A History of Egypt in Graffiti

Oct 07, 2013 at 8:49 AM ET

Violence, chaos, deadly protests raging in the streets of Cairo. These have been the enduring images of Egypt the last three years.

But out of all this turmoil an artistic movement has thrived. Instead of AK-47s and tear gas, spray paint is the weapon of choice for these protesters.

Graffiti persists as a historical reminder, providing vivid vignettes and snapshots of Egypt’s turbulent history.


The history of Egypt’s past three years is a convoluted, tortuous road of revolution, unrest, protest, revolution, division and more revolution. Since the January 25, 2011, uprising, the chants have changed, the flags have changed and the government has changed, three times.

The typical lifespan of a piece of graffiti varies wildly depending on where you are in Cairo and the “real estate” value of the wall you intend to paint. Along the infamous Mohamed Mahmoud Street that leads into Tahrir Square, the large works of graffiti have a typical turnover rate of a few months, repainted (or occasionally removed by the authorities), often to keep up with the sentiments of the day.

Meanwhile, the more obscure areas and the lesser known walls play the role of a historical canvas, their messages untouched from the moment they were stenciled, painted or crudely drawn.

The walls are littered with graffiti depicting a jumble of major turning points and different opinions.  As long as you know where to look—and understand a little Arabic—the past three years of revolution is depicted.

Small tags demanding justice from the Port Said football massacre trial that took place January 26, 2013—the ACAB (All Cops Are Bastards) emblem of hatred against the interior ministry.

Above, the faces of former president Hosni Mubarak and Hussein Tantawi, the one-time head of the army. This piece was removed, but it only served to inspire another, harsher form of protest graffiti in the image below.

Occasionally, the graffiti can serve as a healthy reminder of the fickle myopia of memory. During the massive June 30, 2013, demonstrations calling for Morsi to step down, the crowds embraced the army as one of their own again. Chants of “The People and the Army are one hand” reverberated across a packed Tahrir Square.  Nearby, the scrawl of dissent from one year prior (when the army was in charge) can be discerned. “Down with military rule” (seen in image below).

All images by Amanda Mustard.