Satirical Papyrus and Modern Cartoonists (Part II)

Saroukhan and the History of Egyptian Cartoons

By Prof. Talaat I. Farag

In the previous issue, The Ambassadors Magazine offered the first part in a series that covered the history of cartoons. We tried to answer the question of who is the first cartoonist. The FEATURES section presented the Satirical Papyrus in Torino Museum, Italy as circumstantial evidence that the Ancient Egyptians, who drew these images over 3000 years ago may be the first cartoonists. In this episode, we offer a chronological look at the tradition of cartoons in the Arab world.

The establishment of Al-Ahram daily newspaper in Egypt on Saturday, August 5, 1876, by Selim and Beshara Takla Pasha heralded the birth of the journalistic tradition in Egypt. Other major landmarks include the contributions of Mustafa and Ali Amin in founding Akhbar El-Yum in 1941 cannot be forgotten, since its first issue sold 126,000 copies. In 1952, President Nasser founded Al-Gomhoriya daily newspaper and appointed Lt. Col. Anwar Sadat as Editor. These three major dailies Al-Ahram, Al-Akhbar, and Al-Gomhoriya distribute a cumulative count of 5 million copies daily. Besides these three major institutions, other developments strongly affected the progress of cartooning in Egypt. The establishment of the School of Fine Arts in 1908 had a key role in the birth of  many political and social cartoonists in the country. Other publications facilitated a leap in the Egyptian cartoon tradition. George Bey Zidan founded Dar El-Hilal Institute and Al-Musawar magazine, and Mrs. Fatima Al-Yusef founded Ros El-Yusef weekly magazine. The arrival of Sabah El-Kheir (Good Morning) weekly magazine in 1956 brought together many of the young cartoonists in the country and can be considered as a cornerstone to the evolution of Egyptian modern political and social cartoons. Today, there are close to 600 newspapers and magazines publishing in Egypt, some of which represent the opposition parties. Cartoonists play a significant role in these publications and their work often appears in newspapers across the Arab world. Today, all the Egyptian and Arab newspapers and magazines are full of political and social cartoons, since there are many cartoonists following this school beginning in the 20th century. 

Saroukhan: The Armenian-Egyptian Cartoonist (1898-1977)

The Armenian, Saroukhan, came to Alexandria in 1924 in a very difficult journey through Belgium and then Austria in his childhood, escaping civil strife and persecution of Armenians by the Turks. He was lucky to meet the famous journalist, Mohamed Al-Tabae, chief editor of Ros El-Youssef magazine, and began drawing its cover from March 1928 until 1934.They then both moved to Akhir Sa'a (The Last Hour) weekly magazine in 1934. He was lucky again that in 1946, the twins Mustafa and Ali Amin made him join them in their weekly magazine, Akhbar El-Yom, which he worked for until his death in 1977. In his half a century career with Egyptian magazines, he has drawn more than 20,000 cartoons and wrote 2 books containing some of his most famous political and social cartoons. Saroukhan lived to love Egypt and Egyptians loved him back, particularly since his cartoons had positive political impacts on life in the country. To this day, Saroukhan is remembered for his sense of humor and creating the fictional cartoon character, Al-Masry Afandi (Mr. Egypt), as a symbol representing the conservative Egyptian citizen. This caricature was meant to reflect Egyptian identity the same way Uncle Sam represents the United States of America. In the first issue of Akhir Sa'a weekly magazine, the cover was a drawing that had the chief editor, Saroukhan and Al-Masry Afandi holding hands and marching with a banner of the magazine's name. Below are three of his political cartoons from World War II. The first shows Al-Masry Afandi with Saroukhan between Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin and De Gaulle. The second symbolizes the cornering of Adolf Hitler from the West (Churchill) and East (Stalin). The last drawing discusses how peace can be revived following the destruction of the Nazi "evil."



Saroukhan and his Trilogy

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A Pedigree of Egyptian Cartoonists

There is no doubt that Saroukhan left a legacy for most future cartoonists. He is the god-father for cartoonists in Egypt. The three pioneers that were influenced and inspired by his art and continued his legacy were Rakha (the father of the Egyptian cartoonists), Zuhdy (the founder of the Library of Cartoons) and the powerhouse Toughan (the founder of Caricature magazine with his colleague Mustafa Hussein).

