‘Mobile phones and the internet, mate’: (Social) media, art, and revolution in Omar Robert Hamilton’s The City Always Wins

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In Omar Robert Hamilton’s novel about the Arab Spring The City Always Wins (2017), readers observe that the phone charger has become as much of an essential as water to the protestors. Although the alternative media possess mass engagement, a global reach, and threaten power, over the course of his novel Hamilton traces the crushing of ‘Twitter revolution’ and the rise of a disillusionment and despair among the revolutionaries. This downward trajectory is typified both in the appellative journey from Hamilton’s non-profit media collective Mosireen – ‘those who insist’ – to the novel’s similar group, portentously named Chaos; and in the text’s tripartite reverse-chronological structure of ‘Tomorrow’, ‘Today’, and ‘Yesterday’.

Hamilton’s cousin, the blogger and revolutionary activist Alaa Abd el Fattah, was arrested in March 2013 and sentenced to five years in jail in October 2014 for his role in protests. This detention on trumped-up charges inspired the hashtag #FreeAlaa and multimedia campaigns for his release, but the young man may now face a sentence extended by six months to three years due to his Facebook activity early on in the Egyptian revolution. Hamilton dedicates The City Always Wins to Alaa, writing that it ‘would have been a better book if I’d been able to talk to you’. Meanwhile, the author uses Twitter as an archive of an alternative, resistant history of revolutionary struggle; he embeds Tweets in the fabric of this experimental novel; and social media posts interrupt and punctuate the narrative as in the real life of these millennials.

In this paper I explore the novel’s representations of (social) media and the impact these have both on everyday lives and modes of protest. Despite promising beginnings, the internet ultimately turns ‘toxic’ and is depicted as a Pandora’s box of dis- and misinformation, conspiracy theories, fake news, and the manipulations of state media mukhabarat. A more lasting alternative to media may be ‘creative insurgency’ (Kraidy 2016: 206−207). As such, I conclude this article by discussing what art can achieve that (citizen) journalism cannot, and how this applies to the novel’s portrayals of art, particularly music.
Original languageEnglish
Article number21
Pages (from-to)1-27
Number of pages27
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2019

Bibliographical note

© 2019 by the author.


  • Omar Robert Hamilton
  • Arab Spring
  • Egyptian revolution
  • Social Media
  • ART

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