Egypt’s irrepressible spirit of rebellion: The art of Mohamed Mahmoud Street

The Dramaturgy of A Street Corner

 Jan 25 2013 by Mona Abaza, http://www.jadaliyya.com
[Street cafe set up at the intersection of Mohamed Mahmoud Street and Tahrir Square. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 30 April 2012)] [Street cafe set up at the intersection of Mohamed Mahmoud Street and Tahrir Square. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 30 April 2012)]

Much like the ongoing revolutionary struggle in Egypt, this short piece is part of an in-progress work to chronicle the evolution of revolutionary art on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, also known as the “street of the eyes of freedom”—nicknamed as such since many protesters lost their eyes on that same street after being targeted by professional snipers during protests in 2011. (See previous articles on this subject by clicking here, here, here, here, and here. Also see interview with artist Alaa Awad on the subject by clicking here).

For a second consecutive year, Mohammed Mahmud Street witnessed intensive turmoil, and chronic violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces. Clashes ensued again in November 2012, ironically in the context of demonstrations that were organized to commemorate the previous year’s clashes of 19-24 November 2011, known as the Mohamed Mahdmoud Street battles. The clashes seemed like a farcical reenactment of those of the previous year, much like the Mohamed Morsi presidency and the Muslim Brotherhood, for many revolutionaries, are farcically reenacting the same policies, mindset, and discourse of the Hosni Mubarak regime.

Repertoire here might perhaps be one key concept that can help explain why the regular use of violence by authorities, and the recycling of the old regime’s discourses by the perpetrators of such violence have become dominant elements in the apparent counter-revolution led by the Muslim Brotherhood. Many anticipate that 2013 will be a decisive year for the wielders of power in their (recurrently violent) confrontations with the large segments of the population that are growingly losing faith in the Muslim Brotherhood. The hastily drafted constitution, and the overt threat it poses to basic principles of human rights and citizenship, perhaps underscore the Brotherhood’s desperation and angst over their faltering efforts to assert their control over—or as some call it, to “Brotherhoodize”—the state. Continue reading

Egypt’s new president vows unity, but powers are limited

Awaiting election results and power deals, people gathered this weekend in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, in a mixed spirit of anticipation, celebration, concern, and revolutionary preparations

CNN, June 25th, 2012

Euphoric jubilation spilled into a second day Monday in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where revelers celebrated the election of Egypt’s first democratically elected president.

But with the hopes of the Egyptian revolution resting on President-Elect Mohamed Morsi’s shoulders, the former Muslim Brotherhood member faces an array of challenges both at home and abroad.

For the moment, the presidency is largely a figurehead position as Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) maintains widespread control over the country – just as it has since Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule succumbed to a popular revolt last year.

The Arab Awakening – Tweets from Tahrir

[New mobile communication technologies such as twitter have been extremely useful for youth, students, and many petty-bourgeois activists in the “Arab Spring” and its many spin-offs in North Africa and in the MiddleEast.  These communication tools have also been recounted as essential instruments, as if there would be no rebellion without tweets, and that is a ridiculous claim.  Additionally, at certain key junctures, the repressive state apparatus has been able to use these new technologies for enhanced surveillance, and at times, when popular over-reliance on twitter was detected by the police, they could systematically shut it off and prevent communications among rebel groups.  Nevertheless, this AlJazeera account of the role of Twitter and Tweets in Tahrir has fascinating insights to one part of the ongoing story of a revolution that has only taken its first step. — Frontlines ed.]

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AlJazeeraEnglish on Feb 19, 2012

Cairo’s ‘Twitterati’ tweeted their revolution for 18 days from in and around Tahrir Square.

Young, urbane and highly-motivated, their tweets revealed the truth of the scale of the uprising which Egypt’s state media sought to hide, and gave a street-level, minute-by-minute account of how the persistence and bravery of the Egyptian people brought down a dictator.

Note: The book ‘Tweets From Tahrir’ by OR Books was the inspiration for this film.

The Battle for Public Space: The Squares and Streets of the Egyptian Revolution

[As oppressive systems face growing challenges, they utilize many tools in preserving their hold on power.  Vicious and brutal police, mounds of disinformation, a wide range of false prophets and demagogues, these are standard tools.  But essential to their survival is the preventing of places where the opposition can meet, draw together their experience and unify for the streggle at every turn.  These places are halls, squares, newspapers, radio and television, internet, tweets, and streets filled with public demonstrations.  If the people are prevented from  access to all such resources, overturning such regimes becomes impossible.  And so, the people grab each and every place they can for their struggle to grow.  The people of Egypt have illustrated this struggle in so many ways, breaking the restrictions and suppressions which have been laid at every step in their path. — Frontlines ed.]
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January 25, 2012 — by Ahram Online

Over the course of the first year of the January 25 Revolution, some public squares have become symbols of revolution, while others have come to represent support for the transitional military regime.

