by MATT BORS
Editorial cartoonists may take their ability to freely respond to events in their own country for granted. For Egyptian cartoonist Sherif Arafa, his most scathing work was drawn only for his own amusement, then locked in a drawer where even his editor couldn’t see it. For years, Arafa worked at Rosalussef, a state-run paper in Egypt, where he carefully butted up against the line of acceptable criticism–a line that once crossed has had grave consequences for journalists and opposition members in Egypt.
Arafa is accomplished in a number of fields. He’s a dentist as well as a popular author and motivational speaker that has lectured around the Arab world. For the last six months he has been employed as a staff cartoonist in the United Arab Emirates, where he is currently living. I interviewed Sherif about the uprising in Egypt, the censorship he faced there, and what he hopes will come from the revolution.
Matt Bors: You were prohibited from drawing the former President of Egypt your entire career. On February 14 we were happy to publish your first cartoon depicting him. Did you ever think you would be able to draw Hosni Mubarak?
Sherif Arafa: It was impossible to cartoon Mubarak in my newspaper. But I made many cartoons about Mubarak that I kept in a locked drawer! To be honest, I didn’t think I could publish them before Mubarak’s death. I expected this revolution to happen when his son tried to take his position. The funny thing is, every year I make a cartoon called, “The New Year Wishes” where I draw impossible things happening, like Israel declaring they will build settlements to give to Palestinians or Bin Laden apologizing to American and offering to build another Twin Towers. This year I was drawing another impossible thing, a book cover with a title, “I Was The President by Hosni Mubarak.” This was joke month ago! I didn’t even finish this cartoon because it was too dangerous.