind the scenes,” he said.
“Some chants can also do away with your demands. At the university, professors sometimes had demands from the head but, rather than formalising slogans that expressed them, they allowed the chanting to spiral with the extreme slogan: the fall of the regime,” he added.
Anwar Moghith, director of the National Centre for Translation and the author's brother, enjoyed an insider's view of the writing process as he witnessed its early stages. As the book’s approach tends towards the autobiographical, he initially took the project lightly, considering the endeavour a history of the people rather than an academic history book or an objective research.
"I saw the project when it was still only three pages long. I did not take it seriously and never imagined it would be a book. We retain and chant these slogans, then we forget; but Kamal has a different approach: he is concerned with the people and likes to be close to them," the author’s brother revealed.