Tag Archives: revolution

A History of Egypt In Graffiti

First published in Vocativ on October 7th 

Violence, chaos, deadly protests raging in the streets of Cairo. These have been the enduring images of Egypt the last three years.

But out of all this turmoil an artistic movement has thrived. Instead of AK-47s and tear gas, spray paint is the weapon of choice for these protesters.

Graffiti persists as a historical reminder, providing vivid vignettes and snapshots of Egypt’s turbulent history.

Cairo Graffiti History 01

The history of Egypt’s past three years is a convoluted, tortuous road of revolution, unrest, protest, revolution, division and more revolution. Since the January 25, 2011, uprising, the chants have changed, the flags have changed and the government has changed, three times.

Cairo Graffiti History 02

The typical lifespan of a piece of graffiti varies wildly depending on where you are in Cairo and the “real estate” value of the wall you intend to paint. Along the infamous Mohamed Mahmoud Street that leads into Tahrir Square, the large works of graffiti have a typical turnover rate of a few months, repainted (or occasionally removed by the authorities), often to keep up with the sentiments of the day.

Cairo Graffiti History 03

Meanwhile, the more obscure areas and the lesser known walls play the role of a historical canvas, their messages untouched from the moment they were stenciled, painted or crudely drawn.

Cairo Graffiti History 04
Cairo Graffiti History 05

The walls are littered with graffiti depicting a jumble of major turning points and different opinions.  As long as you know where to look—and understand a little Arabic—the past three years of revolution is depicted.

Clashes in Cairo Continue for Fifth Day

Small tags demanding justice from the Port Said football massacre trial that took place January 26, 2013—the ACAB (All Cops Are Bastards) emblem of hatred against the interior ministry.

Cairo Graffiti History 07

Above, the faces of former president Hosni Mubarak and Hussein Tantawi, the one-time head of the army. This piece was removed, but it only served to inspire another, harsher form of protest graffiti in the image below.

Cairo Graffiti History 08

Occasionally, the graffiti can serve as a healthy reminder of the fickle myopia of memory. During the massive June 30, 2013, demonstrations calling for Morsi to step down, the crowds embraced the army as one of their own again. Chants of “The People and the Army are one hand” reverberated across a packed Tahrir Square.  Nearby, the scrawl of dissent from one year prior (when the army was in charge) can be discerned. “Down with military rule” (seen in image below).

Cairo Graffiti History 09

All images by Amanda Mustard.

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Egypt: Nationwide Protests Leave Dozens Dead

Originally Published on VICE, 28/01/2013 – Photos by Amanda Mustard (@mustardphoto)

On 25th January 2011 – coinciding with “National Police Day” – thousands of Egyptians flocked to the Ministry of Interior in central Cairo in protest of widespread police brutality. Eighteen days later, 846 people had died, over 6,000 more were injured and Egypt’s longest serving president, the authoritarian Hosni Mubarak, had abdicated his post.

Two years later and Egypt has its first democratically elected, non-military leader since King Farouk was overthrown in 1952. The president now has a maximum tenure of two four-year terms. The infamousemergency law has been terminated. Egypt has a newly elected upper house of parliament, a new constitution and parliamentary elections for a lower house due in the upcoming months.

Yet for all that, the goals of the revolution have yet to be achieved: economic stagnation persists, unemployment has increased, military trials of civilians continue and the new constitution meant to enshrine civil liberties remains hugely contentious.

These remain serious affronts to millions of Egyptians. For the anniversary of the revolution, 16 parties and movements held marches in each governorate while maintaining a rejection of the anniversary as a day of celebration. The ruling Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters would not even venture into Tahrir Square – “the symbol of the revolution” – for the day, highlighting the current political polarisation.

Tens of thousands packed Tahrir as the old chants of “Down with the regime” and “Bread, freedom, social justice” rang out alongside newer ones of “Leave Morsi!” and “Gika” (the first martyr of Morsi’s tenure). Meanwhile, several marches from around Cairo advanced towards Tahrir shortly after Friday prayers, amassing huge numbers along the way.

