For the Egypt that has not only toppled it’s 30-year long dictator, Hosny Mubarak, but is also working on completely changing the system that helped install this dictator in place, it doesn’t make sense to hold on to the flag associated with the country since that system’s very establishment.
The current Egyptian flag was assigned by the “Free Officers” who toppled Egypt’s Monarch, King Farouk, in the 1952 military coup. Labeled the “Arab Liberation Flag”, the flag was designed to represent aspects relevant to the Free Officers responsible for the coup; three horizontal bands of equal sizes, red, white, and black. The red band symbolizes the period prior to the coup, a time characterized by the struggle against the monarchy. The white band symbolizes the bloodless nature of the coup. The black band symbolizes the end of the oppression of the Egyptian people.
The current “Eagle of Saladin” emblem in the white band of the flag, however, wasn’t used until 1984. Which means… the current eagle on our flag belongs to Mubarak’s regime. Back in Nasser’s days, the years between 1952 and 1958 to be specific, an earlier variant of the Eagle was used.
[Flag of the Arab Republic of Egypt (1984-present)]
[Egyptian Revolution Flag (1952-1958)]
A fun fact not many of us actually know is that even when the Kingdom was formally abolished by the “Free Officers” as the republic was declared on July 18, 1953, the flag of the Kingdom remained in official use until the formation of the United Arab Republic between Egypt and Syria in 1958, which featured the red-white-black flag design, but with two green stars in the white band instead of Saladin’s Eagle.
[Flag of the Kingdom of Egypt (1922-1953), but was in all actuality remained in official use until 1958]
[Flag of the United Arab Republic (1958-1971). Formed between Egypt and Syria, although Syria withdrew from the union in 1961, Egypt retained the official name and flag until 1971]
- We must change the current flag. It represents the military government formed by the Free Officers of 1952.
- The new flag should not include the color red, as it represents the struggle against the monarchy, which is not the Egypt of today.
- The new flag should not include the Eagle of Saladin emblem, as it was the emblem adopted in 1984 during Mubarak’s regime, the very regime we supposedly just toppled.
Mahmoud Hamdy, a prominent Egyptian graphic designer and typographer has a different opinion on the matter. “Before the revolution I believed the current Egyptian flag was not representative of Egypt at the time, but after the revolution, our flag became a symbol of freedom worldwide”, he claims, “I think the three colors should stay with only modifications occurring to the Eagle. It’s standing there like a soldier in riot gear. The post-revolution should spread his wings in glory. It will be a good symbol for our new start in Egypt and also represent freedom.”
[A simulation of Hamdy’s suggestion. The problem I spot here is the awfully military-esque nature of the Eagle’s design remains, even with the wings spread out.]
Ibraheem Youssef, an Egyptian designer currently based in Canada agrees with Mahmoud’s opinions, “I agree that the colors now have a very substantial symbolic presence in the global collective idea of what it means to be free. I also concur that the Eagle must undergo a metamorphosis, maybe as simple as wings that are spread open.”
[A design inspired by ancient Egyptian artifacts adopted for the wings, making them more lively to evoke a sense of ultimate freedom. The size of the white band is doubled, representing a dominance of peace, whereas the red and white bands are shrunk.]
Personally, I think the Eagle should be canned altogether, especially knowing that the Eagle is more a representation of Mubarak’s regime than it is of the Egyptian people. Before 1984, the Eagle had no place in Egypt’s conscience. Prior to 1984, the symbol on the white band was the Hawk of Qureish, adopted in 1972, when Egypt, together with Syria and Libya, formed the Federation of Arab Republics. The flag of Egypt should adopt a symbol that is far more representative of its people than it is of any specific regime.
[Flag of the Federation of Arab Republics (1972-1984). Although the Federation itself lasted until 1977, Egypt use of the flag continued until 1984, when the current flag was finally adopted.]
“What’s interesting is that Egypt’s flag without the Eagle is Yemen’s flag,” Ibraheem Youssef notices. That’s because what the 3-band flag the Free Officers labeled as The Arab Liberation Flag inspired its adoption by a number of Arab states between the 50’s and 60’s, mainly Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.
[Flag of Iraq (1963-1991)]
[Flag of Iraq (1991-2004) after Saddam Hussein decreed to include “Allahu Akbar” between the stars in his own handwriting, in an attempt to garner support from the Islamic world.]
[Flag of Syrian Arab Republic (1961-1963)]
[Flag of Yemen Arab Republic (1962-1990)]
[Flag of Yemen (1990-present), adopted the day North Yemen and South Yemen were unified.]
But just as Egyptians today are revolting against the very system installed by a group of military officers back in the 50’s, so is the rest of the Arab world. Keeping the flag that represents these unwanted systems would be one hell of an unthoughtful insult.
Ahmed Foula, another Canada-based Egyptian graphic designer suggests “How about just one color? Libya’s green flag was the only one-colored flag in the world. It looks like the Libyan people are intent on bringing back their old tri-color flag, the flag of the monarchy. If that’s the case, I’d be really happy to see Egypt adopt a one-color flag. It would really stand out.”
