Did graffiti and social media support the Egyptian Youth Revolution?

Young protesters did successfully agitate for the ousting of Mubarak’s regime, leading the Egyptian Revolution to be described as the ‘Youth Revolution’ (Ezbawy, 2012). According to The Guardian  newspaper, Google executive Wael Ghonim was one of the youth people who played an essential role in the uprising due to his popular campaign establishing on a Facebook page and called ‘We Are All Khaled Said’. Ghonim named the page ‘Martyr’ an anonymous name to protect his personal identity (8).

The page has 1.8m followers and people post on the page seeking change, denouncing nepotism and helping to give birth to a better Egypt. From this basis, the call of 25 January 2011 was adapted by various local seekers of constructive revolution. It is worth referring to the story of Khaled Said, an Egyptian from the coastal city of Alexandria. Said was tortured to death at the hands of two police officers inside a residential building because of his actions seeking to eradicate violence and injustice from Egypt (4).

Sadly, the Egyptian demonstration was a bloody one. As revealed inFrontline investigation (7), on 25 January 2011 Tahir Square witnessed youth protesters speaking out against the Mubarak regime. Their aim was “ḥorreyya, karāma ’insāneyya”, that is, “bread, freedom and human dignity” (Nicoarea, 2011).  The police reacted by using tears gas and water cannons and numerous protesters were injured.

A couple of days late, on 27 January 2011, the Egyptian authorities shut down all internet services in the country in an attempt to prevent protesters from organising additional demonstrations. However, many  scholars have argued that social media was a fundamental tool in the facilitation and success of the Arab Spring owing to the high consumption of Facebook in particular as well as Twitter and YouTube. There is scholarly consensus that the widespread use of social media enabled the protesters to organise themselves to agitate for democracy and freedom of expression (Dewey et al., 2012).

However, some scholars critique this view by stating that graffiti was the only real means of assisting youth demonstrators and pushing forward the entire Egyptian Revolution. So-called “political street art” was an efficient tool in the hands of Egyptian youth as it was not censored or dominated by the Egyptian government as were the internet and social media platforms.Despite the significance of social media in the Arab region, it tends to only be accessible to the elite or well-educated. In contrast, graffiti was seemingly able to notify the whole Egyptian population of the progress of demonstrators, particularly those who individuals who are not literate (Ruiter, 2015; Farrell, 2015).

It is important to point out how graffiti as a culture reached Egypt. Urban (2001) indicates that a culture can move to another part of the world once it has gained a powerful feature such as highlighting the voices of marginalised communities or influencing the culture of a country with certain moralistic values. Although moved to new context, cultures can still maintain their authenticity and fundamental value. By linking this conceptual framework to the movement of graffiti to Egypt, it can be seen the introduction of hip hop culture influenced graffiti, a culture that is frequently associated with conflict and protest (Zoghbi, 2011).

Taz tactics seem to have been endorsed by the Egyptian protesters as their aim was aligned with concept of Taz, which is giving birth to achievement, humanity and dignity through a peaceful “Selmya” demonstration without any vandalism or human oppression. However, there were some cases of violence as will be mentioned later (Bakr, 2011; Bey, 2003). During the Egyptian Revolution, graffiti become a communication tool used to challenge government restrictions on traditional media. This is exemplified by Yasmeen, a young Egyptian graffiti artist who wrote, “Our media is fake media. It is not saying what happened really outside, no. It is a fake. So we need… we feel that our role is to make people understand what really happened there” (Ruiter, 2015).

Omar Picasso claimed that graffiti and street art are suitable media to inform the public about the political progress of protests as “street art” represents a massive community compared with the social media community. The target for graffiti artists was to transform the street into a space for dialogue and democracy. In that context, graffiti transformed Cairo Street during the protests, creating a “participatory culture”, which is defined as a culture where there are no obstacles to block artists and civilians from political engagement and rights (Ruiter, 2015). Samira Ibrahim is an Egyptian activists who was jailed and tortured by the military and was subject to an examination of her virginity. After her ordeal she used graffiti to express herself which led to her case gaining international attention (Nicoarea, 2011).

“Mad Graffiti Week” saw a number of pieces created voluntarily by many artists who painted Cairo Street in the aftermath of Mubarak’s resignation celebrating the success of public protest. There are many famous graffiti works that have grabbed the public’s attention, such as the “blue bra girl”, a youth protester who was hit on her uncovered chest by police officers. The graffiti of the blue bra stencil enhances the claim that graffiti was crucial to the success of the Egyptian Revolution instead of social media as it highlighted issues around the equality of women and women’s participation in the protest and shed light on the way in which women are abused (Nicoarea, 2011).

