Political "street art" in Egypt has proven to be dangerous, as only hours ago Mohammed Fahmy was arrested, apparently in connection with his graffiti work.
There are more and more graffiti emerging around Cairo. Many are stencil-graffiti (done by a pre-cut model placed against the wall and sprayed). It is fast and it minimizes the risk of being caught by authorities; in Cairo there is currently a 2 a.m. military curfew.
Some drawings have the face of activists like Amr El Beheiry, sentenced to 5 years of prison for participating in a sit-in. There's another image of the Statue of Liberty wearing a burka and another which needed to be explained: the underpants of Mohamed H Tantawi, the commander of the armed forces. Ramy Raoof, a cyber activist, interprets it as an attempt to show that many are no longer afraid of the military.
"It feels like there is something wrong; it's hard to tell if the army is with the revolution." Raoof, 24, is among a group of influential characters in the Egyptian youth movement. He has just helped organize a day to blog on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF)'s human rights violations, to counter what he describes as a media blackout on this issue. More than 300 entries were received and posted online.
We are at an outdoor cafe near the stock exchange, where activists, artists, intellectuals and bloggers spend the evenings discussing the post-revolutionary Egypt. There are Christmas lights around palm trees and water pipes on each table. There are more than a dozen "computer geeks" like Raoof in the country, who have decided to play an active role in the Middle East and North Africa uprisings.
While blogging and tweeting was widespread during the January 25 revolution, the service computer programmers bring to the youth movement beyond Egypt's borders is crucially different. Raoof says, "I write manuals and guides in Arabic on how to encrypt messages, to maintain privacy and security online. I teach people how to remain anonymous to escape evil people, hackers, government spies, et cetera" Egypt's security agency was provided spy software from the United Kingdom to locate activists posting information on the internet.
"America has mythified the uprising in this country," he says, by using catchy terms like "the Facebook revolution" or "the Twitter revolution"-- "but the reality on the ground is a lot more complex," he adds.
Raoof was attacked by the army, stopped on the street by thugs with knives who threatened to kill him. After that experience, he says he is not scared anymore. The Egyptians of Tahrir have inspired young peers in the west, most recently in Spain, where tens of thousands have taken over the Puerta del Sol square. Yet Raoof doesn't take credit for the toppling of a regime and says he has absolutely no political aspirations.
"The worse is definitely over... I can't believe things can ever get any worse."
As we speak he gets a phone call from two Middle Eastern activists who have come to Egypt to receive the 7-hour training course on cyber activist safety. "When they don't come to Egypt, we travel to meet them."
We briefly attend a meeting in another cafe, 5 people are there, some are from other countries that I was asked not to name. After the gathering we run into two young men preparing to go out on a secret mission to spray graffiti in different locations, ahead of the coming march against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. It's not just a way to voice discontent, as the cyber activists encrypt messages, these street artists put out information to the potential protestors, like the next date of a major sit-in, in this case May 27.
Raoof and others are optimistic about Egypt's future, despite recent sectarian clashes, the growing discontent with the transitional leadership and the terrible state of the economy. He says none of this is either surprising or disappointing, "all great things take many years to happen."
Photos by Mohamed Shawky
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