Egyptian hands, tawny and wise
Smashing the frames, in thunder they rise
Flared in one voice, see Egypt in the sun
Oh state of old men, your time is now done
You ravaged our lands, rabid and old?
One like the other, in greed, filth and mold
Wondrous buds bloomed, turned fall into spring
Raising the dead, the miracle youth bring
Shoot me! My murder won’t bring back your state?
For my people I write in my blood a new fate
My blood or the spring, both they are green
I smile – in joy or sorrow, remains to be seen.
From the poem Al Midan “The Square” by Egyptian poet Abdel Rahman al-Abnoudi, 2011
I am an Egyptian citizen. For the first time in my life I feel hope.
The popular revolution of January 25, 2011 revived a long lost sense of pride & dignity for Egyptian people & its implications are reverberating across the Middle East.
Over my entire lifetime, I have seen Egyptians living under a dark cloud in the form of a totalitarian regime pressing down against their dignity. Egyptians lost their national pride & unity. Wealth & power rested in the hands of a minority who seemed to be the only ones with the right to live. The masses felt isolated & with this isolation people became foreigners in their own land.
Egypt has historically been viewed as a trendsetter across the Middle East, but over the past three decades this country of more than 80 million - the Arab world’s most populous & traditionally its most revered - has become a country of lost souls. A nation ripped apart by political, social & economic turmoil. I did not have to go beyond the streets to see the depth of this estrangement & how it affected the masses.
The signs were this is a country on the verge of an explosion.
"It's a horrible feeling to realize that your country is weak, your voice is weak, your opinion is weak - to realize that if you sell your soul, your body, your pen and your name, you still wouldn't be able to afford a loaf of bread,” writes Egyptian vernacular poet Hesham al-Gakh in his poem “Goha”.
During the 30 years of former President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak’s regime, the country experienced huge economic degradation, staggering social divide & political upheaval. Egypt became among the world’s most corrupt nations with vast corruption permeating across every sector. Bribery or “Kossa” as Egyptians say, became common practice to get anything done, from renewing a driver’s license to getting employed.
At least 30 percent of Egyptians (24 million people) cannot read or write & estimates say more than 10 million Egyptians are living outside Egypt in pursuit of a better life. Egypt is one of a handful of countries where poverty has forced roughly one million people to make homes out of cemeteries where they breathe the spirit of the dead to stay alive.
In 2005 I began to document the lives of everyday Egyptians. I took pictures of people shopping in the market, families on weekend outings, the first wave of political opposition protests led by the Kefaya “Enough” movement, people living on the fringes of society in burial grounds & others living on the edge of humanity among piles of household waste, hospital discard and dwelling rats.
My goal now is to document a new chapter in Egypt’s story – a post-Mubarak Egypt. In December 2011, I will start a roundtrip across the country in search of its new identity. From the capital to the coast and the rural villages to the touristic hubs, I will go to understand what this new Egypt is like.
The purpose of my work has & is to identify the essence of being Egyptian during & after the Mubarak era. In doing so I aim to illustrate how events in this strategic North African country & the changes people experience can give insight into future trends across the Middle East. Media Partners