During the 18 days that changed the course of modern-day Egypt Tahrir Square, in the heart of downtown Cairo, became known throughout the world as the epicenter of freedom and change. We couldn’t wait to get a glimpse of the square and talk to people about what had transpired and what is transpiring.
Just a few days before our arrival the area around Tahrir was in chaos, so much so that we made contingency plans for where we would stay. Our daughter lives just a couple of blocks away and by the time we arrived things had quieted down. Quiet is a relative term. We headed out on Friday with plans to eat Egyptian pizza (fateer) and head toward the Nile for a felucca ride. At one end of Annie’s street ten soldiers in full riot gear blocked any movement and just past the soldiers sat four army tanks, ready and waiting to be used at the sign of any trouble.
As we attempted to get to the Nile, every where we turned we ran into obstacles. Large circles of barbed wire blocked street after street. And then there were the walls. These walls are like nothing I’ve seen before. They are massive square boulders built into 12 feet high walls. They are strategically placed in the downtown area to restrict movement and prohibit protesters from gathering. They are quite simply a clever means to block civilian dissent. To put this into context, it would be like New York City blocking off all side roads leading to Zuccotti Park with massive, immoveable, concrete boulders, sending all traffic in the area into chaos and frustration. Taxi drivers shake their heads in disgust as all attempts to drive places are met with detours imposed by the walls.
As quickly as the walls have been built, the graffiti has appeared. It was my children and Shepard Fairey that first challenged me to look at graffiti as an art form and a means of expression. The graffiti on the newly constructed walls does just that as it communicates powerful messages from civilians related to both the January 25th uprising as well as the violence that has been perpetuated this fall. This graffiti is well done. A common theme includes a patched eye, an accusation toward a young soldier who is infamous for shooting out the eyes of protesters – “Yes! I got another eye” is his arrogant quote.
More than anything, the graffiti is evidence of frustration and division regarding the ongoing role of the military in the new Egypt. For me the graffiti was a look into a society where I am an outsider. My Arabic is not good and even as I struggle to communicate, I want to learn more of what people are thinking and feeling. As with any kind of art, those who create the graffiti wish to use more than words to communicate their thoughts and ideas. Take a look and get a glimpse of Tahrir Square through the graffiti in these pictures.
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- The Clash of the Two Egypts: Tahrir Square Vs. Abbasiya Square (time.com)
- Tahrir Square, Walled In (thelede.blogs.nytimes.com)