The Naked Blogger of Cairo: Creative Insurgency in the Arab World

Marwan Kraidy | Harvard University Press | 2016
The Naked Blogger of Cairo cover

Marwan Kraidy’s The Naked Blogger of Cairo examines the relationship between revolutionary activism and art, where in particular the human body is the primary site and focus of expression: as tool, medium, symbol, and metaphor. The book explores the political upheavals of the 2010-2012 Arab Spring uprisings from the perspective of “creative insurgency,” in which activists employed a wide variety of media and artistic expression to wage propaganda war against the ruthless autocrats of the region. Observing some of the ways in which political activists as creative insurgents attack dictators and forge new political identities through means other than the bare physical ones associated with assembly and protest—means such as murals, graffiti, stenciled images and slogans, video, blogs, and other media productions that also place the human body at the center of both representation and action—Kraidy’s work opens out a rich perspective on the concrete practices of rebellion.
Kraidy identifies two primary modes of creative insurgency: a radical, violent and ‘instantaneous’ mode where the body and its very survival are put on the line in acts like the self-immolation of the Tunesian street vendor Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed al-Bouazizi; and the incremental, fiercely parodic and subversive attacks against the aura sovereign rulership, in which for example culturally resonant animal jokes and imagery are re-purposed to symbolically de-potentiate despotic leaders. Between these poles Kraidy also considers hybrid forms: like that of “the Naked Blogger” after whom the book is named, Aliaa al-Mahdy, a case in which the female body is rendered a media spectacle in acts that defy, mock, and subvert established constellations of cultural and political power. This excerpt considers al-Mahdy’s radically provocative gesture in light of her claim that it represented “nude art,” which raises questions of intention, agency, and the fraught line between sexuality and politics. The book is divided into six parts. An introductory section explores the key terms ‘body’, ‘creativity’, and ‘insurgency’ for their cultural resonances and political salience. Then follow chapters detailing with rich and suggestive examples the three primary forms of creative insurgency at the heart of Kraidy’s study. A further section discusses the power of the analogy of the puppet to mock the regional autocrat’s fundamentally dependent and subordinate relationship to world powers. The book concludes with a set of reflections on some of the outcomes, disappointments, residual potentials of and reactions to the Arab uprisings as creative insurgency.