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Art revolution - the Arab Spring


On January 25th 2011, Egyptians flooded into Cairo’s Tahrir Square and demanded an end to Hosni Mubarak’s bumptious 30 year reign. Mubarak’s dismissal as leader instilled Egyptians with a renewed sense of optimism, as they awaited their nation’s amelioration.

Optimism quickly soured though as the coming regimes became increasingly oppressive. The economy tanked and the country’s security deteriorated. An Islamist insurgency in the Sinai worsened and police doled out brutality with as little impunity as ever.

The political and economic chaos, however, burgeoned Egypt’s contemporary art scene. Egyptian artist Hossam Dirar made serious of gorgeous paintings and told the world about how the 2011 revolution, and the events that followed, changed the country’s art.

“As an artist, the past five to six years, a lot has changed, since the revolution in 2011, of the parts of Egyptian life that was most affected was the arts. Both positively and negatively, many newcomers appeared on the scene, especially a lot of youth.

This was great because the youth refreshed the scene and with the help of social media created a more open environment,

many new private galleries opened.”

~ Hossam Dirar



For a plethora of reasons, the root causes that led to June’s revolution should be thoroughly considered. The 30 June Revolution was not only a political revolution aiming to change the state institutions, and it was not a typical social revolution mainly involving an autonomous lower-class revolt.

It was not a revolution from above, as it was started and propagated through networking within broader non-elite circles. The major thrust of the revolution remained within the masses, with invariably limited input from the conventional political forces and actors.

The June Revolution combined many features characteristic of multiple types of revolution, and it is of high importance to understand its main causes, an endeavour that has multiple implications. First, the identification of such reasons places June’s events within the broader context of the 25 January Revolution, along with its ebbs and flows, its actors and detractors, and its impediments, whether internal or external. One thing that was unique about the June Revolution was that it was remarkable for the masses to undertake two successive, as well as successful, popular moves in less than three years, each ending with the toppling of the respective ruling regime. It is important to compare the number of participants in both events, in order to show that in June 2013 the vast majority of Egyptians came out onto the streets in a rare form of direct democracy aiming at toppling the Muslim Brotherhood regime.


However, it would be historically wrong as well as politically expensive to delink the two revolutions, paving the way to the evolution of deep splits within the revolutionary body, the major actor of change in both revolutions. There should not be a discontinuation between the two events, save for the exclusion of the respective enemies of the people. On the other hand, it is not uncommon to see multiple waves within the same revolution: the course of any revolution is a function of its leadership, ideology, visionary changes in the internal front, reactions in the international context, and so on. The stages of any given revolution have been postulated by historians like the US academic Crane Brinton in his Anatomy of Revolution, for example.

Some commentators have endorsed the description of the 30 June Revolution as a second or third phase of the 25 January Revolution. The terms “wave” or “phase” are to some extent inadequate to describe the June Revolution, however, given its political repercussions on the domestic, regional and global levels. Nevertheless, whether a phase or wave in a larger process, the fact remains that the June Revolution was the climatic scene of the 25 January Revolution, with perhaps the same key actors — the masses, political vanguard and army — playing the same respective roles.

Politics may be taboo or risky, but artists throughout history have found ways to be subversive or rebellious to oppression. But for some artists, avoiding politics is impossible. Their impact casts a shadow over society and affects the calculated behavior of every individual Egyptian. To avoid repression, Egyptian artists create social and political commentary using Aesopian methods.

Dirar put on an exhibition addressing the hopelessness of Egypt’s youth following the revolution called “Waiting To Leave.” Many Egyptians had lost hope in their revolution and began seeking a future abroad.

Using indirect symbolism is a method of protection for artists against repressive regimes. But the objective can also be misinterpreted or missed outright by an artist’s audience, as Dirar found out firsthand with his bindle project. He said the audience didn’t understand how to interact or interpret the bindle. Nonetheless, it’s a necessity for artists fearing repercussion from a state that fears the power that art carries.

While political instability and chaos can provide inspiration for artists, however, Dirar still wants his country to move beyond the troubles that have been so ubiquitous since 2011.



“Like any artist I hope things begin to progress towards fostering an open and peaceful environment,

and after all the hardships this country has endured, that we can live in safety and stability.”

~ Hossam Dirar


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