Assembling a Revolution: Graffiti, Cairo and the Arab Spring

John Lennon

Abstract

This essay examines the ways revolutionary desire was articulated and interpreted through graffiti in Cairo, Egypt during the Arab Spring and its immediate aftermath. For writers in Cairo, graffiti was one of many in a constellation of resistances that undermined everyday life in Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt and the SCAF-controlled interim government. Ordinary surfaces of the city were illegally marked, displaying revolutionary potentiality by allowing the seemingly powerless rhetorical openings of engagement. Far from being a monolithic discourse, graffiti created geographies of material protest that were locally enacted but globally contextualized. Political graffiti, like the overall protests of the Arab Spring, emerged in large numbers at particular moments, but its numerous roots spread distinctly into the past. First contextualizing Cairo graffiti as a tool for revolutionary protest, the article then examines specific writers (Mahmoud Graffiti, Ganzeer), particular ‘battleground' spaces (Tahrir Square, Mohamed Mahmoud Street), different graffiti mutations (tags, pieces, murals) and contrary aesthetic manipulations of the form (‘No Walls’ campaign, graffiti advertisements by multinational corporations) in order to assemble a graffiti scene in Cairo as it follows the ebbs and flows of revolutionary desire.

 

Keywords

graffiti, Arab Spring, resistance, Egypt, political writing

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