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Anniversary of a Revolution in Mansoura

[Graffiti: [Graffiti: "Come out on January 25th because the martyr is watching you. Photo by Eric Knecht]"

January 25th in Mansoura, though replete with its own unique set of revolutionary characters, had all the trappings of protests against the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) in Egypt, and in some ways, was a decent portrayal of the year in activism: the requisite frustration with military rule, surprisingly optimistic outlooks on the future, vague platitudes, carefully-focused demands, witty commentary, and of course, graffiti; all colored the day.

Below, graffiti sprayed on the side of Mansoura’s muhafaza (governorate administrative building) was part of the city's participation in “Mad Graffiti Week,” a loosely coordinated but viral campaignwhich ultimately went global—to promote random acts of street art to support the completion of Egypt's revolution. The tag reads "Come out on January 25th because the martyr is watching you."

Whether or not Mansoura residents were affected by this message, they did indeed seem to listen.

Roughly one thousand joined a series of marches around the small (relative to Cairo) Nile Delta city.

"We got rid of Mubarak and they brought us a field marshal!!!" This pithy summary does remarkably well to encapsulate the sentiment of protesters one year after they overthrew their dictator, but it does leave out what is probably Egypt's most evocative single word, and the one that really seems to get people into the street: "martyrs."

"The martyrs are the most dignified among us, we have not and will not forget."

Moreover, martyrs are precisely the reason why the SCAF attempt, several weeks earlier, to turn the January 25th anniversary into an upbeat celebration, floated like a lead balloon.

"We don't want a celebration. We want the right of those who have died."

This point was likely made even clearer by a massive banner rolled out mid-demonstration bearing the name of every known martyr since January 25th of last year.

And just to make the point a bit clearer, see below.

The Egyptian Revolution is often romanticized as a peaceful democratic transition. This banner places something of a dent in that analysis.

"The killers of the martyrs were set free."

These words, no doubt, capture the sense of frustration on the ground but factually speaking they are a bit inaccurate. Two weeks earlier, the Mansoura-based trial for police officers accused of killing protesters on 28 January 2011 resumed, and was summarily postponed, for the third time.

Simple narratives of demonstrators against the military, however, could never capture the complicated reality of a country that still respects the armed forces for its service throughout Egypt's modern history, and its soldiers, whoconscriptedare of the same class of citizens protesting in the street. Perhaps the most direct reminder of that would be this:

Above, a banner supports the April 8 Officer Movement, launched after twenty-two military officers joined protesters in Cairo on 8 April, only to be arrested and sentenced to jail terms of one to three years. Over the past week, the imprisoned officers began a hunger strike as part of their continued call for the end of military rule. Various groups called on Head of SCAF Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi to release the officers in honor of the revolution's one-year anniversary. He apparently refused.

And if there is one man in Mansoura who understands imprisonment, it is Hamdi Qanawi:

Leading the march at one point was Hamdi Qanawi, above, who is something of a symbol of Egyptian perseverance. Qanawi has been intermittently protesting against the former regime since the 1980s, has been imprisoned on multiple occasions, was Mansoura's leading figure for the Kefaya Movement when it began in 2004, and ran for parliament this past month. In the election, Qanawi was badly outmatched by one of the city's widely-popular Muslim Brotherhood figures, but as seen above, remains active. In this way, Qanawi is something of a microcosm of the Egyptian protest movement itself.

Here, Mansoura's recently elected member of parliament from the Revolution Continues Coalition, Mohamed Shabana, returns from his first week of work in Cairo to fulfill what –given his coalition's name – would seem like an obligatory event. Behind Shabana, a sign reads "Bread, Feedom, Social Justice," the revolution's three most perpetual, and ambiguous, demands.

To be fair, other demonstrators chose to be far more precise in what they were still looking for one year on.

In a likely reference to the many state companies privatized before the revolution and sold off to regime cronies at prices woefully below market value, a sign reads: "The people want the restoration of looted companies." With policymaking precision, it continues, "The people want a minimum wage of 1500 Egyptian Pounds."

And lest we forget, take a look at one of the most common ongoing debates.

"A president is required. No constitution under military rule." And when the crowd swelled, this clever protester showed why his sign was particularly effective.

He invariably stood above the crowd.

Above, "Join us" this sign says, while crossing out a coucha clear reference to the much debated and joked about hezb al-kanaba (party of the couch), a label applied to those who would rather sit inside on their sofa than take part in the revolution. There were also more stern warnings directed at couch potatoes.

"Come down and fight the oppression before it reaches your home."

These brilliant cartoons do not require a caption.

Finally, graffiti continued to play a role in the expression of the protests.

Below a new piece of graffiti reading "state of the revolutionaries" is sprayed, while demonstrators continue their chants just beyond the wall.

Finally, another piece of graffiti sprayed in the days before the demonstration reads "our revolution is peaceful." And in Mansoura on 25 January with police and the army having seemingly evacuated the streets, this indeed was the case.

[Ahmed Najeeb contributed to all photographs displayed in the above essay, except for the first.]

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