“That would be very powerful indeed,” agrees Ibraheem. “At one point I was just thinking white, but it’s unfortunately unanimously acknowledged as a global sign of surrender. Just black is synonymous with pirates/danger. Just red would be cool.”
I personally always thought the white flag was more a sign of peace rather than defeat. Even the song White Flag by the Gorillaz goes a little something like this:
No War, no guns
No corps, just life
Just love, no hate
Just fun, no ties
Just me and my mind
Just me and my wife
Look, respect the island, no stealing
And don’t bring religion here, no three kings
It’s great and we ain’t leaving
We come on in peace, sing
White flag, white flag.
Now that sounds a lot like the principals endorsed by the majority of Egyptian protestors, if you ask me.
Foula, as well, is inclined towards a white flag “White is the best choice، regardless of all the false preconceptions that could be associated with it. In fact, I believe it is the right choice because of all the false preconceptions surrounding it. Sort of like how ostriches have been thought to burry their heads in the sand out of fear, even though that is completely false.”
“The more I think of what a flag means, the more I’m convinced with the Egyptian flag being a single color with no graphics on it,” Ibraheem realizes, “Think about it, what just happened this past month was truly amazing and unbelievable. At one point, Egypt’s 26 provinces were all on the street, millions upon millions of people all united. A flag is symbolic of a nation. I’m at a point where I believe that less is truly more. More elements to me convey ‘division’.”
Shank, a Cairo-based graphic designer from Ismailia, agrees with the idea of a possible single-color flag, just so long as it isn’t white. “White just evokes a sense of surrendered comfort and weakness to me,” he feels, “Maybe just revamp the old flag a little bit though. Sort of like how a corporation would revamp its old logo without totally letting go of it. Perhaps we can take out the white entirely and just stick to black and red. Maybe divide the flag vertically and just have the eagle in the middle.”
[A possible simulation of Shank’s suggestion: black and red flag split vertically with the eagle in the middle.]
“I think we should consider something totally new,” says Aya Tarek, a graphic designer and artist based in Alexandria. “ The old red, white, and black, plus eagle, represents the old militarist coup. I really do think we should consider something totally new.”
[A suggested design by Shank, where the flag is a solid red, with only a flying emblem in the middle made up of the word “Horreya”. The Arabic word for “Freedom.”]
Ibraheem Youssef insists on white. “This revolution was not a religious one, it was not a secular one, it was not a military one, it was not a violent one. It was a peaceful one. Everybody chanting their demands in peace. Everyone was thinking ‘white’. Once we start playing with adding another color or even symbols, it just becomes more loaded.”
I must say, I’m cool with white, but I’m not entirely sure a symbol-less white flag is something we’re ready for. Ibraheem feels otherwise, “I truly think this is the perfect time and reason to embrace a single color as our flag to indeed reflect this unprecedented moment of overwhelming national unity.”
The thing about white is that I feel it reflects more than mere overwhelming national unity. This is backed by Ahmed Foula’s recalling the story of Lennon and Ono’s announcement of the formation of the state of Nutopia back in April 1973, describing it as a place with “no land, no boundaries, no passports, only people.” They then went off to wave the white flag of Nutopia; two handkerchiefs.
This, to me, makes sense. Egypt is still a country that does have a land, does have boundaries, does have passports, and many other qualities unworthy of its representation by a pure white flag. Based on the history of symbolism of Egypt’s current flag, however, I feel black and white are the main colors that should be used on our new flag; black being the end of Egyptian oppression, and white being the peaceful nature of the revolutionaries. Perhaps a predominantly white flag, signifying the prevalence of peace and the start of a new page, with only a symbol representing Egypt illustrated in black?
[A proposed new flag, comprised of a pure white background with only a winged Ankh in black right in the center. The Ankh is the ancient Egyptian “Key of Life,” and interpreted by many Egyptologists to symbolize the Nile and its Delta. The Nile is indeed the key of life to Egypt to this very day, and the symbol of the Ankh is held deeper to Egyptians than any eagle ever could. A winged Key of Life can symbolize a free life for Egyptians from now on. ]
But what is the significance of updating the Egyptian flag anyway? Although it might seem like a topic fetishized by a group of designers and artists, with no real affect on the masses, I believe it can have grave effects on things to come. First, to Egyptian military personnel, it would be a strong sign that their reign of control is over. The flag that they have adopted and the flag that they’ve saluted for all these years would be no more. They would now be forced to salute a new flag, a flag representative of the people, not of the military. It would be a constant reminder to them that there’s a new boss in town: the people of Egypt.
[A proposed flag representing an abstract pheonix, called “bennu” by the Ancient Egyptians, which is thought to be derived from the word “weben,” the ancient word for “rise” or “shine.” In this abstract version of the bird, a solar disk is embraced by the horns of a cow, a new dawn (sun disk) brought by the nurturing (cow) rise (pheonix) of the Egyptian people.]
To the world it would be a symbol of a new exciting Egyptian era to come. To the Egyptian people it would be a visual token of their success; they did it, they toppled the military regime, and its time for a brand new day.
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