28. August 2013 · Kommentare deaktiviert für Arabellion: Der Protest Diskurs – „Hau ab!“ (Nader Srage) · Kategorien: Mittelmeerroute · Tags:

N. Srage: The Protest Discourse

Orient-Institut Studies 2 (2013)

Nader Srage

The Protest Discourse: The Example of „Irhal“ (Go/Get Out/Leave)


This article tackles the phenomenon of the „clause equivalent“,1 a one-word statement that functions as a word and formulates a highly significant, semantically condensed verbal clause. Our case study of the clause equivalent „Irhal“, meaning go/get out/leave, reflects in its single unit and tenor the passion of rebellious youth calling for change.

Young people adopted the form and content of this concise imperative in order to affirm their awareness of the priorities of political change. The addressee of the statement (the person who is demanded to leave) is in effect the unjust, oppressive and corrupt ruler, whom the Arab revolutionary activists demand to depart immediately from power, and to leave the country with his cronies, his party and his family members, and to dismantle the pillars of his regime. In Part 1, we will present some preliminary conclusions of a larger study on political slogans in the Arab region, focusing on the clause equivalent „Irhal“. They are based on a number of general observations summarized in Part 2.

Part 1: The Clause Equivalent „Irhal“


The clause equivalent comes in the form of a single word, but contains a subject and a predicate. It thus has a complete meaning. In our language system, every written unit between two spaces is considered as a word, so that a clause equivalent counts as one word. Yet it is grammatically composed of two words, a verb and an implied subject. When it occurs at the beginning of a sentence it comprises what we call complements, such as „Oh Mubarak go, Allah is sufficient for us and He is an excellent Guardian“ (ارحل يا مبارك، حسبنا الله ونعم الوكيل).


The most famous example of a clause equivalent in the context of the Arab uprisings is the French slogan launched in Tunisia, Dégage.2 It was not long before it gained its Arabic tinge and a mass affirmation in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in the form of „Irhal“ and similar slogans in classical or colloquial Arabic, and as „Go out“ in English. In no time, „Irhal“ was chanted by protesters in several Arab cities, from Tripoli and Benghazi to Sana’a, Damascus and Aleppo, and all the way to Manama.


The clause equivalent „Irhal“ that is the subject of this case study of revolutionary slogans was declared „Mot de l’Année 2011“ (Word of the Year 2011) in its French version Dégage at a French festival for language lovers. The jury considered it „an eloquent expression that sums up the revolutions, for this concise word shook the thrones in many Arab states during the past months.“3 In accordance with the „globalization of anger“ principle, it spread virally to Israel, where college students carried banners with the slogan „Irhal“ both in Arabic and Hebrew.4 They also waved sarcastic banners that read „After Mubarak and Asad, down with Netanyahu“.5 The slogan then reached social networking sites, and continued spreading. London, for instance, had its share of slogans, such as „Irhal (David Cameron) means GO, do you understand or NO!“6 It also reached the United States in what was referred to as the „American Spring“, with liberation squares emerging in American cities to oppose suppression, and even Russia experienced a „Russian Spring“.7 Nor was Iranian president Ahmadinejad spared. A banner put up in Rio de Janeiro during his visit to Brazil stated in unmistakable terms: „Ahmadinejad Go Home“.8


This compelling imperative verb calling for departure had many reverberations. An amusing Egyptian caricature depicted presidents Asad, Gaddafi and Saleh looking up the word „Irhal“ in dictionaries.9 „Irhal“ was also adopted as the title of a comic play staged in Amman in August 2011, tackling the dissociation between military revolutions and the dissatisfaction of intellectuals.10 As for Dégage, it became the title of a French book related to slogans of the Tunisian revolution, published in 2012.11

The Concept of Departure


Our linguistic analysis of this popular example of a protest discourse shows that „Irhal“ functions as a linguistic sign. It is a self-sufficient, expressive, condensed and rapidly delivered message with a clear signifier and signified. Its meaning and form have combined in a political semantic field, whose connotations are no secret to the rebellious Arab street. As mentioned, it is an easily uttered clause equivalent, with magical impact and deep effect. It made its way at record speed into the rhetoric of the squares, and has penetrated the Arab political discourse without asking for permission. It has become widely known in the so-called Arab Spring countries, ripening in their rebellious environments, as well as in other supportive, sympathizing or friendly countries, and even in enemy countries.


