Egypt street art vents anger at president after whitewashing

Thu Sep 20, 2012 11:43am EDT
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By Tom Perry

CAIRO (Reuters) - No sooner had Egyptian authorities painted over a wall of revolutionary graffiti near Tahrir Square this week than the street artists were back with spray cans and a new target: President Mohamed Mursi.

Seeking to restore a sense of normalcy to Tahrir, scene of the democratic uprising that swept Hosni Mubarak from power last year, the authorities have deployed police, evicted unlicensed vendors and planted palm trees, shrubs and flowers.

But the move to whitewash graffiti charting the course of the revolt and the turbulent 18 months that followed was a step too far for the artists. They congregated on Wednesday and Thursday to spray murals expressing anger with the government.

"This work embodied many things: the martyrs, the military regime and a people looking for freedom and democracy," said Ahmed Nadi, a political cartoonist, as he spray-painted caricatures of the bearded, bespectacled president who was elected in June in Egypt's first free presidential vote.

"It was the memory of a place that witnessed many important events," he said. "We imagined that Mursi would leave these great images as they were."

Though Mursi apparently had nothing to do with the step - officials said the clean-up had been ordered by the governor of Cairo - the artists and activists who gathered to support them held the newly-elected Islamist leader responsible.

Prime Minister Hisham Kandil issued a statement distancing the government from a move he attributed to workers from the governorate of Cairo, hinting at the disconnect between the executive and the sprawling state. He called for more graffiti that "reflects the spirit of the January 25 revolution".

Street art has been a defining feature of the Egyptian revolution and the new freedoms it brought. Photographed widely by tourists and Egyptians alike, the murals have taken aim at Mubarak and the military rulers who replaced him, and paid tribute to activists killed during the uprising.   Continued...

A man redraws the graffiti along Mohamed Mahmoud street, a day after the walls were believed to be painted by government workers to cover former graffiti, in downtown Cairo September 19, 2012. The graffiti on the walls of Mohamed Mahmoud Street had existed since November, where some of the fiercest fighting between protesters and security forces took place. The graffiti in red reads: "tell your boss that our country has a special taste for us." The words in black (L) read: "If you erase I will write it again." and the words on the bottom right call the police and the country's system cowards. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany