16. Greek Anti-Austerity Poetry
“If you cannot find springtime, invent it”
“If you cannot find springtime, invent it”
By Gioconda Belli
I want a strike where we will all go.
A strike of arms, legs and hairs,
A strike born of every body.
I want a strike
Of laborers of doves,
Of chauffeurs of flowers,
Of technicians of children,
Of doctors of women.
I want a strike so large,
That even love will fit.
A strike where everything will stop:
The clocks in the factories,
The administrations of schools,
The bus the hospitals,
The roads the ports.
A strike of eyes, of hands and of kisses.
A strike where breathing will not be permitted,
A strike where silence will be born,
Where we will hear the steps of the tyrants as they flee.
Quiero una huelga donde vayamos todos.
Una huelga de brazos, piernas, de cabellos,
una huelga naciendo en cada cuerpo.
Quiero una huelga
de obreros de palomas
de choferes de flores
de técnicos de niños
de médicos de mujeres.
Quiero una huelga grande,
que hasta el amor alcance.
Una huelga donde todo se detenga,
el reloj las fábricas
el plantel los colegios
el bus los hospitales
la carretera los puertos.
Una huelga de ojos, de manos y de besos.
Una huelga donde respirar no sea permitido,
una huelga donde nazca el silencio
para oír los pasos del tirano que se marcha.
Alice Notley, “I the People” from Grave of Light. Copyright © 2006 by Alice Notley and reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
“The Seven Wonders of the Revolution” by Soraya Morayef
[On the American University of Cairo’s library wall, a mural of ancient figures and animals in battle by Alaa Awad represents the many violent protests and clashes that took place in the area.]
[This painting by Ammar Abo-Bakr of a massive SCAF-headed serpent lines the wall of the Lycee Francais.]
[Alaa Awad continues his pharaonic art with a replica of a pharaonic tomb’s mural. The artist draws most of his inspiration from the pharaonic art of Luxor, where he normally resides.]
[In between the pharaonic murals and the martyrs’ murals, Hanaa al-Degham created this beautiful, still unfinished mural. The theme of gas cylinders is highly relevant given the constant reoccurrence of gas shortages in Egypt.]
[“Tomorrow,” a mural painted by Zeft and collaborators on the wall of Mansour Street.]
[A mural depicting Handala facing the Ministry of Interior]
[Captured at night, this photo shows a mural fashioned as the hull of a boat. The artists’ discarded stencil papers lie nearby.]
[In the right lighting, this mural on the wall of Yousef al-Guindy Street creates a visual mirage.]
[This mural on Sheikh Rihan Street’s wall took over four days to be completed.]
[Ammar Abo-Bakr uses a real photograph to replicate the scene at the Sheikh Rihan Street wall.]
[A landscape mural of Luxor by Alaa Awad and friends on Kasr al-Eini Street wall.]
[Alaa Awad’s mural captured at sunset. Behind the wall, barbwires and idle military policemen fill the empty space]
Around the corner from Tahrir Square, the heart of Egypt’s eighteen-day uprising, Mohamed Mahmud Street bears the scars of a turbulent political year in Egypt. The once-bustling street off of Tahrir Square has seen its share of violent battlefields—beginning with 28 January 2011 and ending with the February 2012 clashes following the Port Said massacre. The pavements that once carried students from the American University of Cairo (AUC), Lycee Francais and Deutsche Schule Der Borromaerinnen have witnessed dying protesters dragged to cover, and defenseless men and women shot in the eye or collapsing from tear gas asphyxiation—all at the hands of the Egyptian security forces.
Mohamed Mahmud Street has come to feel like the graveyard of the revolution, or, as Mona Abaza calls it, an “emerging memorial space”, where so manybrave Egyptians have died over the past year. Today, the walls commemorate the martyrs, while taking note of the traitors. The AUC Library wall carries artist Ammar Abo-Bakr’s larger-than-life murals of martyrs SheikhEmad Effat and General Mohamed al-Batran. Around the corner, artist Alaa Awad painted ancient figures in battle, women cowering, hyenas and rabid dogs fighting, and bulls butting horns.
Then an unfinished mural of Egyptians carrying gas cylinders on their heads finally leads to the much-talked about martyrs’ mural on the AUC wall.
Today, memories of the violence remain in the broken glass of the AUC’s third-floor windows, in the charred signs of the corner shops, in the hallow echoes of the abandoned street, and, of course, in the seven walls closing off the side streets along Mohamed Mahmud, namely Sherif, Farid, Mansour, Falaki, Yousef al-Guindy, Sheikh Rihan and Kasr al-Eini Streets. All these streets have all been blocked off by concrete slabs thanks to the ingenious strategy of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) to keep protesters away from the Ministry of Interior. Most of these walls were built after protests broke out on Mohamed Mahmud Street in early February 2012, where thousands of protesters, including Ahly Ultras soccer fans, demanded vengeance and retribution for the deaths of over 130 fans in Port Said stadium.
For many observers, it is difficult to look at these walls without drawing parallels with the Occupied Territories and the Berlin Wall. In the Egyptian context, however, these walls have been built by our very own military regime, and it remains unclear whether they are trying to keep us out or lock themselves in.
Today, the protests have subsided (for now) and the concrete walls remain. The persistent web of traffic around the maze of Mohamed Mahmud has left residents and commuters fuming with anger. With no clear end in sight, street artists have taken to the walls to counter SCAF’s imposing concrete blocks.
On 9 March 2012, a group of artists and activists launched the “no walls” project to transform the seven walls into virtual open spaces. So far only six of the seven walls have been worked on by this large, eclectic group, which includes filmmaker Salma al-Tarzi and street artists Mohamed al-Moshir, Hossam Shukrallah, Hanaa al-Degham, Zeft, Amr Nazeer, Laila Maged, Ammar Abo-Bakr and Alaa Awad.
On Farid Street, the wall facing the Ministry of Interior’s building now has a mural depicting the rest of the street with the figure of Handala holding up a sword to the building. Through this art, Handala breaks the barrier and confronts the menacing Ministry of Interior alone and unafraid.
On Falaki Street, the wall depicts two men painting what seems to be a boat and staring out through its boat windows. The image is whimsical, simplistic and visually transforms the other side of the wall into an open sea.
Salma al-Tarzy, Hossam Shukrallah and their collaborators “extended” Yousef al-Guindy Street by painting replicas of the trees that lie behind it and a man walking his son down the open street. The wall art attempts to restore a sense of normalcy to the probably emotionally exhausted residents of the street.
On the other side of the AUC campus, Sheikh Rihan Street’s wall carries arguably the most powerful mural of them all. This painting was meticulously designed and planned by a group of artists, including Ammar Abo-Bakr, Mohamed al-Moshir, Laila Maged and their collaborators. The result is an almost perfect extension of Sheikh Rihan Street, complete with the AUC’s architecture and the arabesque details of its windows.
A closer look will show astounding details, including the reflection in puddles of water and in the distance, teargas smoke, riot police aiming toward you, and protesters being dragged out of the AUC doors. The tiny details seem to re-enact the scenes of December 2011 clashes between military police and protesters.
In the foreground on the right, a large man with a bright red chair over his head carries books. This is a tribute to the brave protesters who attempted to salvage books from the burning Scientific Building on 18 December 2011, while at the same time being attacked by military police personnel who were throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails from nearby rooftops.
A small boy stands on a bike against the wall to peek through the cracks of the concrete blocks. Ammar Abo-Bakr used a photo of that same scene to recreate it on the mural. The result is a blending of memory with reality, where the barrier of the wall disappears between the child observer and the memories that haunt this street.
Awad also wrote “There is no such thing as Le Description D’Egypte,” referring to the valuable original manuscript that was reportedly burned in the Scientific Institute. Today, the Scientific Building is slowly being reconstructed.
During the eighteen-day Egyptian uprising, Tahrir Square was often referred to as a microcosm of Egyptian society – albeit a euphoric, romanticized version of it. When Hosni Mubarak was toppled, thousands of Egyptians took to the Square, where they swept the streets clean and painted the wall with nationalistic slogans. It was the first time that many felt a sense of ownership over this country, and believed that they would have an equal say in deciding upon Egypt’s future.
Today, the impenetrable walls of Mohamed Mahmud represent SCAF’s reign over the past year, which has left the Egyptian citizen (quite literally) walled out and excluded. In this sense, the proliferation of street art is an attempt to reclaim ownership of the street.
The “no walls” project and the other magnificent works of street art exemplify an effort to record and celebrate the history of Egypt’s continuing revolution, but the art has also filled a void where the Egyptian authorities have failed: paying tribute to the dead, holding the perpetrators accountable, demanding justice for the victims of a seriously flawed and corrupt judicial process, and restoring a sense of normalcy to this strange reality that we live in outside of the walls. These works of art reflect the resilience of a highly subversive revolutionary spirit that will not accept the realities that Egypt’s military rulers have imposed on Egyptians. Even at a moment when popular mobilization has become less visible in public squares and streets, Egypt’s revolution continues in street art—and in many other ways.
By Saniyya Salih
I am the hostage woman
Predecessors claim me; so do successors
I snatch myself from the mouth of the two voids
I dream of the end of the universe,
Perhaps human glory witnesses the end
Waits long until civilizations
Lovers and peoples expire,
Or maybe migrate,
And earth remains for me,
For me to be Eve the wonderful.
But I woke up,
And found that spears surround me.
It was a dream, O judges.
Your honors the judges
Autumn tears up its crust
Frightened of emptiness and solitude
Wandering alone in sand streets
Absorbed in its thoughts
But soon returns captivated
By love for the homeland.
Flares its fires and sows its cinders.
But who harvests it,
While in its depths there are empires
And armies dismantled
Despite their burnished buttons?
The armies who encamp in the liver’s kingdoms
Or lunge after the bowels with their penetrating ammunition
Pull their day from the Souks
So that the sap of the self goes not
Inside the fall forests
In the body’s anterior temple.
These are my rivers
Driving their water production
To the mouth of the ocean.
The tax that you imposed is forcibly taken.
I thrust it to the inside of its coffers
Where its gold and memories are hoarded
Where empires sleep
With eyes filled with tears.
They recline on its rungs
Or stretch on its sands.
It deals with the body and the soul
As though old customers
But when hungry devours them.
The words of justice between your teeth
Are not for masticating.
Spit them out, here, in the palm of my hand,
For me to embrace them,
I push them in front of the mouths,
I bathe in them.
To what use is that water
That turns inside me
If it is not heading towards the great oceans
Where tears of the wretched heave?
Then welcome, O eternal roaring
O rising scream.
For me to split that obscure roar
I carry the burden of my death.
They counsel me to accept it,
And beguile me into surrendering to it.
The wind tears off a limb from my body,
I rush after it, and recover it.
Thus wars raged on the entrances of the body
Where a man of copper stands
Arresting what escapes from the self.
You advised me pain and vagrancy,
Bearing of wounds,
And I bore them until my bones bended
You advised me speed,
They say that the big universe traverses
But what has it got to do with my heart?
I will make a tunnel of love
Maybe I will get ahead of the thieves and tyrants and killers
From whose spittle is the ink of sacred History…
With it are recorded cold longings
And dead ideas,
And memory’s depth.
Where do we drop off the load, O sirs?
Here in front of your tribunes?
Or in the open air?…
Where lightning grants me its fire
So I expand through it
And the lake is its mirror
So I reach myself,
I reach the head’s dark rooms
And where thunder opens my ears for prophecies?
[Translated from the Arabic by Gaelle Raphael]
“An Atlas of the Difficult World” (Excerpt)
By Adrienne Rich