An Introduction to Tahrir Documents

A man sits with signs in tahrir square

Fueled by mass participation across disparate demographics, and by excitement over Tunisia’s recent uprising, the January 25th protests in Egypt unexpectedly transformed into a revolution. International news sources described this transformation as one made possible only through the use of new social networking media, and so the events of late January and early February were variously branded “Revolution 2.0,” the “Facebook Revolution,” the “Twitter Revolution,” etc. Yet so many acclamations of new social media and its liberatory potential overlooked the persistence of print in the revolution and its aftermath, from the earliest protests up through present efforts at political mobilization. Tahrir Documents is an attempt to address this other, less-examined element in the remaking of political life in Egypt.

Tahrir Documents collects printed matter from Cairo’s Tahrir Square and its environs. Since the first week of March, volunteers in Cairo have gone to the square, usually on Fridays, to gather documents distributed at protests and rallies. The archive continues to grow as new groups emerge, rallies continue, and the production of printed material keeps pace. We also accept scanned or  photographed submissions sent in by individuals not directly involved in the project, such as friends in Alexandria documenting the appearance of printed material there. On one particular Friday, editors who went to Tahrir Square decided not only to collect printed documents, but also to take photographs of the many poems and signs on display. These photos then became “documents” of their own on our website.

Our editorial board is made up of four people, all of us students of Arabic who came into contact in various ways, whether as colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania or while living in Cairo. Initially, we assembled a group of volunteer translators from among our personal contacts, academic or otherwise, who then suggested colleagues of their own whom they thought might be interested in participating. Eventually, we put together a group of over seventy translators, who continue to contribute their work as time and personal interest allows. Translations, once submitted, are then sent on to our reviewers, who check for both accuracy and English style. The editors then post the reviewed translations online alongside PDF’s of the original documents. The project is not affiliated with the documents’ authors nor with any political organization, Egyptian or otherwise. We also have no institutional affiliation. Our goal has been to disseminate political conversations more articulate and more developed than those possible in tweets or Facebook wall posts, yet which remain overlooked amidst the press’ rapturous and uncritical celebration of new social media. We are also concerned with the establishment of a permanent reference for the revolution’s participants and researchers alike.

As the political situation in Egypt changes, so does the project. We initially translated tactical pamphlets (such as the now-famous “How to Revolt,” a translation of which was first published in the Atlantic), lists of demands leveled at Hosni Mubarak and his regime, and explanations of the motivations behind the popular uprising. Yet single-minded and unified opposition to the previous regime have now given way to the more fractious work of re-assembling Egyptian politics, and we are now encountering a wild proliferation of genres, subjects, and styles. Recent translations have included new parties’ manifestoes, statements on sectarian strife, and calls for solidarity with Palestine and Libya in addition to poems, plays, and even personal rants and admonitions regarding moral conduct. Lists of demands have not disappeared entirely, but have multiplied and diversified as new groups develop. Whatever papers appear in Tahrir and its environs are collected and translated, regardless of source, content, authorship, or even quality. We hope that the collection, however limited,  provides a point of entry into the kinds of serious political thought and action now underway throughout Egypt.

The documents selected for reproduction at Occupy Everything offer a cross-section of Egyptian political writing. In addition to the types of texts mentioned above, these documents place great emphasis on Tahrir Square’s “martyrs,” the brutality of the security apparatus, and the importance of religion and family values in Egypt. Yet because our archive is not limited to purely political writings, we have also selected some of the more eccentric documents found in Tahrir, such as a fashion price list/housing advertisement, a homeopathic solution for sectarian strife, and a “complaint” accusing a specific individual of having relations with thugs, stealing cars, and stalking women. While these documents are not necessarily at the heart of the project, they nevertheless give a glimpse of the kind of diversity we have seen and continue to see. Where more explicitly political writing is concerned, we have included issues of such revolutionary newspapers as “Revolutionary Egypt” (Misr al-thawriyya) and “Gurnal.” These publications, and especially “Revolutionary Egypt,” which is published by the Popular Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (groups formed across Cairo and elsewhere in early February 2011), provide some of the more eloquent expressions of grievances with the former regime, demands for change, and propositions for a democratic future. Though the views they express certainly do not represent the opinions of all sectors of revolutionary thought in Egypt, they nevertheless provide some of the revolution’s most cogent writing.

As of this writing, we have posted translations of nearly two hundred documents, together with the originals in PDF or JPG form on our website. Although not active during the early days of the protests, we have worked hard to collect documents from that period, and will continue our efforts at least through September’s parliamentary elections, the first of the post-revolutionary period. We expect to eventually archive some five hundred documents and their translations.

If you or someone you know is interested in volunteering with Tahrir Documents, please contact us. You can also follow us on Twitter @TahrirDocuments for updates regarding newly posted translations.