Translating the Egyptian Revolution: Activist Use of Translation to Connect with Global Publics and Protest Movements

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Arts Languages and Cultures

Abstract

This study examines one aspect of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution which has received no attention in public or academic circles so far, namely, the language-based practices that allow Egyptian protestors to contest dominant narratives of the Revolution and, importantly, to connect with, influence and learn from regional and global movements of protest, including the Tunisian uprising and the 'Occupy' movement. More specifically, the study focuses on the use of translation by various groups of well educated and committed Egyptians who have the language resources to provide an alternative interface with global audiences, one that projects a different account of the Revolution than can be found in mainstream sources and simultaneously questions hegemonic, patriarchal narratives circulating within Egyptian society, for example by video-recording the testimonies of women who have been active in the Revolution and disseminating them on the web to question male-centred accounts of the uprising.

A cornerstone of the political activities of such groups is the circulation of written documents and audiovisual material that are originally produced in Arabic, to contest mainstream domestic narratives. These documents (press releases from activist groups, news not reported in mainstream sources, short documentary films) are then translated, primarily into English, in order to reach a wider global public and intervene in shaping narratives of the Revolution that circulate internationally. The study aims to offer a nuanced, empirical account of how these groups function, how they mobilise volunteer translators, how they see their relationship with global movements of justice, and what their modes of practice, including the selection of texts and audiovisual material to translate, might reveal about the extent to which they are embedded in the culture of global movements of collective action. In doing so, it sets out to demonstrate that translation is a key and pervasive mode of interaction that exercises significant influence on the way we come to understand the events unfolding around us at any moment in time. As a major tool of contestation, it is also increasingly used to connect activists across the world, and to demonstrate that local and global grievances cannot be addressed separately but must be negotiated and contested jointly across national and linguistic boundaries.

Planned Impact

The main beneficiaries of this research fall into the following groups:

(a) Policy makers in government organisations, e.g. Commonwealth & Foreign Office, have an intrinsic interest in understanding how different groups of Egyptian activists work, how they connect with other activists worldwide, and what narratives of the Revolution they are invested in promoting.

(b) Think tanks and interest groups with an interest in political movements in the Arab World, including the Egyptian Revolution, e.g. Foreign Policy Centre, Chatham House and Arab Reform Initiative, will benefit from findings about progressive, grassroots initiatives that offer alternative models of citizen-led mobilisation and contestation of mainstream narratives.

(c) Independent news services such as Democracy Now and Indymedia, as well as networks of bloggers and citizen journalists, such as Global Voices Online, which focus on circulating reports from blogs and other sources of citizen media in order to give space to voices that are not ordinarily heard in international mainstream media. These will benefit from findings about local Egyptian groups with compatible agendas.

(d) Non-profit and charitable media trusts such as One World Media, which support global media communities that promote dialogue, democracy and fair government worldwide will be interested in the findings for similar reasons.

(e) The wider British and European public. Perhaps more than any other political movement in the region, the Egyptian Revolution has captured the imagination of the general public everywhere. The outputs of this research will reveal a novel aspect of the Revolution that is hardly covered in mainstream media and will give exposure to the groups under study and their contribution to elaborating a different set of narratives of the Egyptian uprising.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description This project has confirmed that translation, including subtitling, is an integral part of any political project, whether those involved in the project are aware of its impact or not. Subtitling practices either undercut the project by failing to reflect or partake of its goals and values, or enhance it by providing an additional space for actualizing these values and enacting them textually and visually. The values examined include solidarity, respect for diversity and pluralism, a commitment to non-hierarchical and non-representational modes of practice, and a willingness to experiment and innovate rather than accept dominant practices and values. Subtitlers involved with the collectives examined in this project are positioned by the filmmakers, and position themselves, outside the collective proper, rather than as an organic part of the political project. For the prefigurative potential of subtitling to be realized, both filmmakers and subtitlers need to renegotiate their position vis-à-vis each other and the political project. As they do so, many factors will make the dialogue difficult: their physical separation across continents, given that volunteer subtitlers tend to be dispersed across cities, towns, countries and continents while film makers in place-based collectives such as those studied in this project tend to have regular face-to-face contact, at least while they're filming and editing; the persistent attitudes to translation that influence the way even political activists approach it, and the way subtitlers think of their role; the emotional burn out activists often experience, which leaves them little energy to reflect and act on yet another 'problem' that is understandably dwarfed by the momentous events they are trying to document; and the tremendous pressure and time restrictions under which both filmmakers and subtitlers work in the context of protracted protests and violent repression. Despite these challenges, the dialogue must be initiated and attitudes on both sides must be rethought if subtitling is to play a positive role in effecting the kind of global solidarity the world needs at this stage.
Exploitation Route By working more closely with different protest movements (in Spain, Turkey, Argentina, Hong Kong, etc) to describe the role of subtitling in mediating narratives of protest locally and globally and supporting or undercutting the values which seem to orient most protest movements today across the globe, and by engaging in dialogue with activists involved in this movement and the subtitlers (and translators) who mediate the documentary material they produce, in order to raise awareness among both groups of the impact of subtitling practices on the entire political project and the global movement for justice more broadly.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description Beirut Beirut Imaginary School Programme: Prefigurative Politics and Creative Subtitling 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact 25 young Egyptian film makers and activists invited me to run a workshop for them on subtitling for protest movements, and specifically in the context of the Egyptian revolution. This was at a time when the military takeover had closed up all avenues of political expression and outlawed protest on the streets, and activists were (and still are) turning to cultural spaces and themes to continue to foster dialogue under extremely adverse conditions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://beirutbeirut.org/Beirut/events/54b53c685562753cbf080000
 
