As the possibility of a genuine democracy emerges, Egyptians are being confronted with questions about their political future, which, a year ago, seemed the preserve of civics textbooks or academic conversations between political scientists. Now, discussions about list-based vs. single-winner electoral systems and civil vs. religious constitutions are commonplace.
While the media provides a platform for these forces, less attention has been paid to breaking down the sometimes complex political issues for the public. That is where Qabila TV comes in.
The idea for Qabila (or “tribe”), a group that produces online civic education videos, serendipitously emerged six months before the revolution began, according to founders of the group. The group, which is funded by its members, went live in April.
PR manager Mohamed Elshafie said that a group of 12 friends – doctors, engineers and members of the media – with a similar vision came together with the idea of producing alternative media for civic education. While their project began during the stagnant political life of the Mubarak era, their mission got a boost with the opening up of political conversation after 11 February.
“There was a political awareness opportunity after the revolution – a large void that needed to be filled, because Egypt has been detached from political participation over the course of the last 30 years,” Elshafie says.
Qabila fills this void through its “Citizen’s Guide to Understanding Politics” a series of playful cartoon infographics. The short videos, which last between three and five minutes are distributed over the group’s Youtube channel and spread on Twitter and Facebook.
Delivered in Egyptian colloquial Arabic, each infographic begins with videos of Egyptian citizens being asked to define political concepts.
Some of the responses are unexpectedly bizarre: When asked to name the branches of power, three people listed them as the Interior Ministry, the army and the people.
Another man, apparently not joking, said “Ganzoury and Zoweil,” in reference to the former Minister for Parliamentary Affairs and a noble-prize winning scientist.
Elshafie says that “usually 18 out of 20 people we video in the street give strange or wrong answers,” adding that the aim of these man-on-the-street interviews is not to mock but “rather to expose the dearth of information.”
It is the humor of Qabila’s videos that has made them so popular. The eight videos produced as part of the Citizen’s Guide to Understanding Politics have received tens of thousands of hits.
The group uses lighthearted illustrations to educate viewers. In the video about the separation of powers, for example, the legislative branch is illustrated through reference to the People’s Assembly in Egypt, congress in America and, ironically, Muammar Qadhafi in Libya, as we see a cartoon of the missing dictator sitting in his golf cart with an umbrella.
The video explains that under Mubarak, “the three branches of power had nothing to do with each other and each one was above questioning by the other.”
In another video, the civil state is explained by presenting the state as a bride, looking for a groom and having three options to choose from: theocracy, military rule or a civil state.
While the only purpose of a theocracy “might appear to be carrying out God’s will on earth,” the video says, the problem is that “when you disagree with it, mate, it will tell you ‘I’m God’s representative on earth’ and might label you a non-believer.”
The civil state is described as the “lovely bride” with whom disagreeing about anything is “completely OK.” It adds that like all other political systems, the civil state has to use a reference for legislation. In Egypt, that reference is Sharia, in accordance with the Constitution.
There is a strong liberal bias in Qabila’s videos, but Elshafie says the group has “no political affiliation.”
“We come from different political backgrounds – as you can see in our videos, we’re not here to deliver a specific message,” he says.
And the revolution, of course, has shaped that message and how it is delivered.
“Qabila wouldn’t have existed in its present form if the revolution hadn’t happened. It has given us a great push. We’re free to express ourselves and talk,” Elshafie says.