“There are few of us drawing. Intimidation has frightened away many artists. We are forced to work with someone breathing down our backs,” said Ahmed XX, code name of a graffiti artist who chooses to remain anonymous. “We pretend to draw murals that celebrate the feats of the Sisi who saved our country and the work done by the army in his sacred hands. But in the end, we stain both with blood,” adds the young man. He removes his balaclava and allows us to photograph the result of his work along the railway tracks at Heliopolis, one of Cairo’s satellite cities. “Last night there were four stencils of ‘Sisi the butcher’, but they vanished in the blink of an eye. The brush strokes of the authorities are quick and come in all sizes. They delete all the details on murals that take up entire walls, as well as the stencilled drawings in back alleys,” a co-worker of Ahmed XX added.
However, it is enough that the occasional graffiti remains intact for a few hours, for enough people who feel excluded from this patriotic celebration – Islamists and activities against the return of a military regime – to take photos of it and circulate it on the country’s networks. The very few who do not support Sisi, save the file and post it on the little visited pages of the websites of campaigns opposing yet another general president.
“We are one critical drop in an ocean of jubilation”, explained Ganzeer, a writer who has already been to prison for distributing subversive stickers. He is an artist who, although he joined protests also during the Islamist period, was recently accused of being a terrorist. Why? Because in one of his drawings, he drew a man who looks like Sisi entering a television screen and becoming a rabbit. Osama Kamal, the host of the programme Al-Rais wa al-Nas (the president and the people) had accused Ganzeer of working for the Muslim Brotherhood and Kamal’s words have had a certain effect in times in which being described as a member of this movement has led to death sentences.
“I hope my work provides an alternative story to the one prevailing in the country,” said Ganzeer. “The whole world thinks that all we Egyptians support Sisi, but the international community must no longer believe this half-truth.” For this reason too the Egyptian graffiti artist has contacted foreign colleagues to start an international murals campaign. From Tunisia to New York, through Belgium and France, artists such as Sampsa (here and here), Captain Borderline and Molly Crabapple have created an international exhibition of street art entitled #Sisiwarcrimes. Here the ‘saviour of the homeland’ Sisi is portrayed as responsible for the death of thousands of civilians, or the detention of Abdallah Al-Shamy, an Al-Jazeera correspondent imprisoned since August for having attempted to talk to Islamists described as terrorists. “Artists like Ganzeer are real pioneers of modern street art. Those outside Egypt are doing nothing at all to change the situation,” said Sampsa. “Those fighting to allow a graffiti to survive just a few hours in Cairo are both artists and activists.” According to Granzeer, however, even if the international community is doing nothing, the graffiti under Brooklyn Bridge are important. “No Egyptian regime can survive without support from the great powers. The leaders of these countries are elected by those who walking along, and stop and look at the graffiti in memory of all the Egyptian students killed in recent months in my country.”
Translated by Francesca Simmons