Description Cairo Conference March 2015: The Only Thing Worth Globalizing Is Dissent 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A large conference organised in the heart of Cairo, in an independent art space (Townhouse) that was raided and closed down a few months after the conference. The event attracted over 250 participants from all walks of life, including cultural workers (film makers, photographers), embassy personnel, human rights organisations, media representatives (including Reuters), lecturers, students and activists based in Egypt as well as many from abroad. Keynotes and workshops were video recorded and are available on the conference site: see https://globalizingdissent.wordpress.com/resources-2/. The conference was billed as a huge success and provided a much needed platform for networking and political expression during a period that witnessed exceptional levels of repression in Egypt. Reviews are available for instance, at http://www.madamasr.com/sections/culture/globalizing-dissent-egyptian-civil-society-and-limits-translation and http://muftah.org/a-conference-in-cairo/#.VsbkJccftSX.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://globalizingdissent.wordpress.com
 
Description Hong Kong City University 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact An invited presentation of findings from an AHRC Fellowship that concluded at the end of March 2015. Title of presentation: Subtitling for Protest Movements: Creative Strategies and Political Principles
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Hong Kong University 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact An invited seminar attended by Professors and students from various disciplines. Title: The Prefigurative Politics of Subtitling in the Egyptian Revolution
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description IATIS Conference, Belo Horizonte, Brazil: The Prefigurative Potential of Creative Subtitling 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact This is the largest, triennial conference of the International Association for Translation and Intercultural Studies. Despite many panels running at the same time, the presentation was packed and additional chairs had to be found to accommodate attendees. The talk was extremely well received and sparked conversations and debates that extended well beyond the event itself.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.iatis.org/images/IATIS_2015_Programme_full.pdf
 
Description Interview with Free Word 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This is an interview with the Free Word Centre, an international centre for literature, literacy and free expression, based in London. The interview is available online and has been read by many people.

New requests for interviews and publications on my research project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL https://freewordcentre.com/blog/2014/06/speaking-freely-mona-baker/
 
Description Keynote, 'Translation in Protest Movements: The Case of the Egyptian Revolution', conference organised by the European Humanities Research Centre, University of Oxford, 1-2 November 2013 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk sparked questions and discussion afterwards, as academic talks normally do.

N/A
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.torch.ox.ac.uk/translating-european-languages-history-ideology-and-censorship
 
Description National Changhua University of Education, Taiwan - Translation in Protest Movements 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact A very well received keynote which led to further invitations (to Hong Kong University) and connections with activists involved in the Umbrella Movement.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description National Taiwan University, Subtitling in the Egyptian Revolution 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Further invitations ensued.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Public Lecture University of Leuven Brussels December 2016: Fluidity, Uncertainty and Distance: Researching Volunteer Subtitling in the Context of an Unfolding Revolution 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact A larger than anticipated audience attended and many invitations for further talks and discussions of potential collaboration followed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Public lecture at Sichuan University, Chengdu, China, November 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A public lecture at Sichuan University, attended by a large audience of professors, students, and members of the public. The lecture presented some of the main findings of the Fellowship research project on the role of translation in the Egyptian revolution.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Seminar at American University in Cairo on Subtitling in the Egyptian revolution 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Approximately 15 postgraduate students and lecturers attended and debated some of the findings of my research on the political impact of subtitling choices in the context of the Egyptian revolution.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6NTBds1W50
 
