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Egypt Revolution Graffiti Covers The Streets (PHOTOS)

Egypt Revolution Graffiti

First Posted: 01/29/2012 4:49 pm Updated: 01/29/2012 7:31 pm

By AYA BATRAWY, Associated Press

CAIRO -- The conflict between Egypt's ruling military and pro-democracy protesters isn't just on the streets of Cairo, it's on the walls as well, as graffiti artists from each side duel it out with spray paint and stencils.

Earlier this month, supporters of the ruling generals painted over part of the largest and most famous antimilitary graffiti pieces in the capital.

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The military's supporters then made a 15-minute video using footage posted by two young men stenciling pro-revolution graffiti and wearing Guy Fawkes masks, the grinning face made famous by the movie "V for Vendetta". In an attempt mock the revolutionary street art, the military supporters declared in their video, "The police, military and people are one hand," and, "The military is a red line."

They posted the video online, calling themselves the "Badr Battalion" and describing themselves as "distinguished Egyptian youth who are against the spies and traitors that burn Egypt."

It was an ironic turnabout, with backers of the authorities picking up the renegade street art medium of revolutionary youth.

During the regime of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt had almost no graffiti on the walls of its cities. But when the uprising against Mubarak's rule erupted a year ago, there was an explosion of the art.

Taking control of the streets was critical for the thousands of Egyptians who eventually overthrew the country's authoritarian leader. The battle continues to be fought by graffiti artists who support the country's military rulers and those who want them to relinquish power.

Since Mubarak's fall on Feb. 11, graffiti is everywhere in Cairo and other cities, proclaiming the goals of the revolution and mocking the regime. Graffiti artists have continued to work, using walls, buildings, bridges and sidewalks as a canvas to denounce the generals who took power after Mubarak as new dictators and to press the revolution's demands.

Usually anti-military graffiti has a short lifetime before it is quickly painted over or defaced with black spray paint. And just as quickly the artists put up more.

The graffito that pro-military supporters painted over had survived remarkably long. Mohamed Fahmy, known by his pseudonym Ganzeer, put it up in May under a bridge. It depicts a military tank with its turret aimed at a boy on his bike who balances on his head one of the wooden racks that are traditionally used to deliver bread – though instead of bread, he's carrying a city. It was a symbolic reference to revolutionary youth who care for the nation, heading into a collision with the generals.

Quickly after it was partially stenciled over, a new graffiti was up, depicting the country's military leader as a large snake with a bloody corpse coming out of his mouth.

Graffiti has turned into perhaps the most fertile artistic expression of Egypt's uprising, shifting rapidly to keep up with events. Faces of protesters killed or arrested in crackdowns are common subjects – and as soon as a new one falls, his face is ubiquitous nearly the next day.

The face of Khaled Said, a young man whose beating death at the hands of police officers in 2010 helped fuel the anti-Mubarak uprising, even appeared briefly on the walls of the Interior Ministry, the daunting security headquarters that few would dare even approach in the past.

Other pieces mock members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the council of generals that is now in power, or figures from Mubarak's regime.

When a police officer was captured on an Internet video shooting at the eyes of protesters during clashes, his image immediately dotted walls, urging people to find the "Eye-Sniper."

State television is another frequent target because it has become the mouthpiece for the military's proclamations that protesters are vandals, thugs and part of a plot to throw Egypt into chaos. One graffito shows the word "Occupy" written in the shape of the State TV building. Stickers plastered on walls show the words "Go down to the street" emerging from a television set, a message to the so-called "Couch Party," people who sit and watch the protests on TV.

"It's about a message in the street. It reaches the poor, the rich, the trash collector, the taxi driver," graffiti artist Karim Gouda said. "Most of these people are away from the Internet and the social networking world so it's a way to reach them."