In the heart of Tahrir, the atmosphere remained relaxed and non-celebratory as tens of thousands slowly packed the square. The numbers were smaller than last year, but the sense of purpose for those in the square remained resolute. “The revolution didn’t end with Mubarak leaving,” says Mohamed Nawaz, a young protester in Tahrir, “it only ends when we get what is due to us: bread, freedom and social justice.”

On the outskirts, clashes between protesters and the Central Security Forces (CSF) continued in a volley of stones and tear gas.

The injured from the area were brought to a nearby makeshift field hospital in Qasr El Dobara Church. Inside, a small group of doctors and volunteers helped to treat the wounded – over 100 people in less than six hours. One man was escorted in with around 30 small, bloodied holes in his torso and face, “It’s just birdshot,” he sighed nonchalantly.

He had been a part of a march that had attempted to get into a Muslim Brotherhood building on the nearby Talat Harb Street before clashing with security. Members of the march stated that the clashes were instigated by a small group of men dressed all in black – apparently the new Black Bloc group.

As darkness fell in Tahrir, reports emerged of accounts of brutal sexual assault – something that’s been occurring with alarming frequency over the past two years. The group “Operation Anti Sexual Harassment” reported that there were 19 cases of mob sexual assaults with at least six needing medical attention.

Meanwhile in the city of Suez, eight protesters and a CSF conscript were killed in clashes with security forces from the Governorate headquarters, which had been set ablaze during the fighting. Head of the Doctor’s syndicate, Mohamed Salama, said the deaths were the result of birdshot and live ammo. At the funeral processions the next day, thousands marched through the streets shouting “Revenge!”

As the anniversary came to a close, the Ministry of Health reported that nationwide protests had seen more than ten deaths and hundreds of injuries.

The next day marked the trial verdict of the 73 defendants of the Port Said Stadium massacre. With momentum from the anniversary still strong, it seems inconceivable that the judiciary could have chosen such a politically charged time to release such an important announcement.

On February 1st, 2012 following an Egyptian Premier League football match between Port Said’s Masry football club and Cairo’s Al Ahly football club, supporter’s of Masry invaded the pitch and attacked the away fans: over 1000 people were injured and 74 died, including 72 Al Ahly fans. Descriptions of people being thrown from the stands or beaten to death resonated around Egypt.

In the aftermath of the country’s worst football disaster, reports trickled out indicating the massacre was more than just another example of football hooliganism at work. It’s widely believed that the security officials at the time – military and police – played a major part in the massacre, with reports of security leaving their posts, locking supporters inside the stadium and the apparent use of “Baltageya” (hired thugs) suggesting that the massacre had a dark political undertone to it.

The interim ruling power at the time, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), may have created the chaos in the hope of gaining public opinion for “greater security”, thus giving them greater influence in the long run. If that was their plan, it failed miserably.

Ultras Ahlawy, the hardcore supporters of the Al Ahly football club, had been a constituent element of the revolution. However, it was only really after the disaster that the Ultras became truly involved in the fight against the establishment, amassing thousands in a short space of time and channelling all their effort into the political sphere.

In the run up to the verdict announcement, graffiti saying “1-26: Justice or Chaos” sprung up on the walls of Cairo – the date of the verdict with a barefaced threat to the judiciary and government.

Shortly after 10AM on the Saturday morning, the Port Said Criminal Court made their announcement: 21 Masry fans were handed the death sentence, while the remaining 52 defendants had their verdicts postponed until March 9th.

The response was immediate. In Cairo, the Ultras celebrated, while in Port Said, people became distraught, then angry. While the Ultras were setting off flares and fireworks, gun battles were raging in Port Said.

The Ultras Ahlawy Facebook page released a statement that read, “Today was the start of justice, but not in its entirety.” Ahmed, a young Ultra in Cairo, described how, “Today is justice, I am so happy,” before being joined by a friend and singing a song that included the words “Fuck you, Port Saidis.”

