The graphic on this shirt comes from an issue of Abou Naddara, a late 19th century satirical newspaper founded by an Egyptian-Italian Jewish writer and nationalist named Yaqub Sanua [1839-1912]. Abou Naddara (literally Father of Glasses) started in Cairo when Sanua, spurred on by fellow intellectuals Mohammad Abduh and Jamal al-din al-Afghani, anonymously published a series of anonymous pieces in which he obliquely criticized the khedival government ruling Egypt at the time. These pieces — written in a comical, sketch-like format informed by Sanua’s previous involvement in the theater — enjoyed some acclaim and ultimately inspired him to formally establish Abou Naddara as a weekly periodical in March of 1877.
Not before long, Khedive Ismail suppressed Abou Naddara as a revolutionary paper and Sanua was exiled to France in June of 1878. Sanua, unfazed, continued to produce Abou Naddara abroad, printing upwards of 5,000 copies per issue in Paris’ second arrondisement. The zine-like publication featured an array of texts : political cartoons drawn by Sanua himself, with French captions ; bits of dialogue or jokes written in colloquial Arabic ; polemics penned in classical Arabic railing against the khedive’s bloated spending, the British occupation of Egypt.
At only four pages, Abou Naddara issues were small enough to be concealed between other documents and smuggled into Egypt, where they were widely available and regularly reached subscribers. Every week issues would be read aloud to large crowds on corners & coffee shops across the country. Memoirs of Egypt from the late 19th century attest to its immense popularity. One British observer, writing in the 1870s, wrote that Abou Naddara “was in every barrack, in every government office … in every town and village it was read with the liveliest delight.”
Looking back at issues — many of which have been digitized and span three decades, until 1910 — Abou Naddara remains provocative. Taken together, Sanua’s political critiques, elegant illustrations, and colloquial dialogues are an arresting meeting of high and low culture, traditional and vernacular literary forms. And while Sanua routinely downplayed Abou Naddaramerely as “a thing to be laughed at,” the paper’s slant and tone suggest a deeper side to the story. His newspaper was revolutionary, in retrospect, precisely because it could present biting satires of the day’s many political & economic injustices in an engaging, informal format — one that was orally transmittable (and thus truly addressed) to the mostly illiterate Egyptian masses. This wide-ranging audience, coming to grips with their collective identity, would eventually form the backbone of the nationalist uprisings led by Ahmed Urabi and others that sought an end to khedival rule & European imperialism, an Egypt for Egyptians (Masr lil Masriyeen)