Not everyone is receptive. Gouda said he was accosted by residents as he put up posters depicting a rotting face with the words "open your eyes before it's too late" in the impoverished Cairo district of Sayeda Zeinab. They accused him of trying to create civil strife and of trying to encourage Egypt's Christian minority to take over from the Muslim majority. Such accusations about activists were rife at the time after an October protest by Christians in Cairo, which was crushed by soldiers, killing more than 20.

The residents tore down Gouda's posters and chased him out of the neighborhood.

Under Mubarak's nearly 30-year rule, political expression on the streets was repressed by his powerful police forces. Once every five years, parliamentary elections would see the country littered with posters for elections that always favored the ruling party. Billboards advertising a lifestyle that only a privileged few could afford for companies whose owners were often closely affiliated with the regime towered over the sprawling slums of Cairo, a bustling city of some 18 million people.

"It's liberating to see," blogger Soraya Morayef said of the proliferation of street art.

Morayef, who has dedicated her blog Suzeeinthecity to documenting graffiti artists' work, said the street art reflects what happened in the whole country.

"The fear barrier was broken," she said.

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  • Graffiti depicting a high ranking army officer with an eye patch and Arabic writing that reads, "your eye, the square says the truth, we will always say no," is seen at a protest encampment in front of the cabinet building in Cairo, Egypt Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

  • CAIRO, EGYPT - JANUARY 26: Egyptian people take photos of graffiti written on the walls in Mohammed Mahmoud Street off Tahrir Square on January 26, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

  • CAIRO, EGYPT - JANUARY 26: Egyptian people walk past graffiti written on the walls in Mohammed Mahmoud Street off Tahrir Square on January 26, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

  • An Egyptian woman walks past graffiti reading 'Revolution' outside the American University, off Tahrir Square in Cairo on December 21, 2011. (FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • CAIRO, EGYPT - JANUARY 26: Egyptian people walk past graffiti written on the walls in Mohammed Mahmoud Street off Tahrir Square on January 26, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

  • An Egyptian soldier assists an elderly voter as he walks with a relative past graffiti depicting the Egyptian uprising at a polling station in Qaliubia, some 40 kms north of Cairo, during the third and final round of landmark parliamentary elections on January 3, 2012. (MOHAMMED HOSSAM/AFP/Getty Images)

  • An Egyptian boy flashes the 'V' sign for victory as he stands in front of a political graffiti painted on a wall along a road leading to Cairo's Tahrir Square on December 24, 2011. (FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • An Egyptian couple sit by an Arabic graffiti that reads 'April 6' as the Egyptian youth movement, on a side road of Cairo's Tahrir Square on December 28, 2011. (FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • An Egyptian man sits close to graffiti depicting former president Hosni Mubarak hanging at the gallows, as he watches others taking part in a sit-in at Tahrir Square demanding further reforms in Cairo, on July 27, 2011, months after the resignation of Mubarak. (KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

  • An Egyptian man crawls through a gap in a barrier of cement blocks that closes the road leading to the protest camp in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012. The Arabic writing reads "the gap, heads up." (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

  • An Egyptian holds a banner in front of graffiti showing Ahmed Harara, who lost one eye in the revolt that ousted Hosni Mubarak and the other during recent protests to oust the military rulers, at an encampment in front of the cabinet building in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Dec. 9, 2011. Arabic reads "Liars." (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

  • An Egyptian man holding a national flag walks past Arabic graffiti which reads 'The Eyes of Freedom Street', sprayed on a wall by protesterss who want to change the name of Mohammed Mahmud street -- the scene of confrontations between Egyptian security forces and anti-military activists in central Cairo -- as tens of thousands converged on the nearby Tahrir Square on January 25, 2012 to mark the first anniversary of the country's revolt against the former regime. (KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

  • In this Monday, Jan. 23, 2012 photo, Egyptian women walk past graffiti depicting a military tank on a wall under a bridge in Cairo, Egypt. In May, Mohamed Fahmy, known in the graffiti world as Gazneer, made one of Cairo's largest and longest surviving pieces of street art under a bridge used by taxi drivers to urinate. It was an image of a military tank pointed toward a boy on a bike who, rather than carrying a traditional bread delivery, was carrying the city on his head. It was a symbolic reference to youth who care for the nation and are heading toward a collision with Egypt's military rulers. On his blog, Ganzeer wrote: "Our only hope right now is to destroy the military council using the weapon of art." (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

