Egypt artists' march for free expression ends with Tahrir concert

Rowan El Shimi, Sunday 16 Dec 2012

Several cultural coalitions, along with independent artists and thinkers march to Tahrir Square for freedom of expression and against the referendum on the constitution

Artists march to Tahrir for freedom of expression (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)

Before sunset hundreds of Egyptian artists, thinkers and members of the culture community marched on Thursday 13 December to Tahrir Square to call for respect towards the freedom of expression and to show their dismay at what they call "the Brotherhood's constitution."

Protesters started gathering at 4pm in Talaat Harb Square, chanting against the Muslim Brotherhood rule, whose policies stifle creative expression and freedom of speech, according to several members of the opposition.

The protest was called for by several coalitions of artists, both those that existed before the revolution and others born out of it.

"Shave your beard, show your shame, you would find your face is Mubarak's face," the artists chanted.

Different generations were present, ranging from icons such as writer Bahaa Taher to the young revolution singer, Ramy Essam.

There were also two members of Egypt's differently-abled people in wheelchairs calling for their rights and showing solidarity with the artists' cause. The protest also included members of the actors' syndicate, musicians syndicate, filmmakers and directors.

Among the organisers and participants in the march were The National Union for Change, The National Union for Protecting Freedom of Expression, The National Union for Protecting Rights and Freedoms of Thought and Creativity, The Coalition for Independent Culture, The Egyptian Creativity Front, The Coalition of Revolution Artists, Writers and Artists for Change, The Egyptian Cinema Syndicate, and The Egyptian Actors Syndicate.

A sheikh of Al-Azhar University, who came dressed in the traditional Azhari attire, was among the protesters. He led several chants against the Brotherhood rule, showing solidarity with Egyptian artists. He also led one for El-Husseiny Abu Deif, a journalist from Al-Fagr newspaper who was severely injured during clashes at the Ipresidential palace on Wednesday, 5 December and died in the hospital last week. "El-Husseiny said it strongly: Down with the Brotherhood," the chant echoed.

The protesters held tens of large printed posters of iconic Egyptian actors, writers, musicians, dancers, poets and other cultural figures, each with a big bold caption: "A constitution for all Egyptians." Other posters read "Write a constitution for all Egyptians" and others read "Egypt is in danger: Freedom of thought should be a constitutional priority."

As the sun went down the call for prayer resonated, filling the streets, the artists paused their chanting in respect. A strong sound of silence filled the air and Al-Azhar sheikh's beautiful voice filled Talaat Harb Square with the traditional call for prayer. As soon as he was done, an older protester shouted "To Tahrir!" and the march started moving towards the square.

Quickly the street was filled with protesters marching, with many more passersby joining the march making the number of protesters reach several hundreds. The march's soundtrack was full of politically-driven chants against the constitution, along with singing of national songs.

The march ended in Tahrir Square at an erected stage with a backdrop of "The Tahrir Club" (a new movement, aiming to achieve the revolution's goals through civic engagement with no political affiliation whether left right or centre). Banners demanding the scrapping of the draft constitution up for referendum were hung on both sides of the stage.

Bahaa Taher was invited to the stage to speak on behalf of the protesters and to start the revolutionary concert. "The Egyptian people will continue their revolution, along with Egypt's intellectuals who are from the people," he told the crowd as they cheered.

Poet and activist Zeid Eddin El-Abedeen introduced the programme of the night, which included a musical performances and poetry recitals. "We are against the constitution, which neither recognises or pays tribute to art and culture," he said on stage.

The performances started with Ahmed Ismail on oud, singing songs written by Foad Haddad and composed by Ismail. Later they invited young Nagham Saleh with her angelic voice to the stage who sang the iconic Sheikh Imam songs.

Next, Ramy Essam took the stage, singing his songs which all revolve around the revolution's events since ousted president Mubarak's times. He urged people to continue protesting in spite of the referendum that was about to take place. "I'm not going anywhere," he said. He also invited Reda Abdel-Aziz, a young protester who was among the tens of people who lost their eyes during the clashes on Mohamed Mahmoud street with police last year to give a statement. He urged people to continue the revolution and not give up.

Egyptian poet Ahmed Fouad Negm, as well as the popular Eskenderella band, took the stage later, continuing the revolutionary concert

This was not the first artists' and intellectuals' protest of its kind. Besides continuous participation in sit-ins, artists staged several marches over the year to protest infringements on freedom of expression, as well as show solidarity with other demands of the revolution. The most recent was Tuesday, 27 November, where artists marched from the Cairo Opera House to Tahrir Square.

Earlier this year, on the day of the first parliamentary session on 23 January of the now-dissolved parliament, artists staged a march from the Opera to the parliament building near Tahrir Square to present a list of their demands to parliament to ensure the freedom of creative expression.

Most of the marches and stands are organised by the Egyptian Creativity Front, a coalition of artists who vow to defend freedom of expression in Egypt to their last breath. They united in fear from dominance by Islamist parties and statements from Islamist leaders on what is and is not "acceptable," and that artists are infidels and have no religion.

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