x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Comic book tries to capture complexity of Egypt's revolt

Just as Egypt searches for a direction after the heady days of February, so did the team behind 18 Days struggle to put together a storyline that peaked in triumph but did not ignore the complex and in many ways gloomy aftermath.

The cover of
The cover of "18 Days", a comic book about the revolt in Egypt.

CAIRO // A comic book about this year's heroic protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square that ousted a dictator and transfixed the world? Sounds easy, right?

Wrong, say the author and designers of 18 Days, which went on sale last week in the Egyptian capital.

Just as the country searches for a direction following the heady days of February, so did the team behind 18 Days struggle to put together a storyline that peaked in triumph but did not ignore the complex and in many ways gloomy aftermath.

"It was something we had to carefully navigate," said Ramy Habeeb, 34, an Egyptian businessman and the author of 18 Days. "We wanted to celebrate the 18 days in Tahrir but at the same time, we needed to be realistic as to what the future was holding."

The original 200-page draft of 18 Days had seven main characters, each viewing the protests through a different lens: a police officer, an army soldier, a journalist, a revolutionary, an ordinary Cairene, a foreigner living in the capital and a volunteer in a makeshift neighbourhood watch group.

Yet Mr Habeeb and his illustrator, AS Seleem, feared that such a broad cast of characters, instead of illuminating the core of the Egyptian uprising, would obfuscate it.

As a result, the final version of 18 Days is 74 pages and has only one main protagonist - Adham, the father of a young woman who goes out to join her peers in Tahrir. At first, Adham views the protests as ephemeral, but when his daughter does not come home he is driven by worry to go in search of her. In the process, he becomes one of the most ardent believers in the cause.

Mr Habeeb, who is the founder of the digital content company Kotobarabia, said that he hit on the character of Adham after the dust settled on the streets of Egypt and the reality of building a new government set in. The character is based on his father, Emad, who died in 2004 from cancer. "He was one of the proudest Egyptians you would ever meet and he was so disillusioned with Egypt," Mr Habeeb said. "He longed for this imaginary Egypt of the past."

If his father had been alive during the historic events of January and February, the son believes he would have been reluctant to rush headlong into the streets. A family member getting into trouble, however, would have drawn him into the throngs.

In the author's view, this narrative accurately mirrored the motivations of most Egyptians, many of whom were reluctant to join the protests at first but felt compelled to after police began killing anti-Mubarak protesters. Despite working in a medium built largely on fantasy, realism was key.

"We didn't want a book that is ignorant," he said. "We are aware that things are continuing, that it's not black and white. We did our best to depict an honest and true story."

Mr Habeeb is also working on a series of books with Arab heroes - to give youths of the region role models from their own background - but 18 Days doesn't have a traditional comic book character in eye-catching costume who single-handedly saves the day with super powers.

"In our version, the hero is the revolution itself," he said. "It is a success story that is having difficulty now. We need to remember the past success as an inspiration to move forward."

The most difficult part of completing 18 Days was how to end it. Egypt is, after all, a country mired in strikes, political bickering and clashes with a military caretaker government that will likely stay in power well into 2012, if not 2013.

Of the four scenarios considered, the final choice was deliberately ambiguous.

Standing defiantly and alone, Adham holds a sign saying "Remember February 11th".

A bubble of text says: "Someone has to remind them of their PROMISE."

Mr Habeeb said that conclusion is apt."It's very important that people remember the promise of those days and that we don't start building the new Egypt based on the shortcut, cynical actions that potential new leaders can take."