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Protesters standing on a tank in Tahrir Square. Image from Hossam El-Hamalawy Archive.

Space is never something that people simply use; we make meaning out of space through how we use it. And Egypt’s revolution has seen a transformation in public space. That it is no longer surprising to see public walls adorned with political graffiti—even those of Cairo’s Supreme Court or administrative Mogamma building—speaks powerfully to this geographic transformation and to public space both as a site and an instrument of revolutionary struggle.

This transformation has taken place against a backdrop of urban planning that sought to limit the availability of open spaces in which citizens might congregate, while deveoping gated communities for the wealthy that, along with exclusive parks, have constituted a tend towards the privatisation of space.

Emergency laws in place since Mubarak came to power and renewed periodically (most recently in September by the ruling military council) criminalize gatherings of more than just a few people. So, in this sense, public space does not belong to the public at all. The January 25 Revolution can be seen in part as a re-appropriation of public space, indicative of the public’s refusal to concede the streets and squares to the dictates of the security apparatus.

People all over the world have by now heard of Egypt’s Tahrir Square, which has become a symbol not only of Egypt’s revolution but of the resilience of “the people” against state power. References to Tahrir in banners seen at Madrid’s 15 May demonstrations, at Occupy Wall Street, and even on a street sign at Occupy London reflect this awareness. And Tahrir continues to be a site of demonstrations and sit-ins, as well as state brutality against protesters. Continue reading

10,000 Egyptian Women March Against Military Violence and Rule

Egyptian women marching against military violence and rule. Image by Mai Shaheen.

by Salma Shukrallah, Jadaliyya

December 20, 2011–Women organize massive rally against military brutality following spate of violent acts against female protesters that have shocked millions; demonstrators call for an end to army rule.

Prompted by the image of three soldiers stripping a female protester naked and violently assaulting her, thousands of women marched on Tuesday from Cairo’s Tahrir Square to the nearby Press Syndicate chanting, “Egyptian women are a red line” and “Down with military rule.”

Women of all ages and backgrounds converged on the Mogamma administrative complex in Tahrir Square after calls went out on Facebook for a women’s protest march to express condemnation of images – currently circulating on online media venues and in newspapers – of young women being harassed, beaten and stripped naked by military personnel.

Some marchers wore headscarves, others didn’t; others still wore the niqab, or full Islamic face veil. Some Coptic-Christian women participating in the march also carried images of slain Coptic activist Mina Danial, who was shot dead during an attack on Coptic demonstrators by the military in October. Other marchers carried Egyptian flags bearing the cross-and-crescent symbol.

Older women were also among the demonstrators, braving the long march from Tahrir to the Press Syndicate despite weak health and obvious distress over recent events. Many mothers took part with their daughters. Continue reading

Unyielding young Egyptian protesters refuse to succumb to military brutality

Citizen Action Monitor, December 17, 2011

“At least nine people have been killed in Egypt and more than 350 injured in the past two days of clashes between protesters and security forces in Cairo. Soldiers have cleared Tahrir Square of protesters. And footage showed troops beating demonstrators and burning their tents. Protesters are calling for the country’s military rulers to step down. But the military blamed the protesters for the violence, and the country’s prime minister denied that excessive force was used.”Al Jazeera

Here is an Al Jazeera video clip that captures the ferocity of military brutality against courageous young protesters. Also featured is Egyptian Prime Minister Kamal El Ganzouri’s bald-faced lies that the protests are “an attack against the revolution” and that military action is designed to “rescue the revolution.”

Egypt clashes continue for second day, Al Jazeera’s Rawya Rageh reports from Cairo December 17, 2011

Force and fire. That’s how security forces responded minutes after the Egyptian prime minister promised no violence will be used. Protesters didn’t expect much from the man whose very choice of head of cabinet was the main reason behind their sit-in. Still what he had to say disappointed many.

Kamal El Ganzouri, Egyptian Prime Minister – “What we’re having today is not a revolution. It’s an attack against the revolution. I told the youths that I have met, more than 350 of you on 11 days. They are youth from this country. I’ve met them and I told them – This is a government to rescue the revolution of the 25 of January.

But there was no rescue for these protesters who continued battling the military for the second day in a row. The violence spread from the cabinet and parliament buildings into Tahrir Square where the revolution began. Security forces stepped up their campaign after a government building, including a historic research centre, was set on fire in the melee.

They [state television] televised live footage of the violence. It gave the same line as military officials – that the protesters were simply carrying out acts of vandalism. No reference was made to security forces attacking other media. But whatever Egyptians were being told on state television, those on the ground, the ugliness they’ve witnessed first-hand is indisputable.

Indisputable, too, is the fact that the military council is gradually losing political ground. Already a new civilian advisory council that it had appointed, the new relations between the army and the protesters has suspended its work. The question now is whether the men in uniform will change their ways and if there’s even the will to do so.