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  • Revolutionizing the Graphic Novel:A Study of El-Shafee’s Metro
  • Iman Hanafy (bio)

The twenty-first century has been characterized by its revolutionary spirit. It has witnessed an awakening antagonism against political corruption, human rights violations, dictatorship, and economic decline. This social discontent has been accumulating for years, and has now produced revolutionary chains of demonstrations and protests against the existing regime. In the Arab world, more and more citizens refuse to accept the status quo. This revolution can also be found in literary works that feature radical changes of ideas and perspectives. The graphic novel is one of the revolutionary genres which has been developed recently. From being a comic story written for children, these novels have evolved into a means of personal expression intended for mature readers.

The Egyptian cartoonist Magdy El-Shafee is one of the pioneers of the graphic novel. He began his career as a writer of comic stories for children. He is the winner of the UNESCO award for his adventure comic Yasmin and Amina in 2006. El Shafee also introduces the first Arabic comic website in 2005 and establishes the first comic magazine El-Doshma, which focuses on human rights. Then he started writing graphic novels as another of his innovations of the conventional comic book.

El Shafee’s first graphic novel Metro: A Story of Cairo is an example of this innovation. It is acknowledged to be the first example of an Egyptian graphic novel intended for adults. This new revolutionary genre combines all the imagination and visual power of comic art with the richness of the traditional novel. Although Metro has its roots in comics, its power derives from its revolutionary spirit. Charlotte Bank writes, “As far as the general public in the Arab world was concerned, comics and animation films were for a long time nothing more than children’s entertainment. To this day, only a small amount of people know that the genre can address topical, even explosive subject matter” (2012).

Immediately after its publication in 2008, all copies of El Shafee’s Metro were suppressed because it includes inappropriate statements and pictures. The Egyptian censorship considers the book harmful to public ethics. The novel is banned from publication in Egypt and both the author and the [End Page 421] publisher were fined 5,000 Egyptian pounds. Although El Shafee’s Metro is still unavailable in Egypt itself, it has been published in Germany by Edition Moderne; then, as a response to growing interest, an English language version released “by Metropolitan Books, an imprint of the publisher Macmillan” (Holland 2012). It has also been published in Italian, and some Arabic copies are available in Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. The publication of El Shafee’s Metro outside Egypt is considered a slap in the face of the censorship which attempts to suppress personal expression. Metro gains a world-wide acceptance after it is banned in Egypt. It has been eagerly anticipated by many readers because of El Shafee’s critical intelligence and austere criticism of the political life of Egypt. Charlotte Bank comments:

Many of the Arab comics and graphic novels produced before and during the Arab Spring are both critical of society and politically provocative. Despite the uprisings in the region, difficult working conditions and the strict constraints of media censorship still pose a big problem for the rebellious artists.


El Shafee’s Metro: A Story of Cairo was banned during the President Mubarak era because it was regarded as a remarkably perceptive account of the political climate that represents the threatening atmosphere of chaotic violence in the Cairo streets. The novel becomes a symbol of resistance; this resistance is an attempt of opposing the existing dictatorship regime. El Shafee reports that his experience after writing the novel “includes harassment from Mubarak’s regime and several political figures from Mubarak’s regime” (Egypt’s banned graphic novel to be published in English, 2011).

In Metro, El Shafee portrays a world characterized by tyranny, insecurity, and uncertainty and sheds light on the profound changes that have flourished over Egypt in the last few years. He depicts the disappointments and aspirations of the youth who try to...


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pp. 421-434
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