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Cairo Punch: How One Egyptian Combated Colonialism Through Satirical Cartoons

June 7, 2022
Image Credit: Library of Congress Archives

In the winter of 1907, a former Egyptian army officer of the Orabi Revolt tried to combat colonialism once more – this time through satirical illustrations.

When Abdul Hamid Zaki founded his illustrative magazine, he aimed to provide a platform for nationalist commentary and colonial struggle that could reach children and adults, illiterate or literate.

To the Egyptians, it was known as Al-Siyasa Al-Musawara (Politics Illustrated). To the colonialists, it was satirically called Cairo Punch, referring to England’s very own satirical magazine, Punch.

“In journalism, I noticed an empty space and so I occupied it, and in politics, I saw a lack so I made it up…a newspaper silent of tongue but expressive of inner feelings, symbols, and gestures that make it unnecessary to communicate with proclamations,” explained Zaki in the first edition of his magazine.

Cairo Punch was by no means the most informative nationalist press present at that time. But through Zaki’s political caricatures and political commentary, he helped raise global awareness of Egypt’s fight for independence against colonial powers – reaching audiences as far as New York and Tokyo.

Zaki would go on to circulate monthly illustrations from 1907 until 1923, while in Bologna due to exile. Not much is known of the illustrator beyond 1923, but his works remain; a documentation of the Egyptian nationalist struggle against colonialism.

‘The Modern Civilization of Europe’, 1908-1914

Image Credit: Library of Congress Archives

France and England are illustrated toasting a drink over the corpses of Moroccan and Egyptian martyrs, referencing the fire of Casablanca and the Denshawy Riot.

‘The English Councillors’, 1908-1911

Image Credit: Wikipedia

Sir Eldon Gorst, British Consul-General in Egypt from 1907 to 1911, puppeteering Egypt’s ministers: ‘War Ministry’, ‘Interior’, ‘Foreign’, ‘Justice’, ‘Works’, and ‘Finance’, indicating Gorst’s control over the Egyptian government.

Untitled Illustration, 1908

Image Credit: Springer

Egypt’s independent nationalist newspapers, hoisting red banners, marching towards Egypt’s future liberation from colonialism. Mokattam, falling behind in the march, is disfigured into an animal, based on the notion that they were funded by England.

‘Happy Are The Free’, 1909

Image Credit: Library of Congress Archives

An Ottoman soldier plays the violin to dancing women waving the Ottoman flag while colonized nations in shackles listen to the music solemnly.

Untitled Cartoon, 1907

Image Credit: Springer

‘Dr. John Bull’ – a national personification of the British Empire – leans over a sickly woman, being treated with leeches, labeled as Egypt’s neighboring nations. In the corner sits a religious Egyptian man, with the caption Al-masri yabki li misr (The Egyptian weeps for Egypt).

Commander of all Seas and Lands, 1907

Image Credit: Springer

‘John Bull’ stands at the center of the illustration, with satirical angel wings and an inflated head. To his left are European neighbors, smaller and weaker. To this right are the ‘British Colonies’ – Australia is pictured as treated as a butterfly whereas Egypt is treated as a scorpion.

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