Photo posted on Facebook by وكالة أنباء صالح ومنى
 
Even though anti-government protests have, for the moment, tapered in Egypt, the capital Cairo remains dissected by military barricades. Forced to live in communities disjointed by massive walls, a group of street artists have armed themselves with brushes and paint in an effort to transform the oppressive symbols into works of art.
 
Egypt has been wracked with periodic outbursts of violence since the military took power in the wake of former President Hosni Mubarak’s downfall on February 11, 2011. Thousands of protesters returned to the capital’s now-symbolic Tahrir Square last November to demand the country’s interim military rulers finally transition to a civilian government. Egyptian security forces tried to crush the unrest with force, killing at least 41 people during five days of unrest.
 
Since then demonstrators have returned to the Square on numerous occasions, most recently in February after 74 people were killed in clashes at a football match in the northern city Port Said.
 
In response to the violence, Egyptian authorities ordered that a number of streets surrounding government buildings in downtown Cairo be sealed off. Huge, imposing concrete block walls were quickly erected to prevent protesters from accessing what for many had come to symbolise an obstacle to the revolution.
 
Refusing to allow themselves to be literally walled in by the authorities, activists and street artists invited Cairo’s residents last Friday to pick up a brush and paint images of beauty that might transcend the concrete barriers as part of the “No Wall” campaign.
 
Artists work on a mural designed to give the impression the wall does not exist.
 
Completed mural. Photos posted on Facebook by وكالة أنباء صالح ومنى

“I think the act itself created an environment of hope for a lot of people within the community”

Shehab Diab, a student, lives in the Cairo area. He participated in Friday’s “No Wall” campaign.
 
The walls first went up during November’s demonstrations to demand an end to military rule. They were constructed in areas around the Interior Ministry to keep protesters from reaching the building. More streets were barricaded in December, and then again just last month.
 
The problem is that even though the protests have died down the walls remain, making it difficult for people in the community to move around. Not only has traffic been completely disrupted, but even pedestrians have trouble getting around the neighbourhood. The walls have severed direct access to businesses in certain areas, and a lot of stores were upset because they were losing customers. They also had a psychological impact. Some people were angry because they felt cut off.
 
The whole idea behind the campaign was that our artwork and ideas can traverse these walls even if our bodies can’t. Anybody who wanted to participate or had an idea was welcome. Each person brought their own paint and worked together. My friends decided to do a mural with two women as the central images in honour of International Women’s Day which took place the same week. Even though the main event was finished on Friday, a number of people returned the following day to finish their projects.
 
Photo posted on Twitter by ShehabDiab.
 
It’s street art, so the wonderful thing is that everyone can see it. Although graffiti is not exactly legal and people have gotten in trouble for it in the past, I think we were left alone because there were so many people there. Not only were the paintings beautiful, but I think the act itself created an environment of hope for a lot of people within the community. The campaign allowed us to say to our government that problems can’t be solved by simply building a wall – they have to be addressed on a political level”.