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

The Dramaturgy of A Street Corner

 Jan 25 2013 by Mona Abaza,
[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.]


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.]
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.


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.

Mumia abu Jamal: Message to Occupy Wall Street movement

[In a letter to fellow former Panther Kiilu Nyasha on December 6, Mumia expressed these thoughts about the Egyptian movement and OccupyWall Street:

I find the OWS movement as a truly impressive beginning — but not an end.  It’s got a long way to go, in my view.  It needs some color, some working class consciousness, and some soul.  But it’s a damn good beginning.  If they stay engaged, they will learn. When I look at them, I see/hear echoes from Tahir Square in Cairo; where the people said, “The army and the people are one!”  For, at first, in Zuccoti Sq., N.Y., the demonstrators were yelling (and holding signs that saying), “The police are part of the 99%.”  I think both groups have learned a new lesson from the University of Experience.  I hope so.”

And here, Mumia’s Message to OWS as dictated while in Administrative Custody at SCI Manahoy (being transferred from Death Row to the general prison population) in Frackville, PA, Thursday, December 15, 2011. — Frontlines ed.]

My Friends of OWS,

My message will have to be brief. But let not this brevity take from it, its strength.

You are the central movement of the hour. You’re raising questions that are in the hearts of millions. Your motto, “We are the 99%,” has been heard, heeded, and responded to by millions. You can be certain that the 1% have heard you clearest of all.

Your work, however, is just beginning. You must deepen, strengthen, and further your work until it truly reaches the 99%, almost all of us: workers, black folk, Latinos and Latinas, LGBTs, immigrants, Asians, artists, all of us, for we are integral parts of the 99%. I salute you and hope fervently that you will grow beyond number.

Though I speak to you today by proxy, I’m confident that you will hear my voice soon.

Love, fun and music,

Mumia Abu-Jamal

Occupy Wall Street: From solidarity with Tahrir, debates of internationalism, electoralism, muslim brotherhood, and representation

[There is an upcoming Egyptian election, which MAY bring some representation to some of those involved in the anti-Mubarak uprising in Tahrir Square.  On the other hand, it MAY consolidate the control of the military junta. Or, it MAY not mean or decide very much.  Some Egyptian forces sent a request to Occupy Wall Street in New York, requesting support and “election observers”, which the OWS General Assembly discussed and made some plans.  (See the video for some of the discussion about this.)  But when other Egyptians, revolutionary activists in Egypt, heard about this, they sent a message:  Hold on, don’t do that.  The message from Egypt to OWS is printed, below. Important questions are bound up in this exchange, which we run for everyone’s consideratioon. — Frontlines ed.]

OWS To Send Delegation to Egypt

On Nov. 11, the OWS GA agreed to send a delegation of 20 to Egypt to participate in election monitoring (if only symbolic). In a meeting of the think tank at OWS on Nov.12, the group discussed who to send.


Statement by Comrades from Cairo in Response to OWS Proposal to Send Election Monitors [The following statement was issued by Comrades from Cairo on 13 November 2011.]


To our kindred occupiers in Zuccotti park,

When we called out to you, requesting you join us on 12 November in defending our revolution and in our campaign against the military trial of civilians in Egypt, your solidarity—pictures from marches, videos, and statements of support—added to our strength.

However, we recently received news that your General Assembly passed a proposal authorizing $29,000 dollars to send twenty of your number to Egypt as election monitors. Truth be told, the news rather shocked us; we spent the better part of the day simply trying to figure out who could have asked for such assistance on our behalf.

We have some concerns with the idea, and we wanted to join your conversation.