The imperative form „Irhal“ did not come out of a void. The rebellious crowds picked it out of their rich, expressive vocabulary and classical language, and showed great ingenuity in using it: writing it on banners, voicing it on several occasions, setting it to the melody of popular chants, singing it to the rhythm of rap music, staging it in several creative styles, and drawing it in masterly fashion on urban murals. In the end, they brandished it as a „red card“ in the face of their unjust rulers and the latter’s cronies, relatives, parties and all who had been persecuting the people, violating their rights, and wreaking havoc for so long.


Political messages of popular protest, such as „Irhal“ and „Kifaya [Enough]“ (كفاية), have been used by Egyptian crowds since 2004. These slogans blossomed in the spontaneous live speeches delivered in the squares. Rebellious youth carried them on banners and spread them across social media and the Internet, as well as in political analyses and sarcastic comments in caricatures, jokes, anecdotes and defamatory statements. The many circumstances in which „Irhal“ was demanded created a positive emotional state in those using it, awakening their latent potential, and stirring up long-standing rightful demands whose fulfilment was constantly hindered by those whom they were asking to leave. This clause equivalent had an intense impact on the demonstrators. It became a protest weapon they brandished, raising their voices to overturn injustices and put an end to the coercion and oppression they had suffered. Under these regimes, the people neither dared to address their presidents openly nor to hold them accountable, let alone demand their departure, topple their regimes and publicly shout the rulers’ names and those of their immediate relatives.


The popular rhetoric of the squares that bravely confronted the authoritarian discourse emerged in its simplest manifestation as a compelling clause equivalent, in form and content, shifting from wishes, requests and appeals to transformational action. Along with similar expressions, it contributed to the toppling of regimes and the overthrow of rulers, to ending the entrenched practice of nepotism and political inheritance, and ultimately to changing the balance of power in the region. In fact, the key to the Arab Revolutions in the third millennium did not need an ideological „Manifesto“, or a „Proclamation Nr. 1“. It did not rely on pronouncements by Egyptian radio presenter Ahmad Said, or sagas like those of former Iraqi minister of information Mohammed Said al-Sahaf.12


„Irhal“ is a comprehensive and condensed means of expression whose place and date of origin are – as usual – disputed. Kuwaitis claim it goes back to the year 2009, when they demanded the departure of their prime minister;13 while the Lebanese assert that they were the first to raise the slogan „Go [fill]“ (فلّ), which means „Irhal“ in colloquial Lebanese Arabic, when addressing their former president Emile Lahoud in 2005. Likewise, the Tunisians who wielded the French equivalent Dégage in 2010, and the Egyptians who have been using it since 2004, claim to be the undisputed precursors. Regardless of where it first appeared, it is clear that „Irhal“ and its equivalents stem from a popular expression of emotion that made full use of linguistic eloquence in all its forms, mechanisms, and symbolic connotations. It catalysed political action towards change through the people and their voices.


A sense of humour and sarcastic critical style has proved helpful in adapting this wandering slogan to local contexts. In special or unstable conditions, our linguistic records show an abundance of alternative funny expressions produced by the public, inspired by their daily lives and experiences, thus imparting „the spirit of the Egyptian street“ – known for its combination of critical sense and humour – to purely political expressions. In our larger research project on the word „Irhal“ we have found concrete examples reflecting the capacity of the public to exploit sarcasm, a rhetorical device for expressing an opposite meaning by disparaging, discrediting, exaggerating, or adding the „street spirit“ to the myriad comical and witty sayings surrounding the idea of departure, expulsion or deportation.


The public appropriated available resources to shape their popular rhetoric. The meanings of departure and the different expressions calling for or encouraging it have been altered and played with. This bricolage14 („do-it-yourself“) by the public has shown the latter’s ability to link their message to non-political products (such as songs, jokes, popular expressions, and idioms). They thus adopted linguistic signs from various texts and different worlds, adapting them and investing them with the terminology of ousting. A case in point is the practice of drawing on texts pertaining to other worlds, such as those of Panchatantra/Kalila wa Dimna (the laughing cow, the donkey), travel (flying, visa), sports (Zamalek club, refereeing, the Alexandrian Union Club), clothing (men’s knickers), office supplies (diaries), arts (plays) and beauty (hair, beard), among others.


