Jonathan Guyer of ‘Oum Cartoon’ on the Shrinking Space for Dissent

Earlier this month, Jonathan Guyer — of the blog Oum Cartoonspoke at the American University in Cairo  about Egypt’s ever-shifting red lines and the currently shrunken space for cartooning dissent:

In his talk, Guyer argued that — unsurprisingly, during a moment where public space is being constantly renegotiated — “the space for dissent has actually shrunk. And compared to the time of Mubarak, actually what can be published today is perhaps not as broad and as free as in the 2000s.”

Although novelists and poets also deal with red lines — Karem Saber was recently targeted for his short-story collection Where is God? — prose authors generally have a wider remit (presumably because of their smaller audiences). Often, it’s cartoonists who do the day-to-day work of kicking the red line.

“There are over 70 regulations in the penal code” that deal with publishing red lines, Guyer said. “The fact that there are so many laws, and so many state institutions that demand respect, actually shows that none of these laws have any meaning in and of themselves.”

So how do cartoonists work around these red lines? Guyer challenged the notion that Egyptian cartoonists actively self-censor, saying that, “From conversations that I’ve had with cartoonists, they’re basically battling with their editor and some days they win, some days they lose.”

Rejected cartoons are sometimes published on Facebook, but Guyer said that cartoonists differ about whether they find this the right space for their work. Anwar of al-Masry al-Youmfor instance, has told Guyer he’s not drawing for his friends or fans on Facebook. “He’s drawing for the 400,000 Egyptians who read al-Masry al-Youm, and as such has to negotiate speech differently from how a cartoonist who posts directly to Facebook might.

Guyer quoted Anwar as saying: “I need to convince the people who are fully supportive of the government.”

For more, listen to the full talk.