‘Erase and I will draw again’: the struggle behind Cairo’s revolutionary graffiti wall

In 2013, the former armed forces chief Abdel Fattah El-Sisi (now president) forced through an anti-demonstration law that has allowed for the arrests of peaceful protesters. Many graffiti artists have been arrested; the well known Ganzeer opted to leave the country after a defamation campaign. This year has already seen repeated assaults on freedom of expression, such as raids and closures of art spaces and publishers, and most recently the imprisonment of novelist Ahmed Naji.

In such a climate, the “cleansing” of downtown and the demolition of graffiti walls dovetail ominously. The AUC wall, in particular, is a masterpiece of complexity, lyricism and ambition. Over a period of 50 days in early 2012, painter Alaa Awad organised the most famous mural of all: a riotous depiction of ancient Egyptian figures engaged in struggle. “My training is in mural painting, not really graffiti,” says Awad. “I decided to translate the sound of the people to the wall.”

“They literally started painting throughout the riots,” says writer Soraya Morayef of Abo Bakr and Awad, who has documented the work at her blog SuzeeintheCity.