The brevity of the clause equivalent (single word), or circumlocution (declarative and non-declarative sentences, including the imperative mood with all its equivalents and verbal forms), or additions (details and complements), has heightened its impact on the recipients who decoded it. They approved of its use in funny and familiar non-political contexts that were closely related to their everyday life, and enjoyed repeating it – or writing or drawing it – in order to deliver a direct message „to whom it may concern“, and to take part in the collective „duty“ of change on all levels. The recipients of this political message did not let themselves be carried away by language more than they wanted, so that the micro-model of the language in the form of the imperative verb „Irhal“ is some distance from the „ladder of abstraction“.15 In fact, laymen speakers do not want and are not even aware of their ability to alter meanings; neither do they realize the existence of appropriate levels of abstraction. Linguists are the ones who usually do this on their behalf. The „sliding“ of the conversation between the citizens and the ruler (who is holding on to his throne and privileges and turning a deaf ear) from one level to another in the communication game, revolving around the imperative verb „Irhal“, did not lead to ignoring this type of „ousting message“ addressed to Mubarak and his counterparts.



In Part 1, we have attempted to locate the linguistic formula of ousting within the discourse of sarcastic protest. In Part 2, we examine the different signifiers used to epitomize the idea of ousting. The definition of the signifier, in addition to its fields of use and understanding, has been of interest to senior linguists. Umberto Eco defines the signifier, in a first stage, as everything that refers to something in a possible world/reality. Wittgenstein‏ considers that a word’s signifier is its linguistic use, and that understanding a word means knowing how to use it and being able to apply it.16 Adapting the concept of departure or ousting to one of the possible realms of both the speaker and the recipient, and knowing the possible contexts for its use, is in fact similar to the processes of understanding, assimilation, and the ability to relate. This is what we noticed in the numerous expressions derived from the initial expression of ousting. We conclude Part 1 with two quotations from Semiotics: The Basics that complement the idea put forward here. Lévi-Strauss asserts that „understanding consists in the reduction of one type of reality to another“,17 while Greimas states that „signification is […] nothing but […] transposition from one level of language to another, from one language to a different language, and meaning is nothing but the possibility of such transcoding.“18 In short, the Arab youth excelled at reducing the signification of this clause equivalent to a political act for change, transposing this expressive type from the authoritarian lexicon to the de facto lexicon. The linguistic and cultural contexts for the use of „Irhal“ and its colloquial equivalents – in Arabic or in a foreign language such as French and English – show that the originator of this particular verb form, the conditions of its creation, the identities of its recipients and of those to whom the demand to leave was addressed differed from country to country. This diversification followed the evolutionary stages that the pronunciation of these messages passed through.

Part 2: General Observations from a Preliminary Linguistic Study


Our comparative linguistic study of the rich and varied language material, with its polymorphism and diversity of expressive modes, resulted in a number of preliminary conclusions, which we classified in several sections to facilitate their correlation.19 We begin with some general observations, covering several revolutionary Arab environments, in each of which the activists produced their own form of the verb „Irhal“, before moving to secondary – Arab and international – environments where the demands for departure spread contagiously. We then outline a few observations related to the Tunisian environment, which pioneered the transposition of this act of speech into the practical domain, and had a well-defined francophone culture that resulted in the order for ousting being launched in the language of Racine (Dégage), not in that of Al-Mutanabbi.


Twenty-nine observations caught our attention during the preparation of a comparative table of the imperative forms of „Irhal“. With their sources and various verb forms, these were mentioned around 200 times in all the Arabic slogans collected over the past two years.20 The origin of this political expression, which shot to fame during the „Arab Spring“ uprisings, is disputed. A Kuwaiti writer (Tariq Al-Mutairi) considers that credit for its launch goes to the Kuwaiti youth who organized a campaign entitled „Irhal“ on 27 October 2009, aimed at overthrowing prime minister Nasser Al-Hamad.21 He claims that the political achievement of the resignation of the prime minister was not limited to Kuwait, but concerned all hereditary Arab regimes and was the first step.22

Linguistic forms:


The imperative „Irhal“ appeared in five countries of the Arab Spring (Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Syria) in its clause equivalent form. It was also used in meaningful sentences, mostly in colloquial Arabic. Classical Arabic ranked second,23 English third,24 and French last.25 English was used when talking about presidents Ali Abdullah Saleh26, Gaddafi,27 and Asad.28 The Syrian president was mentioned in all three languages.29

The style of the imperatives calling for the departure of presidents varied in each country. In Egypt, humour and sarcasm was predominant, at times taking liberties („Hey man“ [يا عمّ], „Fly away“ [طير إنت], „Hosni boo!“ [يا حسني كخ], „Have some shame“ [حسّ على دمّك]), and invoking family members, sporting clubs, the inhabitants of rural regions, and the army. In Syria, the sense of humour gave way to feelings of bitterness and suffering. In Tunisia, the demand for departure was addressed to Ben Ali, his party and party members, his parliament, his government („a Pokémon government“), his ministers, US ambassador Jeffrey Feltman, former French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin’s speechwriter Hakim Karoui (who is French, of Tunisian origin), and the French ambassador Boris Boillon, with protesters outside the French embassy chanting for him to leave (Dégage).30

Some of the descriptions and metaphors attributed to the presidents who were demanded to leave were funny and sarcastic („cold“ [بارد], „stupid“ [غبي], „son of a bitch“ [ابن الورمة], „mule“ [تِنِح], „jackass“ [حمار], „dog“ [كلب], „laughing cow“ [البقرة الضاحكة]), while others were abusive and condemnatory („murderer“ [قاتل], „killer of children“ [tueur des enfants] [قاتل الأطفال], „coward“ [جبان], „tyrant“ [فرعون], „odious“ [بغيض], „despot“ [طاغي], „unjust“ [ظالم], „dictator“ [ديكتاتور], „blood general“ [جنرال الدم], „brute“ [بِجِم], „Hulagu“ [هولاكو], „slaughterer“ [سفّاح]). Only one metaphor demanded that the Syrian president stay, describing him as „the Arab knight“ (فارس العرب).

Equivalents of the imperative „Irhal“ were numerous in Egypt („Scram“ [غور], „Fuck off“ [غوور], „Get out“ [اطلع برّه], „Leave“ [امشي], „Step down“ [انزل], „Fly“ [طير], „Clear out“ [انجز], „Peel off“ [فكّك منّا], „Be gone“ [اخلع]); in Syria („Bug off“ [انقلع], „Leave“ [حلّ], „Bugger off“ [انقشط], „Run“ [اهرب], „Vacate“ [اقبع], „Out“ [برّه], „Move“ [دَرْمِل], „Go away peacefully“31 [افرقنا بريحة طيّبة], „Take off we’re sick of you“ [قحّط كوّشِت نفسن]); in Yemen („Back off“ [تراجع], „Step down“ [تنحّ], „Leave“ [حلّ]), in Libya („Leave“ [حلّ], „Get out“ [اطلع برّا ]), and in Tunisia („go“ [ارحل], „Go, all of you“ [ارحلوا]; „Quit, all of you“ [استقيلوا], „Out you go“ [على برّا/برّه]). What caught our attention was that the verb „leave“ (حلّ)“ or leave us alone“ (حلّ عنّا) did not appear in the Egyptian slogans as an alternative or equivalent to the verb „Irhal“.

Counter-slogans demanding that the president stay were noticed in Syria („He will not go“ [لن يرحل]), and in Yemen („He will not go“ [لن يرحل], „He did not go and is not going to go“ [لا ولن يرحل]); all three sentences were written in classical Arabic (the language of the authorities). In contrast to the imperative demands for departure, another expression that was part of a slogan put forward by one of Mubarak’s female supporters called on him to return or come back („Come back Mubarak“ [(ارجع يا مبارك]). The imperative mood here is not an order, but rather expresses imploration and wishing.

Demands for presidents to leave were associated with the need to go back to school in Egypt and in Syria. In Egypt, two slogans were formulated in colloquial Arabic and in a comic conditional tone: („Go so he can go [to school]“ [امشي هوّ يمشي [إلى المدرسة]], „Leave, we have baccalaureate exams“ [انجزْ عندنا ثانوية عامة]), while in Syria the slogan was formulated in classical Arabic, in the first-person singular and plural, and in an affirmative tone: („Go so I can go back to school“ [ارحل كي أعود لمدرستي], and „Go, we want to go back to school“ [ارحل نريد العودة إلى مدارسنا]).

