November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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Egypt: The Graffiti of Revolution

 Khaled Said is a young man killed by some brutal policemen in the sixth of June, 2010, Alexandria, Egypt.“We are all Khaled Said.”

Think graffiti under fire!

By Hala Salah Eldin Hussein

Albawtaka Review editor

(This article appeared in somewhat different form in Alahram weekly newspaper.)

You don’t come across such eloquent voices of objection every day, not in Egypt anyway. It was the celebration day: February 11, 2011, former vice president Omar Suleiman announced that Hosni Mubarak was to step down from office. Crowds had flocked to Tahrir square, already crammed full of people, to rejoice in their victory.

Egypt, you are my special mother.

“Egypt, you are my splendid mother.”

Trying to push my way through throngs of people in jubilant mood in the Square, or rather, swept along with the crowds till I reached the nearest exit on Sheik Rehan St. – you don’t choose where you are heading with a multitude of one million souls in one place – I was struck by these brilliant graffiti, probably woven within earshot of bullets or among tear gas, by unknown citizens.

In random blurry lines, or in brightly professional ones, these artists – probably talented young people who never scribbled graffiti before – have woven paintings that they must have known municipality workers will probably paint away. In fact, they could not even have known for sure whether their demands — now glaring with articulated statements on the wall, screaming to topple the corrupt regime and introduce political liberties and social justice — would be met.

No doubt some of these young artists have been met with beating, massive arrests, and killings. Yet they continued to paint within a short distance of the Ministry of the Interior building. Future retribution was possible, which might explain lack of signatures, whereas several names accompanied those on a wall in Mohamed Mahmoud St. bringing out Egyptians’ joy of freedom in all its splendor.

This is what happened on 25.

One graffito remembered Khaled Said, a young man killed by brutal policemen in June 2010, in Alexandria. You could tell that graffitists are internet users, engrossed in the Facebook revolution and social-networking sites since the words “We are all Khaled Said” written in one part of the wall is actually a Facebook group demanding legal action against those guilty of killing the young man. However rural backgrounds can be detected. Rudimentary scenes from the Egyptian country are lucid, too, pigeons, verdancy, country walls, footprints, in all colors, illuminating part of the wall. It’s uncertain when these drawings took place. They must have been drawn in stages, from the first sparkle of protests till the triumph, “He is down,” says one graffito. Another graffito would mark a new post-revolutionary change in Egyptian behavior, “From now on this is YOUR country,” it said. “Don’t throw garbage in the street. Don’t give bribes. Don’t forge documents. Don’t submit to injustice or tyranny. Make a complaint against any service that fails to fulfill its duties.”

One can only imagine how difficult it must have been to smuggle paints and brushes into this turmoil of unprecedented demonstrations. These markings — initials, slogans, and drawings, written, spray-painted, or sketched — are evidence of the artistic spirit of the revolution. Somehow amidst all the clamor and bloodshed, young artists came armed with their brushes and paints, pallid colors and shiny ones, to light up the wall with pride and determination, “Revolution till victory,” one design read, and another, “Hold your head high, you are an Egyptian.” Some designs glorified a particular day, “This is what happened on 25” while others portrayed scenes reminiscent of rural origins. They have expressed gratitude, “Glory to martyrs”; rage, “Leave, NOW” and its future outgrowth, “Seeking revenge for martyrs”; joy, and the longing of joy.

Your love is freedom.

These graffiti, in political perception, were much like statements proclaimed by the leaders of non-violent protest movements. They were mature, vigilant, and passionate, street art forever shedding light upon political spontaneity and patriotism, as in the words, “25 January, oh, how sweet is my country.” They represent the true beat of the streets, all over, free as air, sending a message to all.


About the author:

Hala Salah Eldin Hussein is the editor of Albawtaka Review, an Arabic independent (non-governmental) non-profit online quarterly concerned with translating English short fiction. In January 25, 2011, the Egyptian people went into the streets to topple the regime, and in 18 days, after 30 years, they did it. Says Hussein, “I used to wake up every morning telling myself, ‘This day I’m going to do it. I will topple the regime.’ Now we are free. We are planning to re-build the nation from scratch, and the sky is the limit.”  Alahram weekly is only distributed in Egypt.

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1 Zaira Rahman { 04.01.11 at 5:57 am }

Wow what a fabulous piece of article. Absolutely loved it! Brings out the true essence of how the Egyptians felt from within expressed using a beautiful form of graffiti. Nicely captured!

2 Michael Gazelle { 04.01.11 at 9:44 am }

It is a great record by Hala, good work. What a year for Egypt !.