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Posts Tagged ‘Egypt Muslim Brotherhood

 

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posted this July 10, 2014

When the people of Cairo took to Tahrir Square in January 2011 to oust Egypt’s longtime ruler, Hosni Mubarak, the streets exploded with murals and graffiti that both mirrored the revolutionary spirit of the movement and propelled it forward.

A young graphic designer joined the fray, working under the pseudonym Ganzeer, or “bicycle chain.”

Ganzeer distributed questionnaires, stickers, posters and, most notably, one mural of a massive tank gunning down a lone bicyclist. He called it his “alternative media campaign” to counteract propaganda from official news outlets.

Over the past three years, Ganzeer, 32, emerged as a star of the anarchic movement, finding fresh targets as leadership in Egypt repeatedly changed hands. His participation now in the revolution will have to proceed at a distance.

On May 9, he was denounced by a television broadcaster, Osama Kamal, on the program “Al-Raees Wel Nas” (“The President and the People”). He singled out Ganzeer by his real name — Mohamed Fahmy — accompanied by his photograph, making him easily identifiable;

Osama Kamal labeled Ganzeer a “recruit of the Muslim Brotherhood”; and demanded that the government take action against him. This accusation, which Ganzeer and several curators denied, has been widely used against journalists and activists in Egypt in recent weeks, leading to sweeping arrests resulting in prison terms.

Two days later, Ganzeer left Egypt for a long-planned trip to the United States.

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Ganzeer, one of Egypt’s most famous street artists, is in the United States temporarily.Credit James Estrin/The New York Times

“No one stopped me at the airport, because I am not on any official list,” Ganzeer said in a recent interview in his temporary sublet in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “But it is quite typical of the Egyptian government to start a campaign in the media, so when the time comes to crack down, their action is supported by the masses, because they had read about it in the papers.”

From Cairo to Beirut to Dubai, Arab artists have mounted a vigorous creative response to the political upheavals of the past few years, exploring a range of art-making strategies, including the street-art agitprop of Ganzeer and others, who draw from ancient hieroglyphics and teach themselves stenciling to put their cause on the walls.

A glimpse into the diverse and vital art scene arrives on July 16 at the New Museum with “Here and Elsewhere,” a survey of 45 artists from 12 countries in the Arab world who take a more nuanced approach to bearing witness, often questioning the veracity of storytelling and news accounts.

Carlo McCormick, a critic and author of “Trespass: A History of Uncommissioned Urban Art” (Taschen, 2010), puts Ganzeer in a tradition that includes notable street artists like Shepard Fairey and Banksy. “They have a defining style, but Ganzeer is working more as an activist than a muralist,” he said. “He’s more of a chameleon and adapts his visuals to the content.”

Ganzeer has had high visibility, arriving with the United States premiere of a documentary in which he is featured, “Art War,” by the German filmmaker Marco Wilms, that traces the development of street art in Egypt since 2011. His projects are also prominent in a new book, “Walls of Freedom: Street Art of the Egyptian Revolution,” by Basma Hamdy and Don Karl a.k.a. Stone (published by From Here to Fame).

Dressed in T-shirt, jeans and flip-flops with black curls and a short beard framing his youthful face, he said he misses his home in Cairo, a spacious 5-bedroom apartment overlooking the Nile that he shares with two artist-friends.

Here, he is making do with a spare room in a stranger’s apartment and survives by producing new prints that he sells for a modest $500 to $1,000 through Booklyn Artists Alliance, an alternative space in Greenpoint.

Ganzeer was introduced to Booklyn by members of the collective Interference Archive, a political study center near the Gowanus Canal, where he will be speaking on July 23 about the new breed of protest art that alarms Egypt’s leaders.

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Ganzeer working on a new piece in Brooklyn. Credit James Estrin/The New York Times

Ganzeer said he calls himself “bicycle chain” because he likes to think of artists as the mechanism that pushes change forward. “We are not the driving force,” he said. “We are not the people pedaling, but we can connect ideas and by doing this we allow the thing to move.”

This young artist-designer may have been singled out for his most recent street art project in Cairo: a mammoth mural depicting a zombie soldier standing atop a pile of skulls. Or, as he suspects, it was a reaction to an interview in The Guardian on May 8 in which he called for international condemnation of the soon-to-be president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. 

Ganzeer has always been quite outspoken with the foreign press and has thousands of supporters on the web.

In response to the news announcer’s accusations, he posted a refutation on his blog, titled “Who’s Afraid of Art?,” demanding a public apology.

