Translation and Diaspora Politics: Narrating the Struggle at Home and Abroad

Helen Underhill

As mobilization connected to the 2011 revolution continues inside Egypt and beyond its borders, the translation and narration of particular moments and actors shapes and further complicates various understandings of the struggle. This essay draws on the experiences and perspectives of British-Egyptian and Egyptian migrant activists in the UK to illustrate how and why they used translation as part of their mobilization online and at demonstrations in the UK and in Egypt. It also engages with translation in its broader sense as a way of understanding how groups within one movement in the UK contribute to the representation of Egypt’s continuing struggle. By focusing on the various ways in which the events that unfolded after 30 June 2013 are retold, the essay demonstrates the power of translation and narration to divide and the importance of understanding the various spaces and practices of diaspora politics to the contemporary global political context and to the continuation of Egypt’s revolution.

Helen Underhill graduated with a degree in Linguistics and worked as an adventure travel tour guide before training as a teacher. After a decade in secondary education, she began to formalize her interests in the various intersections of learning, development, political activism and social change through research. Particularly inspired by her travels in the Middle East and North Africa region and the affinity gained for Egypt during this time, her PhD examined mobilization of diaspora and transnational activists before, during and since the Egyptian uprising of 2011. The global focus of Helen’s work allows her to remain connected to researching and teaching various dimensions of international development, humanitarianism, education and politics. She recently contributed research for the Chronic Poverty Report and Oxfam.

Images from Helen Underhill’s chapter: 


Figure 1. Action postcard from a demonstration in London, June 2014. Photograph by Helen Underhill

Figure 2. Placards raised at a demonstration in London, June 2014. Photograph by Helen Underhill

Figure 3. Action flyer, Birmingham, November 2014. Photograph by Helen Underhill

Figure 4. Campaign material, London, November 2014. Photograph by Helen Underhill