Jaillan Yehia

After the Whitewash: Tahrir Square In Photos, October 2012

Written by Jaillan Yehia

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Murals on Mohammed Mahmoud street Cairo

A man sits in front of a mural depicting God’s messenger. The slogan reads: ‘We have given our lives for you’

Think of Cairo and you’ll imagine Tahrir Square, mob rule and flag-carrying protesters. But Cairo and Tahrir Square has changed in the last 20 months – at the end of September the Egyptian authorities pushed forward with a major clean-up of the city’s revolutionary hub. Having turfed the square they made the controversial decision to whitewash the political graffiti which adorns the walls of the American University, serving as a commentary on and a monument to the uprising.

By the time of my visit new messages and paintings had sprung up in their place – here are my photos of Tahrir Square today…

I reached Tahrir Square by car without realising it. We were at a busy roundabout, clogged up with some typical Cairo traffic. ‘How much longer until I get to Tahrir Square itself?’ I thought impatiently, before realising that I was sitting in traffic in the middle of it – the scene of a revolution whose historic significance can’t be overstated, and one which changed the Arab world forever.

Tahrir Square and burned out buildings

You can still see the burned out shell of the democratic party headquarters in Tahrir Square, but traffic is now flowing

As well as drivers, there were a few pedestrians in the square, and officials – directing traffic or just keeping an eye on proceedings.

Directing traffic in Cario's Tahrir Square

Directing traffic in Cairo’s Tahrir Square

And underneath the square people carried on their day, catching the metro from the station right below the scene of the revolution – although I was told that not everyone would feel comfortable using the metro, this being a very elitist society with strict social hierarchies.

Cairo Metro station

Catching a train underneath Tahrir Square

Still, the underground was well sign-posted and seemed clean and efficient.

Sign in Cairo's metro station

The Cairo metro exit for Tahrir Square

The Egyptian Museum is right on the edge of Tahrir Square and did suffer some damage during the height of the chaos, but today it’s open and very much business as usual – which unfortunately includes the rule of no pictures inside.

Egyptian Museum, Cairo

A soldier walks towards the Egyptian Museum, Cairo

Like any good museum you exit through the gift shop – although in this case the gift shop is completely empty and closed, as it sits right underneath the looming burned-out shell of the Democratic Party HQ.

Egypt's Democratic Party HQ as seen from the Egyptian Museum exit

Egypt’s Democratic Party HQ as seen from the Egyptian Museum exit

Elsewhere there are signs of the main hub that Tahrir Square always was, such as the EgyptAir office.

Egyptair Office Tahrir Square

Egyptair Office Tahrir Square

But what most people come to Tahrir Square for now is the political and emotional slogans and images which tell the story of the revolution from the point of view of the ordinary people. Once the protestors were cleared from the square, the focus moved to adjacent Mohammed Mahmoud Street. Here the American University in Cairo’s campus walls have been designated an unofficial pictorial speakers’ corner.

'Graffiti area' Cairo

This sign literally says ‘Graffiti area’

The text on these images pays tribute to two young men who were killed at different times during the revolution: Karim Khazam on the left died during the football match riot, and Alaa Abt El Haddi during the cabinet events.

Memorial for Karim Khazam & Alaa Abdel-Hady

Memorial for Karim Khazam & Alaa Abdel-Hady, both of whom died during the revolution.

‘Our graffiti is like a tattoo engraved in the hearts. They do not repent and the past hasn’t taught them anything. And they don’t listen to anything but their own voice.’ reads the text on the wall behind this lady.

Woman in Tahrir Square

The slogan reads: ‘Never-ending graffiti.’

Here a protester has a message for the authorities on a placard: ‘If you return we return, we will never leave the square because it’s the symbol of our revolution, our revolution will never end because its aims have not been achieved up ‘til now. Live (with) freedom social justice & human dignity for all.’

Murals on Mohammed Mahmoud street Cairo

A protester holds up a meaningful message

Murals on Mohammed Mahmoud street Cairo

Slogans on the ground in Tahrir Square, Cairo

Slogans in Tahrir Square, Cairo

Slogans in Tahrir Square, Cairo

The above slogan reads: Religion is for God and Homeland is for all.

And this was probably my favourite message:

Slogan in Tahrir Square, Cairo

Muslim + Christian = Egypt

Tahrir Square Morgue

I was told that the building on the right served as a place to bring the dead and injured during the revolution.

And finally, this motorbike probably succinctly encapsulates what many Egyptians feel:

Slogan in Tahrir Square, Cairo

The sign says ‘Fish milk and tamarind’ – it’s an Egyptian saying akin to ‘It’s all at sixes and sevens’, i.e. ‘It’s all a mess!’

me at Tahrir Square

me at Tahrir Square – thought I’d better put a picture to prove to myself as much as anyone else that I really was here!


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