Sunday, March 06, 2016

Islamophobia and art in Egypt post 2011

A young Egyptian working on a mural in 2012 when the anti-political Islam sentiment reached its peak

This piece was written originally in September of 2013, one month after the Rabaa massacre, and two months after the military coup and the overthrow of the first democratically-elected president of Egypt, Mohammad Morsi. I posted it on Facebook not knowing that anti-Islamic sentiments would become as entrenched as they have become today. I'm now completing a full piece as of March 2016!

The demonization of Islamic religious symbols such as the Hijab, the Niqab, the beard, and the white Islamic attire for men as well as the demonization of those Muslims who choose to adhere to these religious/traditional practices is a dangerous phenomena. 

This continues to cause so many injustices for millions of innocent people all over the world and specifically in places like Egypt where the state-run media and the military leadership launched severe campaigns against the people who represent these images.
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Since I'm going to be exploring Islamophobia in the Egyptian media after the military coup and the year during which Mohammad Morsi was in office as the first democratically-elected president in Egypt, I thought about this piece of "art". 




I took this picture in one of the side streets of the famous Mohammad Mahmoud area near Tahrir square in May 2013, right before I left Egypt when the anti-Morsi/anti-political Islam/anti-Muslim Brotherhood sentiment reached it's peak in the downtown Cairo activist community and in the media. This sentiment was shared and amplified widely in the western media and by western academics, who have continued to be  sympathetic to the secular elite in Egypt and biased against anything else, specifically any groups who identify with Islam as a political ideology. 

The graffiti was a mural which shows an angry bearded man in a white Galabya (automatically assumed to be an Islamist in this context) removing the art work the revolutionary kids made.

There's another bearded angry man saying "Graffiti is Haram/forbidden". And another one saying: "You're all infidels". 

I have seen sensational media like this presented and amplified over and over in different media. 

Most of the time the idea revolves around the"progressive leftist or liberal revolutionary" artist who's trying to tell the enlightened people that these fanatical regressive political Islamists are anti-art and anti-creativity and they think that we are all infidels for making art. This is something that I have seen come out in several art works and statements by politicians, particularly those addressing Western media and academia. (Such as when El Baradei spoke about how the Islamists are going to ban music in Egypt for example).

Something didn't feel right always in the way some "artists" used their graffiti to demonize "the beard and the bearded" specifically and justify this with the political mistakes made by the Islamists, Morsi, and the Muslim Brotherhood. These types of messages are very intentional. For somebody in Egypt it's easy to see how deceiving, over-generalized, and exaggerated this can be. For western observers, unfortunately, it seems like most of them just took it as it is without much thought. 

There are two important and obvious facts here that western observers need to remember:

1- Many people in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and all over the world wear the traditional white Galabya and have beards without being politically-involved. They dress like that because they're simply religious or traditional folks.

2- Islam doesn't teach that art is forbidden. Meaningful and purposeful art practices are encouraged in Islam as long as they don't contradict the Islamic teachings. In fact, political street art and revolutionary songs were produced by Egyptians and Arabs from a wide spectrum of views, ideologies, and backgrounds, and this included religious Muslims and Muslims who identify with a bunch of different political Islamic groups.  

My grandpa and many of my relatives in Egypt have had beards and worn the white traditional "Galabya". Many Egyptians and Muslims all over the world still do and this practice means something to them. 

At the end of the day, the beard, the Niqab, and the white outfits males wear are all different Islamic representations according to traditions dating back thousands of years. Whether people like it or not, and whether you like or dislike those who adopt these traditional practices, they are generally considered Islamic and from the Islamic faith. I'm not trying to get into the theological debates about any of this now.

Since Morsi was elected president in June of 2012, and after the military coup in July of 2013, religious-looking Egyptians are being targeted harshly and the general population in Egypt seems to be okay with it. 

This is not a coincidence. There are contributing reasons within the narratives pushed by the media, the revolutionary art scene, the comedy shows, and political talk shows with the endorsement of the secular elite. 

While everybody has the right to agree or disagree on the political performance of Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the political Islamic movement in Egypt, this shouldn't allow for the normalization of such Islamophobic tendencies. Painting angry bearded men is a classic tactic introduced by Islamophobes in the west a long time ago. 

1 comment:

Hayfaa Chalabi said...


As a Muslim, I myself have Islamphobia to a certain extent or to be more precise I would rather call it ''Extremism-phobia''... terrorism-phobia that occurs in the name of Islam. This kind of representation by the so-called ''Muslims'' (according to me they are not) have made a huuuuuuge association we all have in our minds unconsciously between them and Islam. This association happens through the similarities we as Muslims have with those people (clothes, beard, hijab or whatever it is..)
This graffiti you used as an example is absolutely not islamophobic.. it is a suitable representation of the political and social performances Muslim brotherhood practiced at that time, don't deny all the artistic factors existing in this graffiti piece from the facial expressions to the sentences written on it like: (we will apply sharia' even if we contradict it) to the drawing of Morsi...This is an absolute depiction of how politicians have ruined the real shariaa and how they contradicted real islam by for example forbidding art....

If you are writing this piece to the westerners then this is another case, cuz the people of Egypt made the revolution for themselves not for westerners and through street art they wanted to enlight the people of Egypt who see Muslim brotherhood as a good party so the reciever here is the Egyptian citizen not the West... they wanted to tell them that Muslim brotherhood are deforming the shariaa Islam made by for example saying that art is Haram... So, since the receiver here is an Egyptian citizen, people wont look at the drawing and deny the typography which is a part of the art work.

This is not a piece that makes fun of Islam, this is a piece that is making fun of people who are contradicting Islam under the name of it... who are using Islamic factors such as beards or gallabiya to convince people that they are ruling under the name of Islam....These artists tried to clarify to people that the Muslim brotherhood is using Islam-associated factors to claim that they are using shariaa in order to get sympathy... but what they are doing is not islam by saying this graffitti is Haram- they are contadcting the shariaa.
So basically this is against the bad representation of Islam that uses clothes and beard to exploit people's love of Islam.
As an artist I am upset that you are deconstructing the work and taking a part of it and leaving the other. the mural is big and has therefore a sentence to be read! Please don't deform the message of this work in order to explain your point you could have used the media as an example which is a more suitable example for this article...