So, in Egypt, they said, there was a revolution going on. Having watched the 25 days from the edge of a news-room seat, it was finally time to hop a bus south to Cairo, where heated debate about the nature of revolution seemed everywhere. Even on the walls.
Sitting in a West Bank newsroom watching the start of that revolution, I don’t know about anyone else, but when Mubarak stepped down, I was as much excited for Egypt as I was frustrated for Palestinians. I mean, its not like everyone in Palestine hasn’t already taken to the streets en masse to demand their own change. Did Egypt have some secret? Some magic formula? Would they send it on over?
A year and a half after, at least from news reports, the Egyptian revolution started to take on a more familiar tone. It would be a long process of change, with nothing easy, and a tough road ahead where a lot of people would have to make a lot of decisions about what they wanted their community to look like.
So, heading on down to Cairo from Jerusalem, I was curious to see what it all looked like, felt like, smelled like. The one thing that was obvious, was that compared to the grim West Bank where rising cost of living, anger over feeling hamstrung between an occupation, an impotent government, and world system looking the other way was like an anvil being carried around by the sky, there was a certain exuberance in Egypt. (The soundtrack
of the car ride down was just the beginning)
The best, best part, was the art. The walls on Muhammad Mahmoud street, had turned into a political forum. So I’ll save the words and let the images do the talking.
Day two: Police presence still strong post protests near the American Embassy, and at some point the night before the walls that had been covered with murals and graffiti were whitewashed.
Even with the police around, some intrepid painters had already gotten at the fresh canvas…. and dared the police to paint over the walls again.
Day three: the walls fill up.
My personal faveourite: police officer in white uniform whitewashing the wall, and the guy next to him documenting the event… so meta.
The artists at work.
Day four: More paintings going up over the spray paint that had dominated on day two and three, larger projects too. The guy with the green tongue is left untouched for the most part though.
Some of the new stuff:
I have it on spurious authority that ACAB stands for “All Cops Are Bastards”
SCAF is, of course, short for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. The red mural to the left has the names of people who were killed during the demonstrations that brought down Mubarak.
Some of my favourites from the day include:
Newly elected President Mursi as the Queen of clubs.
Day five: (okay, it might have been day eight, but the order is at least right, if not the numbering)
So, the wall is full on covered, layered, and meta-meta-meta commenting on itself by now. The walls are painted, the street posts were painted, and sign posts were brought into the mix.
Debate, moreover, was alive and kickin. A few days after the Mursi painting went up, his face was blacked out. Someone also told me that they saw, or someone told them that they saw, or some such long way of saying that maybe at some point a whole bunch of people took their shoes off and hit them against the wall where Mursi’s face happened to be.
Okay, and remember the first bit of art on the fresh wall? Still there, while a lot of the earlier stuff was eventually painted over, this guy remains, presiding over a heated political debate accompanied with coffee. Totally civilized if you ask me. Too bad Canadians don’t do stuff like that. Maybe its too cold.
I have nothing real to offer in the name of interpretation, endings or conclusions, since its all probably changed since I left, and will change again before I return. That, I suppose, is the interesting bit.
Further reading Arabic Lit in Translation