Rakha: Father of Modern Egyptian Cartoonists (1913-1989)

While Saroukhan can be considered the founder of modern cartoons, Rakha would be the father of Egyptian cartoons. He studied at Leonardo da Vinci's School of Fine Art in Cairo and worked for 13 magazines throughout his career, of which Ishmi'na (Why Not?)  magazine was one that he personally founded. As a result of one of his political cartoons, Rakha served a jail sentence of 4 years. Among the magazines which he drew for were Ros Al-Yusef, Akhir Sa'a and Akhbar El-Yum. One of his major contributions was his creation of several cartoon characters representing different personalities present in real life Egyptian society. Seven of these personalities are presented below and we describe them from left to right. First there is the dwarf long-mustached weak gentleman named Sabe Afandi (Mr. Courageous), who is controlled by his hugely obese dominant wife next to him, Rafe'a Hanem (Mrs. Thin). The third character is a man with a donkey's head representing an ignorant stupid annoying argumentative personality who always claims to "know it all" named Homar Afandi (Mr. Donkey). The fourth personality represents the emergence of a new class in Egyptian society, which Rakha depicts in a well-dressed obese man known as Ghany Al-Harb (Mr. War Rich) who made his wealth from illegal business practices during the time of World War II. Next to him is Ibn Al-Balad (Son of the Land), a character representing the Egyptian commoners who always tries to flirt with the pretty Bint Al-Balad (Daughter of the Land), who are both dressed in the traditional costumes. The seventh character represents a chronic alcoholic rich man living a leisurely lifestyle which he named, Sakran Basha (Drunken Pasha)

Zuhdi: Founder of the Library of Cartoons (1917-1994)

The well-known cartoonist, Zuhdi, was born in Sharkiya province and spent all of his working career with Ros Al-Yusif and Sabah Al-Kheir from the 1960s as well as making cartoons for 25 other magazines. He benefited from his father, who was a photographer, and focused primarily on the issues of marginalized farmers and workers. As a result of his political cartoons and activism, he was imprisoned many times. He left his mark for future generations of cartoonists when he founded the the Library of Cartoons as well as the Egyptian Cartoonists Society in 1984 for which he nominated Rakha as the first chairman of this society until his death in 1987, whereby he took over the post. Zuhdy was convinced that cartoons were not for entertainment at all, and is known for saying that, "The community is in great need for caricature, because the cartoonist is a psychologist who warns, advises and treats the social illnesses." One of his most famous unforgettable cartoons depicts a huge Uncle Sam sitting on the UN headquarters, while the world is dwarfed underneath him.


Toughan and "Toughanism" (1926 -)

In the MEGASTARS section of a previous issue of The Ambassadors Magazine (Vol.4, Issue 1 - January 2001), we published the life and philosophy of the renowned cartoonist, Toughan. His cartoons started to be published in Egyptian newspapers in 1946, and worked for both Ros Al-Yusif and Akhbar Al-Yum. He is one of the founders of Al-Gomhorriya newspaper in 1952. Toughan published 12 books, including some about his trips to Algeria and Yemen, and the Palestinian conflict. In 1957, one of his most well-known books, Kadaya Al-Sho'ub (Nations' Issues) contained an introduction by his friend Anwar Sadat, chief editor of Al-Gumhorriya who later on become the Egyptian president following the sudden death of President Nasser in 1970. Many consider Toughan, who was influenced by Saroukhan, Rakha and Zuhdy, as the continuation of Egyptian cartoonists which began in ancient times with the Satirical Papyrus. There is no doubt that his long friendship with the satirical writer, the "Naughty Boy" Mahmoud El-Saadany, left a mark on his cartoons and writings. Much of Toughan's cartoons focused on national, regional and global issues, with particular interest in issues relating to human rights, and world peace. In July 1996, he was the first cartoonist to present the events occurring in Afghanistan with the coming to power of the Taliban regime. In addition to being a cartoonist, Toughan is also a novelist, poet, political writer, philosopher and fighter. Here are a few of his political cartoons.

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(Click on cartoon to enlarge)


NEXT ISSUE - Other Modern Egyptian Cartoonists (Part III)

Dr. Talaat I. Farag, MD, FRCP(E), FACP, FACMG, is a community geneticist and syndromologist. He is the founder of The Ambassadors Research Foundation in 1998. Email: drfarag@ambassadors.net