It’s hard for the residents of Port Said to see the verdicts as anything other than highly politicised; nine security officials among the defendants had their verdicts postponed, while 21 of their own were sentenced to death. Hundreds of angry and armed residents stormed the jail where some of the accused were held in an attempt to free them. The fierce fighting that followed necessitated the arrival of the army. At the time of writing, there have been reports of at least 30 deaths and 300 injuries.

On Sunday 27th, tens of thousands marched through the city’s streets for the funeral procession of those killed the day before, only to then have unidentified gunmen fire upon them. Al Jazeera showed harrowing footage of the procession shortly after the attack – people running away or frantically scouring the buildings in hopes of spotting the gunmen.

Exactly who was behind this attack remains unknown, but it provoked yet more clashes with the security forces. At the day’s end, Ahram Online reported that five people had been killed and 436 injured: live ammunition, birdshot and tear gas responsible for most of the injuries and deaths.

President Morsi appeared on state TV late last night to invite the leaders of the opposition for a dialogue, announced a state of emergency and a curfew of 9PM to 6AM for the cities of Ismailia, Suez and Port Said, set to last 30 days. HRW Egypt Director Heba Morayef tweeted, “Curfew is one thing but giving the police emergency law powers is really just an invitation to more abuse.”

With so much death in such a short time frame and this sudden antagonising emergency ruling, the prospect of this period of violence dying down soon seems unlikely. But unless these revolutionary protesters present a meaningful and feasible proposal to the Muslim Brotherhood, mental and physical fatigue will inevitably set in and the status quo will surely remain for the near future.

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A Revolution Reborn?

Ahmed sits down on a sofa in my flat and smiles nervously.  He has never met me before and yet here he is, dropping by to say hello.  Ahmed was shot 4 times during the initial revolutions last year – one in the hand, two in his right leg and one bullet is lodged so close to his spine no doctor will dare try to retrieve it.  He speaks of the upcoming Mubarak trial and sings the tune that everyone seemed to be singing; Mubarak would effectively get off with little more than a slap on the wrists.  Nobody believed he would get more than 5 years, pointing to the corrupt judicial system as evidence of that.  As the managing editor of Al Ahram, Hani Shukrallah, put it on twitter “…investigated by the culprits, prosecuted by the defence.  Fat chance we get a proper ruling on June 2nd”.

There was a sense of the poetic as the sentencing was outside the Police Academy (once called the Mubarak Police Academy) in an area half an hour east of Cairo called ‘New Cairo’.  I stepped out of a friend’s car and cursed as soon as my head moved from the relative cool of the back seat and fell under the intense gaze of the sun.  The heat was unrelenting and the ameliorative breeze that one usually finds in Egypt seemed to be having a lie in.  It was only 8:30am and scanning the setting, most Egyptians seemed to have been following the breeze’s example.  There were only 100 or so Egyptians braving the conditions but over 300 journalists.  It was a depressing sight but it was still quite early and I held hope that more Egyptians would arrive as the day progressed.  The journalists sat in their air-conditioned tents and watched the Egyptians like locusts, descending on anyone in a flurry of clicks and questions if they dared raise their voice about a whisper.

Thousands of riot policemen cordoned off our area to the left of the main gate, a human fence of boredom and ennui, noticeably wilting under the scorching sun.  They ease their unfortunate situation by getting ice creams.  It is a strange sight to behold; a couple of policemen eating ice creams whilst an Egyptian is railing, having tied himself in chains, in an attempt to get noticed by the press.

To the right of the main gate is an even stranger sight as 30 or so pro-Mubarak supporters sit, awaiting the final verdict.  Surrounded by the same security set up as the other area, they sit and smile, every one of them holding aloft an image of Mubarak.  One man comes over to me and opens up a photo book dedicated to Hosni Mubarak; every page filled with newspaper clippings and photos of Mubarak, the occasional heart drawn around his face.  I knew the situation was volatile as there was going to be some problems no matter what the verdict was.   The imminent clash between the two groups (and the policemen) was guaranteed as one side was bound to find the verdict either too light or too heavy.

