I remember seeing the headlines about the demonstrations taking place in the Tahrir square in Cairo. I was at the time in my home in Khartoum in Sudan, stunned, as I was looking at pictures from the city that was my home for three years. I was busy following the results of the referendum that had taken place in Sudan two weeks earlier, but I couldn’t help watching the news from Egypt. Something historical was taking place in both countries.
On the 25th of January 2011, the Egyptian revolution started in Cairo and later spread across Egypt. It was planned by various youth groups to coincide with the annual Egyptian “Police Holiday” - a strong statement about the perceived increase in unchecked police brutality. The revolution started as non-violent civil resistance in the form of demonstrations, marches, occupation of public spaces and strikes.
Quickly the protesters increased in numbers, reaching over a million people. They came from various socio-economic and religious backgrounds and began to raise various political and economical issues, such as lack of political freedom, high unemployment, freedom of speech and civil liberties. The words “bread, dignity and freedom” were chanted by the crowds. Consequently, what had started as non-violent protests rapidly developed into an uprising. Clashes between the protesters and security forces lead to a large number of people injured and dead. Cairo was described as a war-zone.
Amidst the violence, reports started to appear about the increasing sexual harassment of women in the capital. Women that had demonstrated side by side with men in Tahrir square slowly became targets in the deteriorating security situation in the aftermath of the uprisings. A photo taken of a woman being dragged by a man from the security forces displayed the increased brutality. In the turmoil her clothes had been removed and her blue bra became visible. This photo sparked national and international reactions.
In 2012, I visited Cairo and noticed the murals and street art that had appeared in and around the Tahrir square. The walls reflected the sentiments during the revolution. They had become a living document and commentaries not only of the revolution but also the events that took place in the years after the uprisings. The blue bra, the iconography of the murals, all voiced the frustration and pain in the wake of fading hope.
The art took different shapes and forms, from large colorful murals with “martyrs” of the youth who had been killed to messages mocking the interim military rulers. The vivid art that appeared got the world’s attention, and even though most of the it has since been removed, the usage of art as a form of defiance will live on long after. Yet, one can’t help thinking if the words chanted during the demonstrations and written the walls and are only a distant forgotten memory of the past or if they are still present.
Sofia has lived and worked in Palestine, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Egypt and Bosnia - Mainly with development aid. While residing in Sweden since 2018, she still travels a lot in line of duty. She is also an international election observer. More about Sofia on her member page.
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