The imperative „Irhal“ recurred in the singular and plural.32 This same verb appeared, in the subjunctive mode of the imperfect tense after the conjunction „lan“ (لن), indicating the negative future, or preceded by the prohibitive particle „la“ (لا), or by the prefix „s“ (س) indicating the future tense, as in „you will go“ (سترحل), or by the prefix „h“ (هـ) in colloquial Egyptian (هترحل 33). The verbal nouns were used nine times in Egypt: „your departure“ (رحيلك), „departure“ (رحيل), „the departure“ (رحلك and الرحيل). The imperative call for the departure of presidents was studied in its written form as seen on banners. It is worth mentioning, however, that the public were circulating the slogans in their oral form in demonstrations, chanting „Irhal“ and „Inzil/step down“ (إنزل), following a two-syllable rhythm: „Ir-hal“, „In-zil“.

Egyptians raised a sarcastic hieroglyphic slogan stating „Irhal“ in Mubarak’s face, as well as a slogan written in Hebrew in case he did not understand those in Arabic, his mother tongue. To make sure the message reached the addressee, Tunisians put up a banner depicting the equivalents of the verb „Irhal“ in several languages, such as French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, in addition to colloquial Tunisian.

To convey the imperative message calling for the departure of presidents, protesters gave explanations and interpretations of the given meanings of the verb „Irhal“ both in classical and colloquial Arabic, or mentioned English or French equivalents, in order to make sure that the message’s content reached its sole recipient, the president. Moreover, a Tunisian slogan written in English („Out“) included an emphatic expression in Arabic (بكل حزم), which meant „firmly“.

The people concurred with the call for their respective presidents to depart, indicating at the same time that they should follow the example of other leaders who preceded them, and implying that they deserved the same fate as some of their peers. Thus, presidents Saleh and Asad were mentioned in Yemen, Ben Ali and Gaddafi in Tunisia, and Gaddafi and Asad in Syria.

The recipients of the demand to leave:


The name of the president who was the subject of the demand to leave was openly declared in Egypt,34 in addition to the title of Field Marshal Tantawi,35 and the family names of Lieutenant General Sami Anan, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, and the Israeli ambassador.36

In Tunisia, Ben Ali,37 his prime minister Muhammad Al-Ghannushi38 and education minister Tayeb Baccouche39 were mentioned, as well as Boris Boillon, Hakim Karoui,40 Jeffrey Feltman,41 and Gaddafi.42

The imperative verb in its colloquial form, „Fuck off“ (غوور), was first used by activist Muhammad Naim on 27 February 2011.43 It was no longer addressed only to Mubarak, but was mentioned in a comment on a caricature about Egyptian protesters’ sit-in in front of the Israeli embassy in Cairo, after the Israeli forces killed five Egyptian policemen.44 It was also addressed to the Egyptian military, with protesters demanding that the army go back to its barracks: „Fuck off, all off you“ (غوروا), and was used as well to refer to Mubarak and Ben Ali: „Fuck off both of you“ (غوروا انتو الاتنين).

Among the slogans in Tahrir Square, some protesters borrowed the Iraqi shoe symbol, turning it into a banner and posting a slogan on it requesting departure.45

„Irhal“ was also used in the field of sports. The Alexandrian Union Club fans, for instance, called for the departure of Effat El Sadat, president of the Green Magic Club, raising a banner that read „Irhal“ as part of the criticism and demands to depart addressed to him.

Artistic creativity:


The phrase „Go, get out Bashar“ (يللا ارحل يا بشار), chanted by the „nightingale“ of the Syrian revolution, Ibrahim Qashoush, was set to music and sung to the rhythm of Dabkeh (an Arab folk dance) from the onset of the popular uprising in the city of Hama.46 It was echoed in several Syrian cities, along with improvised revolutionary songs.47 This phrase was considered one of the eight most widely known expressions chanted in the 2011 Arab Spring, according to the assessment of activists on the social network site Facebook.

„Irhal“ makes it to the creative world:


„Irhal“ has become the refrain of Arab revolutionary songs and the subject of poems and music.48 Poet Abdul-Rahman Youssef wrote a poem entitled „Irhal“; Ramy Essam, an Egyptian engineering student, composed a song entitled „Irhal“ inspired by the Egyptian demonstrations, improvising lyrics and setting them to music on his guitar. Alaa Nasr created a poem entitled „Leave already“ (ارحل بقى) that was performed by a citizen calling himself „an Egyptian who’s had such a hard time“ (مصري طالع عينيه). This song was chanted in Tahrir Square on the evening of 5 February 2011, as shown in a video on YouTube.49 The popular melody composed and sang by Ibrahim Qashoush in Syria was mentioned above.

The humour of the Egyptian revolution included the launch of sarcastic videos, such as a sequence entitled „The film that forced Mubarak to leave“ (الفيلم الذي أجبر مبارك على الرحيل).50 Also in Egypt, bread was baked with the word „Irhal“ in raised letters, and held up in one of the demonstrations.

Creators of „Irhal“:


Egyptians were ingenious in coming up with expressions of „Irhal“ that were diverse in form and content. The addressers of these messages demanding Mubarak’s departure were also numerous: the inhabitants of all governorates called on him to leave (Sa’idis, Port Saidis, the inhabitants of Sinai, Asyut, Dahshur, and North Sinai), the self-employed (the Egyptian Medical Syndicate), public institutions (the Suez Canal Authority), „anxious wives“ (الولية in colloquial Egyptian), and – by extension – even those who had not yet been born (fetuses).

It seems that this expression exceeded its initial context. In this regard, the Tunisian newspaper Al-Maghreb mentioned that the shoes of the Minister of Religious Affairs in the Tunisian interim government, Nur Al Din Al Khadimi, were stolen during his visit to the Al Ghazala mosque in the suburbs of Tunis, indicating that the stealing „took place after the Minister was insulted and forced out by a group said to belong to the Salafist movement, that not only chanted ‘Irhal’, which had become famous in Tunisia, but also prevented Al Khadimi from giving a religious lecture in the mosque.“ The newspaper added that „were it not for the sympathy of some of people who volunteered to buy a new pair of shoes for the Minister, he would have been forced to leave barefoot.“ 51

Forms of expression:


Writing this slogan was not limited to ink and colours, but was also done with green grass planted in the shape of the word „Irhal“; facial hair (one man had shaved his beard leaving some hair in the shape of the word „Irhal“); bread baked with the word „Irhal“ in raised letters; and even using one’s body (students of the Faculty of Pharmacy in Aleppo wrote „Go out“ on their white uniforms).52

Repercussions in the Arab Region and Beyond


„Irhal“, the imperative demand to leave, became material for political caricatures around the world. Its French equivalent Dégage was used in a caricature published by the French newspaper Courrier International, where it appeared seven times on Europe’s map, indicating the expulsion of Syrian diplomats by European countries.53 In its 27 September 2012 issue, Courrier International also published a report about the revolutionary song of Syrian rebels, „Go, get out Bashar“ (يللا ارحل يا بشار), translated into French: „Dégage, Allez Bachar“.

In Lebanon, protesting citizens in the seaside town of Jiyeh changed the content of the slogan to become „Go out you minister of blackouts“ (ارحل يا وزير التعتيم), referring to Lebanese minister of energy and water Gebran Bassil.54 In Ramallah, Palestinian workers demonstrated against bad economic conditions and called on one of their ministers to leave: „Go go minister … your decision has ruined us“ (ارحل ارحل يا وزير قرارك دمّرنا تدمير55).

Following the pattern of the slogans chanted by the revolutionaries in the Arab Spring countries, Algerian newspaper Annahar al-Jadid chose the phrase „Go out Sarkozy“ (Sarkozy Irhal) as a headline, to express the joy of the Algerian street celebrating Sarkozy’s departure from the Elysée. This was the most provocative headline, according to Al-Hayat newspaper (14 May 2012).

The humour of Egyptian protesters in the January 25 revolution also reached London.56 Sarcastic comments appeared on Twitter as users unleashed their imagination and competed on social networking sites and in online forums, posting hundreds of tweets about the London protests, one of them including colloquial Arabic and arabized words: „Irhal means go, do you understand or no … we’re not leaving, he’s leaving“ (ارحل يعني غو، بتفهم ولا نو.. مش هنليييف هوّا يليييف).

„Irhal“ in the Context of the Tunisian Revolution


There is a linguistic peculiarity about the imperative form „Irhal“ in the Tunisian Revolution’s rhetoric. The francophone culture, pervasive among both the elites and the masses, becomes apparent through the use of the French equivalent of this verb, mainly Dégage, and to a lesser degree Emerge, in addition to the use of some English forms such as „Go“ and „Go out“.