By 10:30am the sentencing was being broadcast.  Around 400 Egyptians had now arrived in the anti-Mubarak camp and they crowded around anyone that had a radio.  The half-hearted chanting that had gone on for the preceding 2 hours turned to silence.  I strained my ears past the stillness of the crowds in an attempt to decipher what the verdict was to be.  Suddenly I hear something and then “Hosni Mubarak…” and the crowds explode in euphoria.  People scream “Allahuakhbar” and run around, ripping their t-shirts off, embracing each other, tears flowing.  Many others fall to their knees, crying over the pictures of those they had lost, perhaps feeling redemption.  My mind immediately turns to the pro-Mubarak crowd.

I make my way over to the group, about 100m away, and pass a friend who is walking back.

“Put your camera away, they’re charging some journalists with sticks”

I decide to follow his advice before proceeding.  What I see is yet more tears but for different reasons, obviously.  People are screaming “Haraam!” (Sinful) before stopping to sob, visibly shaking.  One man drops to his knees beside me with choking cries of despondency; attempts an upright stance, before bending over double and throwing up.

Then the inevitable, as the proceedings take a violent turn.  The anti-Mubarak side decide to exit their area and meet the pro-Mubarak side in the streets.  The riot police act quickly as they decide to form a human barrier across the street between them.  The odd man squeezes through and a few scuffles break out.  Suddenly one of the pro-Mubarak women, an impeccably dressed middle aged blonde walks to her car, grabs something from the back seat and starts throwing what can only be described as a small explosive at people.  The force is small but the sound is loud enough as to force everyone back.  She throws one at a passing taxi and with a loud bang, smashes the back window.  She is screaming at the top of her lungs the entire time and then ducks into her car and makes a speedy getaway.

Hosni Mubarak and his Interior Minister Habib el-Adly were sentenced to life imprisonment.  This was far better than anyone I had spoken to could have hoped for, perhaps the judiciary are not as corrupt as everyone thought.  Except the Egyptians then made sense of the rest of the ruling and the initial euphoria very quickly died down.  Everyone else on trial was acquitted.  That includes Mubarak’s two sons, several senior former interior ministers and 6 senior policemen (on grounds of lack of evidence) that have been described to me as the leaders of Mubarak’s Gestapo.

Not one hour after the initial sentencing and euphoric cheer, things turned sour as the anti-Mubarak crowd began throwing rocks into the police while cries of “Illegitimate” were screamed out. Meanwhile in Downtown Cairo, crowds began gathering in earnest in Tahrir Square to show their disgust at the ruling.

Almost the whole of Tahrir Square was packed as tens of thousands had made their way in; people began singing the revolutionary songs of 15 months ago.  There was a definite focus on Shafiq, Mubarak and the Judiciary ruling with the chants and the signs.  Most interesting of all was the distinct lack of anti-Morsi chants or signs.  Not two days before his name was being thrown about with ‘Shafiq’ and with the same hate by the protesters, but now the focus was purely on the Folol.  There were calls to cleanse the Judiciary and to finish off the old regime once and for all.  Morsi pounced on the opportunity presented to him and called on people to head to the squares to revolt again, hoping to gain the respect of some of the voters by doing so.

On twitter there was a stream of comments of a revolution ‘reborn’.  Personally, I can’t help but wonder whether there is not too much focus, yet again, on the young guard who are willing to come out and protest and too little focus on those who just want to get it over with and have that sense of normality back in their lives.

Whatever the case may be, the High Court’s ruling will have an impact on the narrative of these tumultuous times.  They attempted to hand Mubarak, the pantomime villain, on a plate in the hope that this would be enough of a compromise for the others getting off scot-free.  But the Egyptians are not so fickle as to think that Mubarak was alone in facilitating the deaths of the 850 or so protesters a year ago.  As I write, the protests continue, and Morsi must be licking his lips at the prospect of the run-offs now.

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