News / Middle East

Graffiti Becomes Political Weapon on Cairo Streets

Sebastian Meyer
Since the 2011 uprising that overthrew Hosni Mubarak, Cairo’s exterior structures have become its canvas. On the third anniversary of that Egyptian Revolution, graffiti has exploded across the country, with Egyptian artists using their city’s walls to express everything from calls to revolution to outrage over sexual harassment.

Mohammad Mahmoud Street is a showcase of Egyptian street art. Politics. Social justice. Mourning. This is where Egyptian artists come to speak their minds.

The artist Ganzeer has painted some of the most iconic artworks of the revolution, including one on Mohammad Mahmoud. "You have these skulls and, in the midst of the skulls, you have one of the protest signs that was freedom, social justice, right there and a pile of skulls, and who’s responsible? Just a soldier, you know. It’s not Mubarak, it’s not the officer, ranks and whatever; it’s not the people who are making the decisions. It’s just a soldier following orders," he said.

Political battlefield

Over the years, the city’s walls have become a political battlefield where the artists are the soldiers.

In 2011, Ganzeer painted a tank pointing its cannon at a lone boy delivering bread on a bicycle.
 
After dozens of protesters were run over by tanks, a new addition was made to Ganzeer’s piece. But a pro-military group, unhappy with this portrayal, erased the dead and added Egyptian flags to the hands of the protesters. Anti-military artists returned fire by adding a military monster eating a protester.

Not all graffiti has been political. A group called the Mona Lisa Brigades works on issues of social justice in the impoverished neighborhood of Arda Lowa.

Drawing attention

Artist Ismail Mohammed said, "The goal of the project is to take photos of the children and write their dreams and write their names. So when the children are going round the street and seeing their photos in the street, when they are going to school and coming back from school... they are proud of what they want to be and proud of the place."

Mia Grondahl, a Swedish journalist and author of Revolution Graffiti - Street Art of the New Egypt, said most street art is aimed at getting attention in downtown Cairo, not at engaging the country’s poor.

"What the Mona Lisa Brigades are doing is, actually they are bringing up these people to the walls. Lifting them up. Showing them. Here they are. These are the people. Look at them. Take care of them. Listen to them. Hear them out. I would say that that is really revolutionary," said Grondahl.

Mira Shahada concentrates on issues of sexual harassment, but she feels her pieces have done little to change things. "The fight that’s in everyone is still there. Like it hasn’t changed. The thing that I believe we should be fighting for hasn’t changed. It’s about being uncompromising. And, if you’re an uncompromising type, these are difficult times to live through."

With the Egyptian military back in power, her fellow artist, Ganzeer, feels similarly.

"It’s kind of gone full circle. I could do the tank versus biker now and it would totally apply," he said. "Even the piece I did in Mohammad Mahmoud with the soldier and the skulls is actually based on a poster I designed back in 2011...So in a way things have changed, deceivingly changed. You think they change, but actually you’re back to square one again."

Photos by Mia Grondahl/'Revolution Graffiti'

You May Like

Video Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Imagei
X
Marthe van der Wolf
March 03, 2015 9:03 PM
Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More