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Cairo’s street artists defy authorities with graffiti protest

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Whitewashing their own work, but with a difference. Mohamed Mahmoud Street, Cairo.

Cairo’s graffiti artists offered a sarcastic rebuttal to city authorities on Thursday during the last day of voting in Egypt’s presidential elections. Following plans to whitewash street art on Mohamed Mahmoud St, artists instead began the whitewashing themselves spelling out a cynical phrase in Arabic – “forget about the past, focus on the elections”.

Radio France Internationale

“We decided to do it, but our way,” independent artist Mahmoud Hany tells RFI, his hands covered in paint after descending down a ladder.

The wall just off Tahrir Square is particularly iconic. It features the faces of several martyrs, anti-military council slogans and reminders of last year’s uprising.

Hany says the city authorities had threatened to cover the wall a few days ago. But they wanted to beat them to it. “We have to be with the events,” he explains.

Some of the graffiti is particularly critical of the elections. With some of the so-called revolutionary youth seeing the polls as an exercise in consolidation of power for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).

Slideshow: Mohamed Mahmoud St, in downtown Cairo, Egypt

Especially evident, they say, in the candidacy of figures such as former Mubarak-era prime minister Ahmed Shariq and former foreign minister Amr Moussa.

One evocative mural directs its criticism of the old regime by morphing the faces of various figures together.

“Half of it is [Field Marshall] Tantawi, and the other half is Hosni Mubarak,” says Hany. “Behind them, Amr Moussa and Shafiq,” he adds.

The young artist explained that the authorities removed the original piece featuring just Tantawi and Mubarak. So they repainted it. Adding Moussa and Shafiq, placed in the background.

Cairo’s downtown area is awash with graffiti over a year after the ousting of Mubarak. Further down Mohamed Mahmoud St each side street is blocked off by a wall constructed by the security services to protect the interior ministry. Each one serving as a canvas for Cairo’s street artists.

It is not clear how long the authorities will tolerate it for. Hany, however, is unperturbed. “Graffiti is not an art that lasts forever,” he says. “Anyone can add anything at anytime,” he adds, smiling.

Written by Daniel Finnan

25 May 2012 at 10:33