Assembling a Revolution: Graffiti, Cairo and the Arab Spring

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John Lennon


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.


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Author Biography

John Lennon, University of South Florida

Dr. Lennon is an assistant professor of English at the University of South Florida. His research is principally concerned with how marginalized individuals exert a politicized voice in collectivized actions. His monograph, Boxcar Politics: The Hobo in Literature and Culture 1869-1956, explores how writers and riders created powerful dissenting working class voices outside of fixed hierarchal organizations. It is currently under review. His work has appeared in various edited volumes and journals including American Studies,Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging KnowledgeAcoma, and Americana: Journal of American Popular Culture.