At some point, it seemed realistic to aspire to live with dignity in Egypt. Now, two years on and with thousands of Egyptians dead, the right to live now depends on who’s side you’re on; us or theirs. Death is acceptable if you’re not with us.
I don’t know how we’ve reached the stage where we can justify the murder of Belal Ali, an unarmed eighteen year old student shot dead in broad daylight by Egyptian security officers several days ago. His death went largely unnoticed because Egypt is Fighting Terrorism and an unarmed kid is clearly one for walking in a Muslim Brotherhood demonstration two Fridays ago.
Ammar Abo Bakr and El Zeft are two street artists that have provided a visual heartbeat for Cairo’s street sentiment, tirelessly voicing the anger and frustration of youth, the mourning of mothers and the outrage against the regime’s brutality since 2011.
A few days ago, they created this poster art as a tribute to Belal, capturing the face of the officer who killed him, a naming and shaming of sorts, just like Ammar had done with his graffiti of the eye sniper in Mohamed Mahmoud in 2011. Ammar used his trademark angel wings, which he first used with the martyrs’ mural in February 2012, while El Zeft returned to the poster art technique and the gas mask he’d used with his famous Nefertiti in a gas mask graffiti.
There’s something angelic or Raphaelite about Belal’s glazed eyes and face, the soaked blood of his shirt bursting with flowers in bloom, bringing to mind Pablo Neruda’s quote ‘You can step on the flowers but you can’t prevent the Spring’, which was first made into graffiti by Bahia Shehab on the miltiary walls of Tahrir in early 2012.
Ammar and El Zeft are not pro-MB, nor are they pro-army. They are expressing their outrage at the death of someone who was supposed to have a whole life ahead of him, who had a right to live with dignity like the rest of us. They use their art to make a bitter condemnation of a fascist police force that continues to justify its murder of yet another young Egyptian.
In the absence of public empathy or even concern for Belal’s death, it’s good to know that people like Ammar and El Zeft exist, that they express their condemnation through street art despite the ongoing public attack against anyone opposing the state narrative.
The two artists are using their graffiti to hold accountable someone who will probably never pay for his crime and live a long, comfortable life while Belal joins the ranks of Gika, Anas, Islam and countless young Egyptians shot dead by security forces since 2011.
They could have grown up to become something; leaders of our country, brilliant minds, inspiring athletes… Instead, they were thugs, terrorists; whatever you choose to call them to help you sleep at night. They were kids. And unarmed.
It is a sad reality to live in a country ruled by old men and suffered by its youth, where battles always end with more names added to the walls of martyrs; names that will no longer be remembered as the history books reflect the latest agenda of the latest regime: every regime supported the revolution, yet there was no revolution, not one bullet was shot, no one died, there were no youth, everything you witnessed never happened.
Cairo’s graffiti gives me sporadic bursts of hope because it functions as the memory of the revolution, proving that such things did happen, people did once feel pride and hope in this country, and yes, killing people is wrong.
As Tahrir’s most prolific graffiti artist Hosny once wrote: They are killing our Future.
All photos are courtesy of Abdelrahman Zin Eldin, if you are a print or online publication, ask him for permission first before reproducing them.