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In conclusion, it seems that graffiti and social media are valuable mean of aiding youth protesters in their protests. Seemingly, graffiti could be the most accessible path to addressing the issue of literacy during demonstrations and ensuring the spread of information. This can have significant ramifications in a country such as Egypt where education is the domain of the elite and could unleash the wisdom of the illiterate.

References:-

  1. Bakr, N., 2011.The Egyptian Revolution. 1st ed. Egypt, p., 77, 88.
  2. Bey, H., 2003.  A. Z. The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism. 1st ed
  3. Dewey, T., Zhu, B., Matsushima, S., Marks, M. andKaden, J., 2012. The Impact of Social Media on Social Unrest in the Arab Spring. [Online] USA: Stanford University. Available from: http://stage-ips.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/shared/2012%20Practicum%20Policy%20Brief%20SocialMedia.pdf[Accessed 25 Apr. 2016].
  4. Elshaheeed, 2016. Background Story | we are all Khaled Said. [Online] Elshaheeed.co.uk. Available from: http://www.elshaheeed.co.uk/home-khaled-said-full-story-background-truth-what-happened-torture-in-egypt-by-egyptian-police/ [Accessed 3 May 2016].
  5. Ezbawy, Y., 2012. The Role of the Youth’s New Protest Movements in the January 25th Revolution. Online library Wiley, 43 (1).
  6. Farrell, D., 2015. The Role of Artistic Protest Movements in the Egyptian Revolution. Youth, Revolt, Recognition. Berlin: HU Online Publication.
  7. Frontline, 2016. Revolution in Cairo – Feb. 11. [Online] FRONTLINE. Available from: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/revolution-in-cairo/day-to-day/feb-11.html [Accessed 3 May 2016].
  8. Hattenstone, S., 2012. Protesters’ stories: Wael Ghonim and Egypt. [Online] the Guardian. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/jan/13/protesters-egypt-tahrir-wael-ghonim [Accessed 19 May 2016].
  9. Nicoarea, G., 2011. Cairo’s new colors: Rethinking Identity in the Graffiti of the Egyptian Revolution. 1st ed. University Bucharest, pp.24, 249.
  10. Ruiter, A., 2015. Original Article Imaging Egypt’s political transition in (post-) revolutionary street art: on the interrelations between social media and graffiti as media of communication.SAGE, 37 (4), 582-595.
  11. Urban, G., 2001.Metaculture: How Culture Moves Through the World.. 1st ed. University of Minnesota Press: ProQuest library.
  12. Zoghbi, Pascal & Karl, Don. 2011. Arabic Graffiti, Berlin: From Here to Fame.

 

 

 

 

The National Campaign against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC)

 

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The 21st century has witnessed many youth protests in different countries. These include NCAFC in London and (we are all Khaled Said) in Egypt. Although most of them tend to seek to improve some aspect of society, every protest has a different aim (7). Jobs (2009) states that the purpose of protest varies from group to group. For instance, some protestors resist oppressive regimes, while others wish to reform some aspect of a country. Hence, the prevalence of protest seems to be a global phenomenon and the reasons mentioned by (7) .Jobs (2009) suggest that the increasing incidence of protest could be due to the fact that the priorities of vast majority of regimes have changed from serving the affairs of the citizens to combatting terrorism. However, the focus on terrorism has led to neglect of other aspects of citizens’ lives such as unemployment and cost of living. Hence, the citizens’ reaction is to protest and dissent through marches and demonstrations to raise their voice to the authority and obtain their rights

 

Furthermore, it is difficult to find a commonly accepted definition of protest among contemporary scholars (9). Skolnick (1969, p.15) defines protest as “the political tool of only a few dissident factions such as students and Negroes”. Yet definitions by modern authors seem to be more precise in portraying the current protests (7). Jobs (2009) states that protest can include responses to undesirable situations in order to stimulate positive change in society. For example, the NCAFC, or National Camping against Fees and Cuts, in the UK has pursued its objective with four years of marches (2).

In fact, this type of protest has long been popular in the UK (3). Awl (2013) states that there were a number of protests preceding NCAFC that had a comparable claim about education policy in the UK, including NOLS/SSIN in the 1980s and CFE in the 1990s and ENS. Unfortunately, most of these movements have failed to reach their objectives due to a shortage in mobilisation and opposition from other organisations. For example, the NUS is a conservative group and was opposed to the protestors’ vision. This has impeded the process of responding to protesters’ claims, which made students pessimistic about the protest. Consequently, university fees increased approximately from £1,000 to £3,000 in 2004 after obtaining approval from five of the parliament members. Then, in 2010, the government raised fees again to £9,000 (3)(Awl 2013).