It seems to us that you have taken to the streets and occupied your parks and cities out of a dissatisfaction with the false promises of the game of electoral politics, and so did our comrades in Spain, Greece and Britain. Regardless of how one stands on the efficacy of elections or elected representatives, the Occupy movement seems outside the scope of this; your choice to occupy is, if nothing else, bigger than any election. Why then, should our elections be any cause for celebration, when even in the best of all possible worlds they will be just another supposedly “representative” body ruling in the interest of the 1% over the remaining 99% of us? This new Egyptian parliament will have effectively no powers whatsoever, and—as many of us see it—its election is just a means of legitimating the ruling junta’s seizure of the revolutionary process. Is this something you wish to monitor? Continue reading

Crowds attack Israel embassy in Cairo

Sep 9, 2011

Hundreds of people have been injured, cars have been torched and the Israeli embassy has been evacuated after thousands of protesters stormed the building.

The protests that started off peacefully in Cairo’s Tahrir square on Friday, soon turned angry with demonstrators facing off with riot police throughout the night.

Sherine Tadros has this report from the Egyptian capital.

Egypt: The Friday of Reaction and Bigotry

[A strong advocate of secular revolution posted this report of the 7/30/11 rally at Tahrir Square in Cairo, on  Given the history of what came to replace the Shah of Iran, these are timely insights for the worldwide revolutionary movement to discuss and debate. — Frontlines ed.]

July 30th, 2011

What was originally announced as a “Friday of Unity” was anything but that. You can call it, the Friday of Disunity, The Friday of Bigotry and Reaction, the Friday of Religious Fanaticism.

For weeks, the Islamist forces, without exception, have been denouncing the Tahrir sit-in, spreading all sorts of cheap, filthy, sensationalist lies against the largely secular protesters, amid agitation by SCAF also, that already incited Abbassiya residents against marchers on 23 July.

The Islamist forces, whose leaders, also without any exceptions, are in one way or another allied to the SCAF awaiting their shares of the booties in the coming parliamentary elections and constitutional reform, decided to escalate their moves against the Tahrir revolutionaries by announcing roughly two weeks ago they were calling for mass protests in the square, to “assert Egypt’s Islamic identity, denounce supra-constitutional principles, and to demand the application of Islamic sharia.” Such announcement was coupled with an agitation campaign that spoke of “purging Tahrir from the secularists.”

There was tension in the square over the past few days. We didn’t know what to expect on Friday. Some were expecting an “Islamist invasion” of the square, medieval style, with swords and sticks. Others thought it was going to be a peaceful day.

Some, like me, expected troubles, but we were hoping to at least try to polarize the Islamist protesters around different demands that their leaders had put forward. I suggested that Islamists would be welcomed at the gates, while distributing leaflets on the military tribunals, detainees, torture, retribution for the martyrs’ families, and social demands. There were calls by some to try to block the Islamists from entering. This was totally impossible even if you thought it was politically correct. It would have been a massacre.

As the countdown to Friday started, shuttle talks were taking place between protest leaders, representatives from leftist, liberal and secular groups with officials from the Islamist groups including the Gamaa Islamiya, Salafi Nour Party and last but not least, the Muslim Brotherhood. An agreement was announced yesterday whereby the Islamists vowed not to include the application of sharia on the list of their demands and not to attack or provoke any secular protesters. In exchange, the leftist and liberal groups agreed not to engage in the “Elections First” or “Constitution First” debate and promised not to chant against SCAF (liberals in general are not those who meant by the agreement, it was largely the leftists, since the liberals are cowing down everyday to SCAF). A statement was issued, with a list of demands agreed by all parties.

What happened since the night of Thursday was a complete disgrace. The Islamists have broken the agreement. They started showing up on Thursday evening setting up their stages, only to be followed later by sound systems blasting anti-secular, anti-leftist propaganda, calls for the application of sharia and pro-SCAF chants.

