The revolution has yet to bring freedom to Egyptian society, artist Mohamed Alaa told the audience at a European Humanities University's (EHU) Public Conversation on “Art and Revolution.” According to Alaa, the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was not the end of the revolution. That alone has not brought about the changes Egypt needs, since many officials of the Mubarak regime remain in place, he said.
“The fact that the Egyptians gathered in Tahrir square to demand changes without any previous planning is a miracle. Yes, they are tired if protesting. People need work, they need bread to eat. But we cannot let the revolution end now. Blood has been shed on the streets of Cairo and we must fight until the end to achieve freedom in Egypt,” said Alaa.
Alaa believes that liberally-minded Egyptians will not let another authoritarian regime come to power.
When asked about the role of art in revolution, Alaa noted that art serves as a means by which society can express its thoughts.
“We all gathered in Tahrir square to protest. I used my tools to encourage people to critically evaluate the changes taking place in our country.”
During the protests, Alaa unfurled a 50 meter parchment and invited Egyptians to express their feelings about the revolution on it. In this way, people were able to reflect and share their feelings, grievances, fears, and hopes for a better future.
“This document is extremely important for Egypt’s history. I am saving it,” said Alaa.
According to the artist, the revolution broke many taboos, which helps artists express themselves more freely today.
“Before the revolution, art was controlled by the regime. My friend was detained because he painted a picture of a policeman’s back. The police automatically assumed that this was directed against them. Now artists have more freedom,” noted Alaa.
However, according to him, some people seem unprepared for freedom of expression.
“One day I wrapped my head in paper. I just wanted to see how people would react to this. One man came and tore the paper from my face. I was shocked by this aggression and realized that some people are not ready to accept what is unconventional.”
When asked whether art should have boundaries and when art becomes vandalism, Alaa responded that respect is what matters the most.
“There should be no taboos in art; however art should be based on mutual respect.”
Asked to advise those who would use art to fight an authoritarian regime, Alaa said the most important thing is to not be afraid.
“Dictators are humans. We cannot let them frighten us. We must frighten them. Break the taboos, fight for liberation, and stay united. There is not enough room in jail to put everyone there.”
EHU Public Conversations feature encounters with prominent leaders about how ideas can be turned into reality to create flourishing societies. EHU Public Conversations are sponsored by Novotel Vilnius Centre. Alaa’s travel was sponsored by Goethe-Institut as part of its Going Public project.
The European Humanities University is a private, non-profit liberal arts university founded in Minsk in 1992. With the active support of the international community, EHU relocated to Vilnius after it was forcibly closed in Belarus in 2004. Currently, more than 1,800 students are enrolled in EHU. Most of them are from Belarus.