Egypt’s street artists now risk even more


As more journalists are being arrested in Egypt, artists are under threat as well. A new law enacted following the recent referendum criminalizes graffiti and punishes those “writing abusive language on government and private buildings.” The sentence could extend to four years in jail as well as a fine. The classic excuse of equating graffiti to vandalism in order to ignore the issue of freedom of speech strikes again.

Political slogans and portraits of people who have died since the January 25 revolution are painted over by the government and replaced immediately by artists. The walls of Mohamed Mahmoud Street leading to Tahrir Square are layers of colorful murals over asymmetrical blotches of white paint. And despite its attempt to silence, the dictatorial white ironically makes a great primer for many of the artworks.

Who gets to write history? The actors spray the color and the revisionists armed with white paint attempt to redact. The street is still one of the few places where the revolution has a voice, and it would be a tragedy to silence it.

During a recent trip to Cairo, I was awed by the vibrant graffiti and immediately started documenting the artwork. Here are some of the provocative murals I captured. The translation of the slogans is in the captions. You can find more on my flickr.

Portraits of: Samira in red an black, Mina Nabil with long hair, Alaa with glasses
Writing in blue: Despite the virginity tests, Egypt will remain civilian (not military)
Writing in turquoise: Correct your mistakes. The wound is deep.
Text in white outline: martyr…
Text in pink outline: the martyr is Egyptian….
Text in bottom left: lotfy, ahmed
no for harassment…
Text in black spray paint: 26th jan, the revenge

Portrait with green shirt: Belal Fadl, writer.
pink text: Egyptians documents are in danger.
Text in orange section: Karim/ Sayed/ Bishoy/ Basma
Freedom to Waleed
We squeezed & we’ve been squeezed and we’re gonna rebel
Text over blue background:
chained nations & enslaved people
freedom for thoughts and culture
prison never changed a thought
Portrait of Mohamed Yousri Salama, Mohamed Abu Elhassan, Atef Elgohary, Osama Ahmed.
Martyrs of the Battle Abbaseya
Glory for Martyrs
Writing in purple: Freedom for all prisoners, they locked our brothers in the dungeon.
Writing in red: freedom for the arrested, for the detained.
How happy that one who’s tortured (chez nous)
Smaller writing: Freedom for Basma, Karim, Bishoy, Ezz, Amr, Abdelrahman
Portrait of the martyr Salem Maddeh
In riots you will find me in your bag protecting you.
Portraits of Mubarak and Morsi
– Let them be entertained (Mubarak)
– Let them be paralyzed (Morsi)
Portrait of Mohamed Morsi
Text: 13th of June, red card. (reference to soccer lingo.)

Photos by Gwenaëlle Gobé