Our statistics indicate that the preliminary figures for the frequency of this verb in all its usages and forms, as well as its French and English equivalents, totalled 41. These statistics are based on a media survey in 2011 and 2012, and on the book Dégage published in Tunisia in 2011.57

The imperative demand to leave referred to the ousted president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, in 11 slogans that include his name and those of his ministers, in Arabic and in French.

The demand to leave also extended to his close assistants, his party and his government, including prime Mminister Muhammad Al-Ghannushi,58 education minister Tayeb Baccouche,59 in addition to the Constitutional Democratic Rally Party (RCD),60 and the government.61

Diplomats who were involved in abuses and irregularities were not spared by the ousting campaign, which extended to the French ambassador Boris Boillon,62 US ambassador Jeffrey Feltman,63 and the former adviser to France’s prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, Hakim Karoui.64

The demand to leave in its nominal form was formulated in French (once), as it was in its verbal form (four times, one of which was in Arabic). The French and Arabic languages were used side by side on the banners to express the imperative demand to leave. Demands to leave addressed to some politicians (such as minister Tayeb Baccouche) were formulated in all three languages for greater emphasis and affirmation. Remarkably, the French version of the demand to leave crossed borders to reach another North African leader, Libya’s Gaddafi, as one of the slogans raised grouped him together with the RCD and demanded that they leave.

One of the French written slogans is very original. It is a conjugation of the verb Dégager in all singular and plural forms, noting that for the first person singular and plural, the verb used is rester, which means „to stay“, reste, restons (underlined), while dégager was conjugated in the four remaining persons. This indicates that the protesters (individually and as a group), who created the slogan, are expressing their commitment to stay, while demanding the regime’s supporters to leave, addressing them in the second and third persons.

The word „Irhal“ in Arabic was used in the second person singular and plural of the imperative mood „Irhalu“ (ارحلوا), as well as in the indicative mood „tirhalu“( ترحلوا). In another slogan, the protesters demanded that the ministers resign, „Istaqilu“ (استقيلو). They also vented their indignation at the RCD party, composing several slogans demanding it to leave or condemning its policies, such as „Go to hell“ (ارحل إلى الجحيم), stated in an affirmative tone, or a slogan using English and Arabic together for stronger emphasis: „RCD out firmly“ (RCD out بكل حزم).

Slogans about prime minister Ghannushi were marked by their sharpness. Some of them evoked descriptions from Panchatantra/Kalila wa Dimna, such as one likening him to a dog. The French ambassador also had his share of insulting denunciations. In a written French slogan, former French president (nicknamed Sarko) is requested, with bitter irony, to withdraw his ambassador, and is referred to in a derogatory metaphor instead of his real name: „Take back your shit“ (Prenez votre merde). It is worth mentioning that the anger at ambassador Boris Boillon in Tunisia was the result of his aggressive response to Tunisian female journalists. His reckless and foolish digression and his inappropriate words about „flimsy matters“ sparked an outcry among protesters, who called for his departure, chanting the famous Dégage..65


Dr. Nader Srage was a professor of linguistics at the Lebanese University. His main research interest includes functional socio-linguistics, especially the relationship between language and society. Between 2012 and 2013, he led a research project on Political Slogans in Arab countries at the Orient-Institut Beirut. Email: msragenader@gmail.com

1 Ramzi Baalbaki: Dictionary of Linguistic Terms, Beirut 1990, 91.

2 This French slogan was revived in a political caricature published in the Libération newspaper (9 December 2010), entitled „Putin and the Russian Spring“, in which Russian president Putin is saying to his opponents: Dégage.

3 Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, 3 June 2011.

4 Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, 11 August 2011 and Al Watan Al Arabi magazine, 24 August 2011.

5 French Libération newspaper, 1 August 2011

6 Assafir newspaper, 12 August 2011

7 Al-Akhbar newspaper, 8 October 2011

8 The Daily Star, 22 June 2012

9 Akhbar al-Yawm news agency 16 May 2011

10 Al-Hayat newspaper 13 August 2011

11 Collectif: Dégage : Les 29 jours de la révolution tunisienne, Paris: ALIF 2011.

12 Ahmad Said was a famous Egyptian radio broadcaster in the 1950s and 1960s, hosting „The Voice of the Arabs“ under Gamal Abdel Nasser. He announced the victory of the Egyptian army in the 1967 war, transmitting compromising military data about the allegedly overwhelming victory of Egypt over Israel during a time when the Egyptian army was in fact faced with complete defeat.