To be fair, some young Muslim Brotherhood organizers tried to intervene and control the situation, but they failed. The ones who mainly broke the agreement were the Salafis. Over hours and hours, till Friday 7pm, Tens of thousands of Islamists were chanting for Sharia, the Quran as a constitution, intimidated secular activists and non-veiled women. Continue reading

Egypt: Islamists, Which Side Are You On?

from MR Zine (
by Hossam el-HamalawyThe Islamist forces, without exception, are now against the sit-ins in Tahrir, Suez, Alexandria, and elsewhere in the country.  And I mean here the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafis, Gamaa Islamiya, and even the pathetic intellectuals of the “moderate” Wassat Party.  All are singing praise of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (read: Mubarak’s army generals), describing the sit-ins and protests as “chaos,” “conspiracy from abroad,” “work of thugs,” “counterrevolution,” blah, blah, blah . . . in a language that is no different from what State Security Police used to use during the uprising and what the military continues to do till today.

No wonder the shabab in Tahrir kicked out Sheikh Safwat Hegazi (the Islamist preacher with MB roots who supported the uprising strongly but was more than happy to become a SCAF lackey later) when he showed up at the square two nights ago, accusing him of opportunism and being an agent of SCAF.

(from Tahrir Square, video by Youth4Revolution)

Moreover, Sawasiya, a “human rights center” which was founded by the Muslim Brothers and has been headed by a senior MB lawyer, Abdel Moneim Abdel Maqsoud, has called for a counter-Tahrir protest and march in Heliopolis today:

A call for a parallel demonstration in Cairo’s Roxy Square to that in Tahrir Square on Friday has come out on Facebook.  The event is planned to march to the headquarters of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) against the continued sit-in in Tahrir.

A statement released by the Sawasiya Legal Centre, which has initiated the call, declares that the sit-in in Tahrir Square “imposes the demands of a minor category that does not represent the majority of the Egyptian people.”  The statement goes on to denounce the “shameless attempts that seek to create division between the people and their military forces.”

Shame on them.  I will not sing this stupid hymn of “national unity.”  It’s time to make a clear stand, distinguish who is for the revolution and who has decided to side with the counterrevolution.  And the Islamist forces’ leaders are clearly on the side of the counterrevolutionary generals.  I hope the Islamist youth, those who defied their leaders’ orders and took part in the uprising, will wake up and see what sort of opportunists are running their organizations. Continue reading

Egypt: Nearly 600 injured in violent Egyptian clashes

NEARLY 600 people were injured in violent clashes between protesters and security forces in the Egyptian capital that flared last night and were still raging today, Al Jazeera reported. Protesters frustrated by the slow pace of reform under the interim military rulers since the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in February clashed with security forces in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the revolution. Protesters hurled rocks at security forces near the interior ministry. The security forces responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. The health ministry said that 590 people were injured so far in the clashes. A total of 75 people were hospitalized, with 33 people still undergoing treatment today, the Al Ahram daily reported.

At the peak of the violence overnight, an estimated 3,000 protesters were in the square, and numbers swelled again today. Protesters chanted “The people demand the fall of the field marshal,” a reference to Hussein Tantawi, the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which will rule Egypt until the next elections, slated for September.

According to the interior ministry, the trouble started when a group of people stormed a theater where a memorial service was being held for those killed in the uprising against Mubarak, AFP reported.

A security official said that the group then headed to the state TV headquarters and was joined by hundreds who began to throw rocks before heading to Tahrir Square.

But activists said that the families of the victims were denied entry to the memorial in Cairo and beaten by police. Victims’ families are frustrated by the slow pace of the prosecutions of regime officials accused of orchestrating the crackdown before Mubarak’s fall.

The ailing former president has been charged with ordering the killings, as well as graft, but has not yet appeared in court.


Jun 29, 2011 by

Egyptian police on Tuesday clashed with protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the revolt that swept former president Hosni Mubarak from power five months ago.  Officers fired tear gas to disperse the crowds, some of whom threw stones and firebombs.  Authorities said at least five civilians and 26 police officers were injured.  The clashes followed a sit-in outside the headquarters of Egyptian state television.  It was organised by relatives of those killed during the Egyptian revolution.

Continue reading