“I want to see another President before I die”. The free-hand graffiti on the wall of a well-revered bar in downtown Cairo reads quite frankly.
From day one of the Egyptian Revolution, the protesters’ message was loud and clear. On January 25th 2011, thousands of Egyptians from Cairo to Alexandria took bravery by the neck with a call for democracy, demanding that Hosni Mubarak’s regime be brought down. Saying no to fear and yes to freedom, these thousands ignited a fire of resistance that roared across the nation.
Despite the police brutality and violence of the regime’s playing strategy, millions of peaceful protestors continued to gather, voicing their grievances against the regime and claiming the vision for a better Egypt. The symbol head of tyranny could stand no more, leading to Mubarak’s resignation on February 11th.
Throughout the eighteen days and nights, Cairo was illuminated with an extraordinary sense of community and invigorated feelings of pride for the country. Expression rang out in Tahrir Square, where banners adorned high rise balconies, rock installations spelled out slogans on the pavement, and even a painting center was organized for individuals to extract their imaginations onto canvas. Given the vibrant culture that this ancient city is widely known for, the Revolution’s creativity should come as no surprise.
(Text reads: Freedom)
It didn’t stop at Tahrir though. Expanding through downtown alleyways, across bridges and into neighborhoods including Dokki and Heliopolis, Cairene artists and non-artists alike projected their perspectives onto the walls of the city.
Like in most major cities worldwide, Egyptian law frowns harshly upon street art. Provided the rebellious reputation surrounding the technique of graffiti in particular, local artists had always been cautious, concerned with interference and intimidation by both police and civilians.
On January 25th however, that caution no longer existed. Akin to the political street art movement in the late 1960’s of Amsterdam and Paris, it came in the form of slogans, murals, stencils, and stickers.
(Text reads: Get rid of Adly, the interior minister, the criminal.)
These art forms appeared nearly overnight. Throughout the unfolding of events in Cairo, the messages expressed through art are continually changing. Where the original artwork was primarily focused on protestor’s demands and the regime’s fall, a sense of humor was never lacking. While statements for the end of sectarian strife were also popular, on the darkest of days, words like “Mubarak = Sadness” were found scribbled on walls. Yet just hours after Mubarak’s resignation, a group of school-aged students were painting a collage of murals with beautiful images of freedom, victory, and triumph.
(Text reads: Raise your head high, you’re Egyptian)
“The city is becoming an open air museum”, states twenty eight year old local designer and artist Ganzeer. During the revolution, Ganzeer posted free graphic templates on his blog. “I figured there were a lot of people out there who would like to make their own signs, but not necessarily have the means or knowledge to do so. I’m not entirely sure if it really helped anybody though.”
However, Cairo’s new wave of street art has not only become a form of activism among the young. One week after Mubarak’s resignation, a team of individuals set out to create the first mural of the Martyr Mural Project; in honor of Seif Allah Moustafa, a sixteen year old killed during the protests. Ganzeer, also a project organizer, explained the project’s rationale: “Cairo is a city of many walls, many idle walls that could use some decoration anyway. By painting these walls with portraits of martyrs, we are honoring the brave heroes, reminding ourselves about the cause of the revolution and desire for improving the Egyptian way of life.”
(Text reads: Seif Allah Moustafa)
Located on an electrical outlet building in front of the High Court in downtown Cairo, the project quickly became an incredible community effort. Neighbors in nearby areas began to pitch in. Passerby’s would stop out of curiosity. They brought ladders and buckets of paint and lent a hand wherever they could. Ten hours later, the last stencil came down and the final product was revealed. With over three hundred martyrs who fell during those eighteen days of revolt, the project’s planned end will be when the last face goes up.
Over the course of six weeks, this peaceful weapon of resistance has provided the local community with a fresh method of expression and means for communicating important messages. Further more, in a city of over twenty million people, the art becomes far-reaching, available for the public to experience. Emblematic in memory, it will always serve as a reminder of the Revolution that not only shook Egypt but also touched the entire world.
As protests and strikes are still continuing on a daily basis, one might wonder if this uprising of street art will birth a new movement in itself. Whether Cairo is the new Berlin or not, there’s one thing that we do know for sure: the streets of Egypt will never be the same.