13 Al-Kuwaitiya newspaper, 27 August 2012

14 Daniel Chandler: Semiotics: The Basics, London 2007, 435. The term was coined by Claude Lévi-Strauss.

15 The term is used in Chandler: Semiotics: The Basics (see FN 14), 132.

16 Umberto Eco: Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language, Bloomington 1986.

17 Chandler: Semiotics: The Basics (see FN 14), 34, taken from his book Tristes Tropiques, p.27.

18 Chandler: Semiotics: The Basics (see FN 14), 34, taken from his book Du sens; essais sémiotiques, p.15.

19 The study referred to is a year-long research project on political slogans conducted by the author at the Orient-Institut Beirut between March 2012 and March 2013.

20 102 times in Egypt, 48 times in Syria, 28 times in Yemen, 6 times each in Libya and Tunisia, and 4 times in Bahrain, totaling 194 times.

21 Al-Kuwaitiya newspaper, 27 August 2012.

22 This was mentioned in the French newspaper Courrier International on 27 September 2012.

23 32 times in Egypt, 20 in Syria, 6 in Yemen, twice in Libya and once in Tunisia.

24 Eight times in Egypt, 6 in Syria, 6 in Yemen and twice in Libya.

25 Once in Egypt, 3 times in Syria, one of which was in a Syrian demonstration in Brussels, 32 in Tunisia, two of them combining French and English.

26 Once in English.

27 Twice in Arabic and once in English.

28 Asad was written once in English, in a banner put up in Yemen.

29 Twelve times in Arabic, 5 in English and 5 in French.

30 Le Monde, 28 August 2012

31 The same expression, „Go away peacefully Syrians“, was used in a speech by acting Lebanese prime minister Michel Aoun on 13 October 2002 at the Presidential Palace, demanding that Syrians leave the country. OTV, 13 October 2012.

32 At the rate of 72 times in Egypt, 38 in Syria, 25 in Yemen, and 4 in Libya; twice in the plural, in Arabic and in French in Tunisia, and once each inSyria, Yemen and Bahrain.

33 Once in Arabic and once in English.

34 Twelve times in Arabic, his first name being mentioned in one of them, and 3 times in a foreign language as a vocative.

35 Once in Arabic and once in English.

36 Twice in Arabic.

37 Eight times in French and 4 in Arabic.

38 Three times in Arabic and once in French.

39 Once in Arabic.

40 Once in French.

41 Once in English and once in French.

42 Once in Arabic.

43 Information provided to us by activist Ahmad Maher (April 6 movement) in Beirut on 7 October 2012.

44 Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, 28 August 2011.

45 Assafir newspaper, 12 February 2011.

46 Compare Simon Dubois’ article in this volume.

47 Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, 8 July 2011.

48 Al-Hayat newspaper, 15 June 2011.

49 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZoPqeqjIob8, <14.5.2013>

50 Assafir newspaper, 25 January 2012.

51 Al Maghreb Newspaper, 11 June 2012

52 All four examples were published on the Internet on 19 September 2012.

53 Al Mustaqbal newspaper, 29 September 2012 (citing French newspaper Courrier International).

54 Annahar newspaper, 23 January 2012.

55 Al Liwaa newspaper, 10 October 2012 (quoting AFP).

56 Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, 30 March 2011.

57 Collectif: Dégage (see FN 11).

58 Five times in French and once in English.

59 Once in Arabic and once in French.

60 Five times in French, 3 times in Arabic and twice in English.

61 Twice in Arabic and twice in French.

62 Once in French; French newspaper Le Monde mentioned that the famous slogan of the Tunisian Revolution, Dégage, was chanted outside the French embassy on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in Tunis during the popular demonstrations (28 August 2012) .

63 Once in Arabic, with a touch of English „out“ and a pinch of French „Ta gueule“.

64 Once in French.

65 Le Monde, 28 August 2012.

Lizenzhinweis: Dieser Beitrag unterliegt der Creative-Commons-Lizenz Namensnennung-Keine kommerzielle Nutzung-Keine Bearbeitung (CC-BY-NC-ND), darf also unter diesen Bedingungen elektronisch benutzt, übermittelt, ausgedruckt und zum Download bereitgestellt werden. Den Text der Lizenz erreichen Sie hier: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/de

Beitrag teilen

Kommentare geschlossen.