Description Seminar at Bristol University Researching Subtitling in the Egyptian Revolution November 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Seminar discussing challenges in the context of researching an unfolding revolution.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Seminar at Hull University: Translating Dissent: The Prefigurative Politics of Subtitling in the Egyptian Revolution, 11 February 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Seminar on current research into subtitling in the Egyptian Revolution.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Subtitling Workshop Mosireen 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A workshop on activist subtitling was delivered to a group of film makers and volunteer subtitlers in Cairo, Egypt, to encourage them to think of more creative and politically aware aspects of subtitling films that document ongoing protests and the state's response to them. The workshop resulted in excellent debate beyond the event itself, and in one award winning film maker writing an essay on the issues discussed, and which she had not considered at all before the workshop. The workshop was video recorded and is available to a wide range of audiences on the web.

One award winning film maker has engaged extensively with the issues discussed in an extended essay due to be published early next year. Other film makers have been raising the issues concerned in interviews and in the mailing list of a prominent activist group in Egypt.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.translationstudiesportal.org/ar/media/entry/subtitling_workshop
 
Description Translating Dissent: Researching the Prefigurative Politics of Subtitling in the Egyptian Revolution (Manchester) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Keynote at Symposium entitled 'Researching Translation in the Context of Popular Culture', attended by scholars (lecturers) and research students from wide range of institutions, and including a delegation from Cairo University.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://artisinitiative.org/events/events/manchester2015/
 
Description University of Liege, Belgium: Rethinking the Prefigurative Potential of Translation in Place-Based Movements: The Egyptian Revolution 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Keynote at an international conference held at the University of Liege, Belgium and attended by scholars and lecturers from various countries and disciplines. The keynote sparked considerable discussion and led to further invitations and requests for considering collaborations in future.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description University of Padova, Italy: Subtitling the Revolution: Challenging Gender Categories in Words of Women from the Egyptian Revolution 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Roundtable debate organised by the Next Generation Global Studies Research Group at the University of Padova, Italy (Department of Political Science, Law and International Studies).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description • Invited Lecture, 'The Prefigurative Politics of Volunteer Subtitling in the Egyptian Revolution', Institute of Humanities & Global Cultures, University of Virginia, USA, November 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Talk sparked questions

Exploring future collaboration
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description • Invited Panel Presentation, 'The Prefigurative Politics of Translation in Place-Based Movements of Protest', Activist Humanities conference, University of Oxford, 13-15 March 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk sparked many questions and much discussion, and was referred to repeatedly in the final roundtable as a way forward in thinking about activist humanities and the value of the humanities

Several invitations followed for giving talks elsewhere, including from the Director of the Institute of Humanities and Global Cultures, University of Virginia, USA
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.torch.ox.ac.uk/activist-humanities
 
Description • Keynote, 'Quality and Creativity in Subtitling for Protest Movements: Examples from the Egyptian Revolution', Translation & Interpreting Forum, Palacký University, Olomouc, Czech Republic, 19 September 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talked spared questions

Further invitations
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://atp.anglistika.upol.cz/tifo/
 
Description • Keynote, 'Translation in Protest Movements: The Case of the Egyptian Revolution', Annual Conference of the American Translation and Interpreting Studies Association, New York, 3-5 April 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk spared questions and discussion afterwards

Further invitations
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.scps.nyu.edu/academics/departments/foreign-languages/events/translation-conference.html
 
Description • Martha Cheung Memorial Lecture, 'The Prefigurative Politics of Volunteer Subtitling in the Egyptian Revolution', Hong Kong Baptist University, 21 May 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk sparked questions and inspired prospective PhD students to explore new topics

Additional requests for admission to doctoral programme at the Centre for Translation & Intercultural Studies, University of Manchester
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.translationstudiesportal.org/zh/media/entry/public_lecture_by_professor_mona_baker_at_hon...
 
Description • Plenary, 'Translation in Protest Movements', Translation and Comparative Cultural Studies - East and West in Dialogue, Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies, University of London, 8-9 May 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk spared questions and discussion

Further invitations plus request for Free Word Centre Interview (already recorded above)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/ctccs/events/conferences-and-public-lectures/conference-in-may-2014.aspx
 
Description • TII Distinguished Public Talk, 'Subtitling for Protest Movements: Creative Strategies & Political Principles', Translation & Interpreting Institute, Hamad Bin Khalifa University, Qatar, 21 October 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talked sparked many questions

Requests for collaboration on grant proposals to be submitted to Qatar National Foundation
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014