“Ganzeer is a really great, smart intelligent brain and he has a very modern exciting view of the world,” said Mr. Wilms, who first met him in Tahrir Square in 2011, when Ganzeer was engaged in his first public project, distributing a questionnaire asking citizens what they wanted from a revolution. The scene, captured in the film, shows a much younger looking Ganzeer enthusiastically recruiting participants.

“All the artists in my film have been targeted,” Mr. Wilms said. “These young people are willing to sacrifice their lives. They are really dying in the streets. It’s very difficult to understand from a Western point of view, but they are really not afraid.”

On July 4, Ganzeer emailed that a young street artist and activist named Hisham Rizk, who had gone missing a week earlier, had been found. He had drowned in the Nile. Mr. Rizk was 19.

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Ganzeer’s “Of Course #2.” The text is an ironic reference to the military as the protector of the revolution. CreditGanzeer

Born in Giza, Egypt, in 1982, Ganzeer attended business school when he failed to pass an art school entrance exam. “I grew up reading comic books, and I saw myself as someone who would make comic books someday,” he said, only later discovering graphic design while attending college. He ran his own graphic design firm for eight years, developing skills that prepared him to participate in the creative efforts at Tahrir Square.

At first, he made items easy to distribute on the streets and in the subway. But in March 2011, he undertook an ambitious mural project, a larger-than-life portrait of a 16-year-old boy killed by police gunfire, printed about 13 feet high on a wall near the Supreme Court in Cairo.

Using Twitter, he gathered a troupe of volunteers to help him paint the tribute to a martyr with stencils, a 20th-century tradition that originated with Italian propagandists under Fascism but was later used by contemporary artists, Mr. McCormick said.

“Ganzeer was quite courageous carrying out his activities,” said William Wells, director of Townhouse Gallery, a contemporary art space in Cairo. “He knew people were going to stop him when he worked on the street and threaten him, and he always encouraged them to take part in what he was doing.”

Mr. Wells allowed Ganzeer to use his gallery as a base, but became particularly frightened for him in the past year. “The whole dynamics of the city has changed, and everybody was nervous about what Ganzeer was doing,” he said. “I think if he were arrested, nobody would have been surprised.”

Surfing the web for source material, and posting his graphics for anyone to use, he advanced the method of printing images, encouraging other activists to make street art.

In the chaotic early days of the uprising, Ganzeer mostly escaped police scrutiny until May 2011, when he distributed stickers of his Mask of Freedom, now globally known. Posted on the Internet, the image depicts a superhero-style visage, blindfolded and gagged, as a symbol of military repression.

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“Face the Vitrine,” Ganzeer’s collaboration with Yasmin Elayat, in Cairo. CreditGanzeer

This time, civilians were not so friendly, and when one of his volunteers got into an argument with a man attacking them as “spies,” the civilian police arrested Ganzeer, who tweeted to his followers. Caught off guard by the outpouring of support by protesters, the police released him without charges. When he showed up in Tahrir Square the next morning, his Mask of Freedom could be seen everywhere: on T-shirts, posters and stickers.

Ganzeer refuses to label himself a street artist. He has had art residencies in Finland, Poland and Switzerland and has shown in Cairo’s vibrant gallery scene. In 2012, his solo show at the Safar Khan Gallery focused on the military’s involvement in rape and sexual harassment.

He is adamant that he is not going into exile or seeking political asylum in the United States. “That’s what the government would like me to do,” he said, revealing a sudden flash of anger at the suggestion. “I would never be able to vote again. I would never be able to go back. After getting rid of Mubarak, I am not going to give up now on getting rid of this guy,” he said of President Sisi.

Alexandra Stock, a Swiss-American curator who lived in Cairo from 2007 to 2012 and who recently worked with Ganzeer on a mural in Bahrain, noted the mass exodus of intellectuals in recent weeks. “It’s very sad to see this whole wave of people who have left Cairo,” she said. “But I think for Ganzeer, seeing things unfold from a distance might help.”

When asked if he can have a role in the revolution from the shores of Brooklyn, Ganzeer gave an emphatic “Yes.” “In the United States,” he said, “I can make people aware of the situation, so at least the American people can pressure their government to not support our war criminal turned president Sisi or sell weapons that are used against the Egyptian people.”

While Secretary of State John Kerry has urged Egypt to support a transition to democracy, easing restrictions on freedom of expression, the administration recently announced that it would like to resume military and counterterrorism aid.

Neither this announcement nor his current status has dimmed Ganzeer’s optimism or determination to go back.

