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By Norbert Figueroa, an experienced architect, travel writer, long-term budget traveler, and photographer with over 13 years of travel experience in over 139 countries and counting. @globotreks

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Tahrir Square may not have been a popular (and infamous) place to visit while in Cairo, but today, it is the place to see and to experience firsthand.  Since January 25th 2011, the square has been the focal point of the Egyptian Revolution that shook the country from top to bottom.

Thanks to the revolution (a protest against the former president Hosni Mubarak) and the media, the name Tahrir Square (which means Liberation Square) became known worldwide as well as it became the symbol of democracy and freedom for the country.  You can learn more about the 2011 Egyptian Revolution on this Wikipedia page.

This post is not about the revolution itself, but about the people, life at the square, and the art – especially the art.

This is what I saw at the Square in a span of three days of back to back visits.

Life at the Square

Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt
This is what daily life looks like at the Square. It might look ugly and might the closest thing to a temporary slum, but it is a scene of peaceful interaction – 90% of the time. People chat about daily news, drink their tea, eat together, and just hang around. The other 10%, well, that’s what you see in traditional media. Did you know that this is actually the third revolution at Tahrir Square? The first one was in 1919 and the second in 1952.
Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt
Every Friday at 1:15 pm, they all congregate in a corner of the square to pray, as any other regular Muslim in the world does.
Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt
The semi-permanent population at the square, and the many daily visitors (most of them locals), have generated an informal market that is sprinkled all around the square. You can find anything from fruits, juice, hot food, souvenirs, jewelry, and everything in between.
Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt
Every now and then, people congregate and protest (pacifically). They give speeches and talk about their purpose – a way to lift their spirit and to keep the fire burning.
Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt
Certain streets around the square have been blocked to separate the military area from the civil area. It is common to see people peeking through the concrete blocks to see any “movement” behind them.
Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt
This is what’s seen through the blocks… Military equipment, ready for action at any moment.

The People

Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt
The military is known to throw tear gas on the Square. While it didn’t happen at the time of this picture, this guy represents the reality of what happens every now and then at the Square.
Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt
A small demonstration in the middle of an even bigger demonstration. Sorry, I don’t read Arabic, so I can’t say what’s written.
Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt
It is a sign of patriotism to paint the colors of the Egyptian flag in any part of their body.
Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt
Even the young participate actively in the revolution.
Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt
An artist painting the image of one of the latest victims of the revolution.
Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt
All throughout the day, people stop to contemplate the art and remember the “fallen”.

The Art

Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt
This is probably the most interesting wall in all the Square. It is actually in a side street from the square – a kind of “explosive” street from all the potential energy created by the art display of their “fallen heroes”; the women and family members who come to pay respect to the image of their sons, brothers, and friends; and the proximity to the street blockade that separate the military area. This is not a safe street to be at, but it is the most interesting part of the square in terms of artistic public expression.
Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt
I love the simplicity of this graffiti. It simply states the removal of the military from power.
Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt
I don’t read Arabic, of course, but there’s something about the posture, mask, and look of this woman that intrigues me a lot.
Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt
Probably my favorite “gorilla art” in the entire square. This is a man being choked by a device locked on his neck, as if it intended to take out his voice. The lock (while not clearly visible in this particular graffiti) has the word “scaf”, which is the name given to the military, the people in power, who are trying to cut their voice and opinion.
Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt
Another piece of art I love. I believe it is pretty self-explanatory.
Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt
One of the most interesting aspects about the art at Tahrir Square is that they also incorporated their ancient cultural/artistic style into their artistic expression.
Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt
As I was told, this piece of art represents how the people are trying to climb but they keep falling. This is a representation of their current fight against the current power.
Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt
I’m not surprised the popular masked face of the movie “V for Vendetta” is displayed at Tahrir Square. Have you seen the movie? Can you see the deep relationship with this current reality?
Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt
This is basically the motto that has kept the revolution alive for over a year now. The people, Egyptians, won’t give up without a fight.

Now you know that Tahrir Square is not just what is shown in the news.

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  1. Incredible post! I love the photos.
    This conflict has been something that has captured my attention even more so than any other of the revolutions that have occurred in that area in recent history.
    Thank you for sharing, It’s interesting to see a first hand account of the place, separate from mass media’s meddlesome tampering and spinning.

    1. Thank you, Sydney! When I went there, I was so surprised (though not ignorantly shocked) by how different daily life looks over there, versus of what we always see on tv.

    1. Andi, If you have the chance to go to Cairo in the near future, I recommend you pay a visit to Tahrir Sq. Its intensity will make you want to go back again and again.

  2. So cool that you’ve been able to experience Cairo at such an historic time! Fantastic street art pics πŸ˜‰

    1. Cam, I’m glad that I got to experience it at this moment. It’s history being made, right there. And the way they are expressing themselves is very powerful.

  3. Great inspiring photos of the real Egypt – so nice to see something colourful and truthful. πŸ™‚

    1. It’s incredible that it has been more than a year since they started the revolution. It’s interesting to see how they have evolved without losing the fire that brought them here in the first place, and that still keeps them here.

  4. Thanks for showing a side of this square that news sites don’t usually show. I think there’s a lot of power in their art, and in the creation of art. What a privilege to be there at this kind of time.

    1. There is power in art, indeed! When I was there, the art reminded me a little bit of the art at the Berlin Wall. Still to this day, that art represents an era, a mentality, and a strong society that challenged the system. Today, Tahrir is doing the same.

  5. Wow! the vandals are look great. Thanks for posing this with us. Looking forward for more interesting post.

  6. The mask from V for Vendetta is actually a Guy Fawkes mask. It’s frequently used as a sign of protest that way predates the movie. Did you happen to find out what SCAF was? Saw that spray painted everywhere, usually preceded by a word that’s not so appropriate to repeat here…

    1. Oh, I didn’t know that fact about the mask. Thanks for sharing that! Oh on SCAB, I believe I was told at one point, but I forgot. πŸ™ haha, I know which word you mean! πŸ™‚

  7. Awesome photos of Tahrir Square! I especially like the portraits and revolutionary street art. You really captured the spirit!

  8. Great post, thanks for sharing these great photos. I can’t wait to go to Egypt at some point in the next few years.