  • An Egyptian man passes by graffiti that reads in Arabic, "I wish to be a martyr, what do you wish for?" near a protest camp in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

  • In this Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012 photo, a man cleans a side walk as graffiti is shown on the wall with Arabic writing from top left to top right that reads, "the answer and the other answer, we will not forget these dates, the people will still revolt, raise the revolutionary flag, hit Tantawy, the revolution will bring justice, we are for Tahrir," in Cairo, Egypt. Taking control of the streets was critical for the thousands of Egyptians who eventually overthrew their authoritarian leader nearly one year ago, but the battle for freedom of expression continues to be fought by graffiti artists who support the country's military rulers and those who want them to relinquish power. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

  • In this Saturday, Dec. 24, 2011 photo, two boys look through concrete blocks built by Egyptian military with Arabic writing that reads, "freedom," near Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt. Taking control of the streets was critical for the thousands of Egyptians who eventually overthrew their authoritarian leader nearly one year ago, but the battle for freedom of expression continues to be fought by graffiti artists who support the country's military rulers and those who want them to relinquish power. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

  • Two women walk by a mural depicting faces of some Egyptians killed before and after the revolution, Arabic reads "No conciliation", at Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011. SCAF in the graffiti refers to the ruling Supreme Council of the Army Forces. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

  • Egyptian protesters sit in front of graffiti showing protesters chat slogans and the on the right side the face of Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of Egypt's ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), with arabic writing, center, that reads "if you see the fangs of the lion bared, then don't think the lion is smiling," at a rally to mark the first anniversary of the "Friday of Rage," in Tahrir Square, in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Jan. 27, 2012. Some 10,000 Egyptian protesters converged on Cairo's downtown Tahrir Square to mark the first anniversary of "Friday of Rage," a key day in the popular uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

  • Egyptian army soldiers beat a protester wearing a Niqab, an Islamic veil, during clashes near Cairo's downtown Tahrir Square, Egypt, Friday, Dec. 16, 2011. Activists say the clashes began after soldiers severely beat a young man who was part of a sit-in outside the Cabinet building. At background graffiti depicts members of the military ruling council and Arabic reads: "Killer". (AP Photo/Ahmed Ali)

  • In this Saturday, Dec. 24, 2011 photo, men sit near revolutionary murals depicting those who lost their eyes during clashes near Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt. Taking control of the streets was critical for the thousands of Egyptians who eventually overthrew their authoritarian leader nearly one year ago, but the battle for freedom of expression continues to be fought by graffiti artists who support the country's military rulers and those who want them to relinquish power. Arabic writing on the wall, far left, reads, "Kafr El-Sheikh revolutionaries." (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

  • An Egyptian woman walks by graffiti depicting a police officer who is accused of targeting the eyes of protesters amid recent clashes between police and demonstrators that left more than 40 people dead, in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

  • A man prays next to a security barrier in Tahrir Square during a rally to mark the one year anniversary of the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012. Tens of thousands of Egyptians rallied Wednesday to mark the first anniversary of the country's 2011 uprising, with liberals and Islamists gathering on different sides of Cairo's Tahrir Square in a reflection of the deep political divides that emerged in the year since the downfall of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak. The graffiti at right, in Arabic, reads at top, "freedom," and below "down with the military rule."(AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

  • An Egyptian boy walks in front of anti-Parliamentary elections graffiti at Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

  • Egyptians line outside a polling station in front of a graffiti showing the Pyramids and Arabic word Egypt, in Giza, Egypt, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

  • An Egyptian girl stands by a graffiti depicting a chessboard with a checkmate, at the site of recent clashes between police and demonstrators that left more than 40 people dead, in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

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