How is the body produced as a site of repression and resistence? Sherene Seikaly, Co-Editor at Jadaliyya, as well as Assistant Professor of History and Director of the Middle East Studies Center at the American University of Cairo, tackles this question by exploring the ways in which the Egyptian state`s production of the body as a terrorized and passive political subject inspired people to take their lives into their own hands and revolt.
The state`s theatrics of domination reveal a deep and sinister hatred of the Egyptian people as a collective body and as individual bodies. Both men and women are subject to various types of brutality, the “mundane,” scripted as political, and the “sexual,” scripted as gendered. We should remember that one opening salvo of the last two years of Arab uprising was the spectacle of burnt flesh. Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-mutilation overturned authoritarian regimes’ staging of the body as a place to produce power. He turned his body into a surface of vigorous if desperate political revolt.
As the Mubarak regime fell, the military continued to use brutality and torture to mold male and female bodies. But revolutionaries transformed disfiguration into badges of political maturity. Eye patches became ubiquitous; even the venerable lions of Qasr al-Nil bridge donned them as symbols of the deformed but steadfast body. Samira Ibrahim was one particularly powerful tourist of state rationalities. From the military, to the medical, to the legal, she had completed what Allen Feldman called the “itinerary of all the different and specialized things the repressive apparatus does to bodies.” The military tribunal which acquitted the military doctor who had conducted the “virginity tests” of rape and further concluded that the “virginity tests” had never been conducted in the first place signaled the end of Samira’s journey for re-formation in the halls of the Egyptian state. Torture, mutilation, and death continue to be the inevitabilities of opposition to authoritarianism. Activists, scholars, and politicians struggle to understand what is driving Arabs from Tunis to Damascus to Qatif to take their lives in their hands and on to the streets. People had overcome the obstacle of fear, they concluded. But it is not just the fear of mutilation that revolutionaries overcome; it is also the fear of public shame.
The interview was produced by the American University of Cairo Office of Communications.