“Egypt has had a schizophrenic relationship with its street artists,” said Soraya Morayef, a Cairo writer who has made Ganzeer a topic of her blog, Suzee in the City. “It’s been a case where we love you, we hate you, we’ll jail you, we’ll free you, we’ll celebrate you, and, now, we’ll force you to leave the country.”

Correction: July 11, 2014
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misspelled the name of an alternative space in Greenpoint through which Ganzeer sells his work. It is the Booklyn Artists Alliance, not the Brooklyn Artists Alliance.
Correction: July 11, 2014
An earlier version of a picture credit with this article, based on information from a publicist, misidentified who took the photograph of Ganzeer painting the mural “Foundations.” It was Eva Frapeccini, not Ganzeer himself.
Correction: July 11, 2014
An earlier version of this article misidentified the nationality of a curator who recently worked with Ganzeer on a mural in Bahrain. Alexandra Stock is Swiss-American, not Egyptian, though she worked in Cairo from 2007-2012 and is currently based in Bahrain.

Is it worse than Conspiracy in Egypt?

Many people in Egypt believe that western media is biased in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood.

I think they are right, but for the wrong reasons.  It is not because of a sinister western conspiracy to empower the Muslim Brothers, as Egyptian media never tire of telling their public.

The reasons are simpler and perhaps more depressing.   Some are related to how the media operates, while others have to do with occidental perceptions of Egyptian society.

posted in Democracy, Egypt, Islamism, Sweden this Sept. 28, 2013

During a recent visit to Sweden I heard the public radio network (P1) describe the interim-government in Egypt as the “military regime”. I was shocked.

Sweden is a country whose energetic foreign minister, Carl Bildt, has been a vociferous critic of the 30/6 uprising and the subsequent military intervention that overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood president, firing the occasional tweet calling on the EU not to pull its punches and punish Egypt. Thank god Mr Bildt is not in the EU’s driving seat.

Why should the man who’s supposed to be the voice of Sweden on the global stage be on the side of an extremely reactionary political movement (in fact, it is a cult of religious supremacy) that is in every conceivable aspect the opposite of what Sweden stands for:

1. freedom of belief (more people were tried for blasphemy during Mursi than any other time);

2. equality between genders (Sweden tops the global list);

3. the parliament dominated by the MB and their Salafi friends was in favour of removing the ban on minimum age for marriage for girls,  and removing the ban on the abhorrent practice of female circumcision, otherwise known as FMG.

So what kind of “democracy” is Mr Bildt championing  for Egypt?

Muslim–Brotherhood

Although we expect foreign ministers to rely on little more than headlines to find out what actually happens in far away places, I  think western media bears part of the blame.

I don’t mean individual journalists, some of whom I know and respect for their professional integrity. But I mean the dominant news paradigm, which determines how news stories should be told.

This model favours simplicity, stark black and white narratives with clearly defined heroes and villains. If it has to deal with complex or ambiguous developments,  it will iron them out to fit them into its straitjacket.  But the devil is always in the details.

According to this paradigm the story of a “coup” is a lot simpler and sexier than say  “another uprising backed by the army” (which sounds like a déjà vu,  given what happened in February 2011). The coup narrative envisages a dramatic development, a counter-revolution, that is hard news, tangible leap into the unknown. You can already hear the potential for suspense.

The alternative narrative of the “revolution continues” is dull, boring and predictable,  “continue” is not a very newsy verb and does not create headlines.

Although the Egyptian scenario deviated in many significant respects from the classic coup narrative template (an army colonel reads the first communiqué,  announces the formation of a revolutionary council that assumes all powers, and sends all the civilian political class home or to jail ) it didn’t stop the media or many Western pundits from persevering in their monochrome vision.

Once you have superimposed the “coup template”, many details fall into place, the story almost tells itself,  because it follows a well-trodden path :  an elected president against an unelected general.

And Egypt has seen it all before, all the more reason to invoke yet another trope “history repeats itself” and the story is so easy to sell and explain.  Once you have inserted the complex reality into this needle’s eye of a template, the drama unfolds effortlessly.

But what about the millions who took to the streets demanding Mursi to step down, and who urged the army to intervene — these are facts that disrupt the “coup narrative template” and would make the story too complex to tell —  “people and the army together” does not simply fit into any of the readily available narrative templates.

Even when the individual reporter does acknowledge that people supported the army or demanded the military to intervene, this will figure way down in the story and the headline (the most effective of all messages) will still have the word “coup” or “coup leader” in it.

