Painting over graffiti in the dead of night while soldiers guard you is stupid. Painting over then denying you knew anything about it shows that you’re a regime not in control of your own police; which begs the question, who controls the country?
But painting over a mural that has paid tribute to the martyrs and heroes of the revolution and become a symbolic and open memorial for the Egyptian public, well that’s just barbaric.
The wounds haven’t healed, the faces haven’t been forgotten long enough for authorities to get away with erasing a chapter in our recent, volatile history.
The Port Said case and the plight of the Ultras have made news headlines in recent months what with the sham of the court case declaring all perpetrators innocent and the Football Federation going ahead with an Ahly football match despite the outrage of the Ultras and families of the martyrs.
It’s as if, step by step, we’ve been moving towards a clean slate, where nothing ever happened. No policemen have been sentenced for the murder of January 25 protesters, and the country’s security chiefs have been exonerated due to lack of evidence that they ordered the killing of protesters (because videos, photographs and eye witnesses don’t count).
In this attempt to re-write history and change facts so that future generations assume the Muslim Brotherhood had started the revolution and remained loyal to it, and the army never laid a finger and didn’t shoot a single bullet at those bad, bad protesters, I assumed the public memory would allow the painting over of the Mohamed Mahmoud mural. With almost two years of political fatigue, indifference and distraction; I can hardly blame them.
But what ensued was surprising: yesterday, artists, activists and members of the Ultras as well as 6 April returned to the walls and created new graffiti over the freshly painted walls. What we have lost was a beautiful work of art; what we have gained is fresh fury and reignited debate.
Today, I listened to clusters of men arguing over the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi, debating anarchy versus order. Some decried the lewd phrases, saying ‘This is not within our culture’, others brushed off the new graffiti as made by ‘a bunch of delinquents with nothing better to do.’ But at least there was debate. After months of stagnation and silence, it was good to hear Mohamed Mahmoud humming with tension again.
The new graffiti that has appeared takes on several fights: the graffiti artist versus the establishment, the protester versus the police, the betrayal of the revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed Morsi. Noticeably absent is the SCAF, the once poster child of the revolution’s enemy.
Instead, Mubarak’s face has returned to haunt us, on the heads of the CSF soldiers, and in the equation with Mohamed Morsi. It’s symbolic of how the new regime reflects the same brutality and oppression of the old regime. Nothing has changed, the artists claim.
While most of the walls are filled with furious messages and amateur street art when compared to the previous layers, there is no doubt that this is just one of many layers to be added over the coming weeks. The authorities have given the artists a new spark to light a fire with, a new drive to use art for their movement against the establishment, the regime, the police and censorship of free speech.
It may take a while for Egyptian authorities to understand that a freshly painted wall is nothing more but an enticing invitation for new graffiti to be made. The AUC was admittedly clever in its approach when it publicly announced its preservation of the wall: by keeping it intact, the institution preserved an important and emotional visual symbol for many Egyptian people. The mural’s relevance and resonance made it sacred, preventing other graffiti artists from vandalizing it – save for the artists who’d made the original mural – thus maintaining a sense of order through this art. Now the flood gates have re-opened.