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).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s