Cairo Diary December: Zamalek Street Art

Note: Between going on vacation, settling things with school and, well, life, I’ve been absent from blogging, but I’m back!

My trip to Cairo recently could hardly be called a trip–stopover is more like it-as I spenta mere 36 hours in the country. Yet during those 36 hours I managed to get a lot done, from night rides through Maadi to a jewelry store to going to the top of Cairo Tower to attending a Egyptian wedding.

The ride to Cairo Tower, which is located in the Zamalek neighborhood located on Gezira Island in the middle of the Nile River, afforded me with some good street views. As the infamous Tahrir Square is located just across the bridge on the mainland, it is not surprising that Zamalek would show influence from the epicenter of the Egyptian Arab Spring. Furthermore, as Zamalek is a wealthy neighborhood where Egypts movers and shakers live (or did; who’s a mover nowadays in Egypt?) as well as expats from other countries, so it’s also not surprising that the area might have some pro-democracy graffiti.

December 11 promised to erupt in protests, but fortunately my short time in Cairo was not marred by protests, despite the news. Protesters were gathering on the corner of the main artery of Nasr City holding signs, but traffic was light heading towards Tahrir Square and Zamalek on the 6 October highway.

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Graffiti of a tank. There was lots of anti-police, anti-SCAF/army graffiti, which wasn’t surprising, but what was surprising was that a good deal of graffiti was in English. English seems to be the international go-to language for protesters and rebels who want to get their point across not just to their nation’s politicians but also the international scene.

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Mickey Mouse in flames? According to my husband this says “flames,” though I’m not sure what the inspiration is behind it. Any thoughts?

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Stencil graffiti remembering three boys. It seems unlikely that they would have died during the protests, given their seemingly young ages. You can see the top of Tower Cairo behind the fence.

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This my husband translated as saying for President Morsi to go away. It’s interesting how graffiti denouncing former President Mubarak has now been replaced by words denouncing the new president, as it begs the question: why have the Egyptians replaced one dictator by another?

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Despite the graffiti and garbage and the fact that some of the buildings are a bit down on their luck, the streets of Zamalek are pleasant looking, with proper sidewalks for strolling, unlike other areas of Cairo which have severe potholes, or are not even paved, and have no sidewalks. Pictured on the right side of the above photo is a gaurdhouse, a ubiquitous site in Cairo, especially in areas like Zamalek. All important places have gaurds, and stationed on streetcorners are these little stations for police or soldiers to watch the street and shade them from the sun. I had my first brush with Egyptian law when, after the Cairo Tower, we got back into an ancient taxi and I held up my phone and snapped a photo of this gaurd house. The next thing I knew, the car that was pulling out in front of us had stopped and a man in a suit got out and asked my husband who I was. “My wife,” he said, and then the man demanded that I show him what I had taken a picture of. When he saw the picture of the gaurd house he ad me delete the photo! I was so surprised that I started laughing. Apparently in Egypt it is illegal to take photos of government and army buildings, although enforcing that law must be kind of difficult, since I managed to take the above photo without getting caught!

All I can say is that I now understand why Egypt is ranked toward the very bottom in terms of freedom of the press.

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A view of the burned and blackened site of Mubarak’s Democratic party, with the uncompleted Ritz-Carlton standing next to it in tatters (no doubt unfinished due to the fact that it sits right on Tahrir Square). I feel that this shot symbolizes where Egypt is at the moment: you have a sign in both Arabic and English, of course denoting Egypt’s colonial relationship with Britain and a good reflection of it’s future, where many educated young people find it cool to use English; you have a woman dressed in a niqab, symbolizing Egypt’s creeping Islamization as well as a man dressed in more modern clothes. The burnt Party building symbolizes the despair of Egypt’s political situation, and the incomplete Ritz hotel symbolizes how Egypt’s economy and tourism sector are in complete tatters.

Can Cairo rise from it’s ashes? Can the city rise above the garbage and graffiti on the streets, can it rise above the discord and return to it’s former glory? The beauty, the wealth, the culture is all there, just faded and tattered like the sheets hanging off the Ritz. I believe that one day it will be restored, and if you have doubts, just take a look at this view from the top of Cairo Tower. Cairo’s greatness is on full view.

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