Wall, What is it Good For

I’m not on The Facebook, so I’m not sure if Everyone has already seen this amazing photograph, amazing mural.

An while ago we posted a picture of the massive sea walls erected by the police in downtown Cairo to contain the energy of Tahrir / prevent protests from approaching key government buildings. This particular wall, abutting the old campus of the American University (i.e. the building where I took language classes with the chestnut-lock’d Mrs. Heba, sha-wing!), blocks the entrance to Sheikh Rehan Street*. Thus it protects/severs the route to the Ministry of Interior, the rotten & unreformed institution that is the tru enemy of the revolution.

When I was last in Egypt in January there was already poetic/political graffiti on these barricades, but nothing this ambitious. As boingboing notes on the implicit politics of the mural, it “vanishes the military barrier”.

It certainly trompes my l’oeil! And, LoL, reminds me of that scene in Labyrinth where an exasperated Sarah learns from the kooky worm (with blue Troll doll hair, sporting a smart red scarf(!)) that she can step through walls—that many walls are only apparent. In this sense, the mural is a synecdoche of the revolution, of the revolutionary imagination that “vanishes the barrier”.

What was so surreal about January & February 2011 was that when the regime toppled it felt suddenly that their powers had been a spell; that the oppressive strictures, which until so recently had seemed so real, had been a collective illusion. This not to say that the many vile & violent devices employed to perpetuate state order were not very very real, but rather that the regime’s powers stemmed in part from the idea that they were invincible, that the regime’s rule was inevitable, the only conceivable reality. That is why the period of the revolution was so “unreal”; it un-real’d the entrenched ideology. And it was surreal to feel ten million minds change at once.

The weekend after Mubarak fell, when his henchmen had retreated from the streets, the city was remade free. Teens danced in the downtown streets, trampling posters of Mubarak underfoot, celebrating a new reality, doing the recently impossible.

[Do you know that feeling of walking down the middle of a city street that has been silenced by a huge snow storm? And how it is strange to stroll a place that is usually ruled by rushing cars? But now the street has a new meaning.] [Do you know that feeling of being in your middle school at night for the first time? And running down the halls past the darkened classrooms and maybe ripping down a poster for no reason and maybe you visit your locker and the stuff inside seems weirdly inert? And the rules that exist as a given during the daytime are strangely absent and what has so obviously always been your school now seems like a plain building.] I remember two weeks after Mubarak fell, romping through the courtyard of State Security Headquarters with a mob of protesters. Activists came streaming from the compound’s administrative building, jubilant, waving about the plush pink monogrammed bathrobe of the director, Habi al-Adli, the most feared man in Egypt up until January 24th. Hanging around, joking, smoking cigarettes in the former nerve center of the police state, the oubliette where political dissidents were tossed & the ensnared of the CIA’s Extraordinary Rendition program were taken to talk—the most forbidden place—it was almost impossible to imagine. But the visionaries of the 25th had painted the walls of the regime, and showed the rest the view beyond.

[Doom Spirals A.K.A. Black Babes Crave Deth, “Look Beyond the Wall“]

*I always remember the name of this street because it means “Sheikh Basil” …which seems somehow cute. And, y’know, Basil.


Update?! Speaking of “Look Beyond the Wall”, check this jam by Echo & the Bunnymen, “Over The Wall” from BBC Radio Tapes ’79-’80. Every pretty baby is familiar with the sweet smash hits later in their career, but je didn’t realize until recently that they began as post-punk bleak-rockers—“Over The Wall” sounds like it belongs on Suicide’s first album. (It be cool when the song re-purposes Del Shannon’s undying national treasure, “I’m walking in the rain / to end this misery / I’m walking in the rain! / to end this misery!” Been there, pal—good luck with that!)


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