Che had embodied the twin rebellions of Marxist revolution and anti-colonialism which swept the world in the 1960s. But following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the general failure of communist states, Marxism faded from relevance. Similarly, following the post-colonial wave, the problems of development and the ensuing failures had to be blamed on fellow countrymen, rather than colonial exploitation. Thus, with Marx out as ideological fuel and with exploitation by distant governments far less likely a cause of governmental failure than incompetence of their own countrymen, revolutionary garb changed.
Look, above, at the youth wearing a Guy Fawkes mask and a kufia. While Guy Fawkes himself was very much in favor of strong authoritarian states (just catholic ones, his image has since been re-purposed as a radical anti-authoritarian, thanks to Alan Moore’s “V for Vendetta” and the subsequent Warner Brothers film adaptation. Thus, in place of Che driving the US and their cronies out of Cuba, revolution is now embodied by an anarchist Briton punishing parliament for creating a terrifying fascistic police state. The enemy has become internal, and the focus has moved from economic justice to rights violations and the curtailment of freedoms.
Here is what makes this image distinct: note the Kufia. In it, we see the legacy of post-colonial conflict again, through a narrative of Palestinian nationalism, following the transition of Palestine identity from a pan-Arab cause to one of a more fixed, local identity. By adopting the Kufia, this young man combines the anti-authoritarianism of his mask with the nationalism of an internally-oppressed people. While the Arab spring is talked about as one movement, it is more correctly observed as several diverse and concurrent intra-state conflicts. There is no 1st International leading it, and there are no cries with the same global utility as “workers of the world unite.” While there is sympathy across nations, the narrow target of each is made manifestly clear by the Guy Fawkes mask: the national government, in this specific case the Supreme Council of Armed Forces presently ruling Egypt. And the Kufia tells us the identification of the protester’s people: the disenfranchised masses, here at home.
In such an image we get a thesis and micro-history of the evolving face and rationale of protest.
[Wondering about my gross oversimplification of Che, neglect for the entire 400+ year history of Guy Fawkes as a symbol, and the lack of a single internet reference? It’s cool, those are gross oversights. I’ll be remedying that neglect as this series progresses.]