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Increasing fees in the education system led to the establishment of the National Campaign against Fees and Cuts in 2010 by university students around the UK. They wanted to reduce university fees. However, this protest persisted for 4 years from 2010 to 2014 and failed to reach its aims in 2010 and 2011 respectively (3) (Awl 2013). The factors behind the failure where outlined by (5) Chessum (2014) who was one of the previous organisers for the NCAFC. The weak connection and poor sharing of experiences between the old and new members prevented any improvement in the protest strategy.

On the other hand, (3) Awl (2013) said that the NCAFC marches witnessed great mobilisation. In November 2014, students from universities and a huge number of students from schools and colleges turned out. He said the marches in London revealed “a level of student militancy and mobilisation not seen for decades”. The majority of protestors carried banners with expressions such as “Free education: no fees, no cuts, no debt” (6).

In terms of the protests’ tactics, the concept of TAZ seems to have been adopted in this protest (4). Bay (2003,p.3) said “the TAZ tactics can provide the quality of enhancement associated with the uprising without necessarily leading to violence and martyrdom”. The NCAFC used this strategy for two reasons. It wanted to remain peaceful and avoid any rioting (3) (Awl 2013).Moreover, they intentionality chose random days in mobilising the protesters to avoid  was resistance from the police. Despite all these precautions, the sheer size of the protest, which numbered 10,000 was considered a threat to public safety. The police used “kittling” and repression to disperse the protesters (3) (Awl 2013).

NCAFC was affiliated to the Green party as they have the common goal of free education in the UK. Hence, they collaborated in organising huge marches in 2014 as the Green Party has a around 17,700 members (8) (Pinkney-Baird 2015). As result, this collaboration between NCAFC and the Green Party made progress not just in reducing university fees, but also with certain political issues. It provided international students with the chance to raise their concerns about certain issues such as obtaining a visa and staying in the UK (1) (Admin 2012).

To conclude, it is my point of view that the insistence in reaching the goal with repetition and taking into consideration learning from past experience will lead to improvement and goal achievement, as seen with the NCAFC.

References:

(1)Admin, 2012. NCAFC Conference Report — National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts. [online] Anticuts.com. Available from: http://anticuts.com/2012/12/11/ncafc-conference-report-3/#1.Structural Outcomes of the conference [Accessed 28 May 2016].

(2)Afifi-Sabet, K., 2015. How Students Changed The World In 2014. [online] The Huffington Post UK. Available from: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/12/08/how-students-changed-the-world-in-2014_n_6286614.html [Accessed 1 May 2016].

(3)AWL, 2013. A history of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, 2009-2013. [online] Workers’ Liberty. Available from: http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2013/09/09/history-national-campaign-against-fees-and-cuts-2009-2013 [Accessed 3 May 2016].

(4)Bey, H., 2003. T. A. Z. The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism. 1st ed.

(5)Chessum, M., 2014. 7 lessons from a departing student activist. [online] openDemocracy. Available from: https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/michael-chessum/7-lessons-from-departing-student-activist [Accessed 27 Apr. 2016].

(6)Green Party, 2015. Young Greens become largest youth party in the UK. [online] Green party. Available from: http://Young Greens become largest youth party in the UK [Accessed 4 May 2016].

(7)JOBS, R., 2009. Youth movements. Youth Movements: Travel, Protest, and Europe in 1968.., [online] 114 (2, p376-404, 29p.). Available from: http://sj9sr8sb5k.search.serialssolutions.com/?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&ctx_enc=info%3Aofi%2Fenc%3AUTF-8&rfr_id=info:sid/summon.serialssolutions.com&rft_val_fmt=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:journal&rft.genre=article&rft.atitle=Youth+Movements%3A+Travel%2C+Protest%2C+and+Europe+in+1968&rft.jtitle=The+American+Historical+Review&rft.au=Richard+Ivan+Jobs&rft.date=2009-04-01&rft.pub=Oxford+University+Press%2C+UK&rft.issn=0002-8762&rft.eissn=1937-5239&rft.volume=114&rft.issue=2&rft.spage=376&rft.externalDocID=1699050651&paramdict=en-US [Accessed 1 May 2016].

(8)Pinkney-Baird, W., 2015. National free education demo called for 4th November. [online] Bright Green. Available from: http://bright-green.org/2015/06/15/national-free-education-demo-called-for-4th-november/ [Accessed 1 May 2016].

(9)Skolnick, J., 1969. The politics of protest. New York: Simon and Schuster.