Alternatively,  the reporter may narrate it with  a degree of skepticism and incredulity;  it is presented as an opinion or a point of view, rather than a hard fact like the tanks on the streets, bloodstained faces etc .. all that stuff sells the story much better as a coup than anything else

Egypt tourism

Next to the media I put the blame on what you may describe as, short of a better phrase –the cultural prism through which Egypt is seen by Western eyes.

Many have made the assumption that because most Egyptians are religious and socially conservative then the Muslim Brotherhood must be truly representative of the majority. The MB itself has worked tirelessly for decades to convince Western journalists and think tanks to buy into this self-serving myth.

But this notion has been proven to be blatantly untrue.

The past two years have  demolished this fallacy — one can be conservative without being a supporter of the MB or any other Salafi group. Egyptians now know these are political parties and will judge them as such.

Further, a close examination of all the polls since February 2011 has revealed that if you factor in the turn-out figures, the MB are not a majority, but in fact an organized minority.

Most Egyptians are religious, but unlike the MB, they have always found a way to combine fun with faith.

Wearing hijab has never stopped Egyptian girls from trying to look elegant and attractive. In fact, Egypt has turned the headscarf into an Islamic fashion item that comes in all shapes and colors.

There’s also the other myth that the Muslim Brotherhood is the voice of the downtrodden masses,

The MB are closer to the average Egyptian than the urban and well-off population of Cairo or Alexandria for example.

There’s an old leftist bias here with a dash of orientalism, which obfuscates the nature of the conflict and serves the interests of the Mulsim Brothers rather well.

The MB are not poor, but prey on the poor.

They are in every bit as capitalism can be.  Remember too, these are the men who joined hands with Ronald Reagan back in the 1980’s to defeat communism. The MB are a global network backed up by multimillion-dollar business empire whose exact finances are known only to the few.

The poor were the human shields and cannon fodder in the bloody confrontation with the security forces  while the Muslim Brothers “aristocracy”  were in hiding.

The Muslim Brothers have also benefited from a political taboo prevalent mainly among the left in Europe and America.

Left leaning journalists don’t like to be seen criticizing or exposing Islamism for what it is , a supremacist ideology prone to violence,  out of fear of being seen as Islamophobes, a charge they prefer to hurl at their political enemies of the far-right in Western Europe and the neo-cons in America.

In this context, siding with the Muslim Brothers appears progressive, a way of burnishing your leftist credentials and  asserting your place in the ideological battle raging back home, which has little or nothing to do with Egypt.

All of this has fed into an orientalist bias that the MB are “the authentic Other”, while their opponents are not truly representative of the average Egyptian. To explain this let me digress briefly.

A young English lady travels to Cairo for the first time. She was disappointed when the taxi that took her from the airport was a modern air-conditioned car, not the old rickety black and white vehicle she had heard about. She missed the “exotic” thrill.

Something very similar happened with another former European colleague who didn’t like the newly restored quarter in old Cairo  (done with great care to the historic nature of the area in coordination with UNESCO) because it was no longer “authentic”. So the only way to stay  authentic is to be doomed for ever to live in chaos and covered in historic dust.

The Orientalist prism was evident in the  condescending advice from seemingly well-meaning Western friends (former American Ambassador Anne Patterson is the best example ) : this is not how democracy works, you must wait till the next round of election and vote the elected president out of office.

The 30/6 uprising was a slap in the face to the likes of Miss Patterson.  So it was also for Western professors who built their careers on the study of the Muslim Brothers and worked hard to sell them to policy makers in Washington and London as an effective anti-dote to the militancy of Al-Qaeda. They were suddenly made redundant by the Egyptians rising up and rejecting political Islam. Those quarrelsome, garrulous natives –  how dare they!

Egyptian writer and academic, Galal Amin,  had a  rhetorical question for the likes of Mis Patterson and Mr Bildt.  In his weekly column in Al-Shorouk newspaper he wrote :

“I am really surprised that those supporting the Islamists are people who come from a culture whose civilization began with a revolt against fanatical religious discourse hostile to freedom and science ! What drives the  representatives of such culture to deny us the same right to reject what they rejected 3 centuries ago – but  hypocrisy and the defense of their narrow interests !”

[written for the Islamist Gate (under construction) ]

Many people in Egypt believe that western media is biased in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood. I think they are right, but for the wrong reasons.

It is not because of a sinister western conspiracy to empower the Muslim Brothers, as Egyptian media never tire of telling their public. The reasons are simpler and perhaps more depressing.   Some are related to how the media operates, while others have to do with occidental perceptions of Egyptian society.

 


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