VISA Off 2014 Festival – “The Tahrir Smiles”
The serie of 15 photos presented below was carried out during my stay of one month in Cairo in December 2013 with the aim of going to meet the Egyptian street and understand what has changed in their daily life due to two revolutions of 2011 and 2013.
This reportage has been chosen with 30 others among 250 applications to compete at VISA Off 2014 festival of Perpignan and exhibited 3 weeks in a fashion shop and gallery in the center of the city of Perpignan.
VISA festival takes place every year in the entire city of Perpignan, from late August to mid-September for a period of 15 days. This is the main and most important festival of photojournalism in France and in the world.
This festival not only offers exhibitions spread across the city, but also conferences, international meetings and discounts prestigious global photographers rewarding the best stories.
Winter is particularly tough this year in Cairo
For the first time in over 120 years the snow has arrived at the gates of the Egyptian capital, and in the morning of 13 December, I scan desperately pyramids from the 36th floor of the building of the National TV located in the center of Cairo along the Nile. But the long-awaited miracle will not happen and I will not have my shot of the pyramids covered by snow.
Whatever, for 10 days since I arrived in Cairo to exhibit my pictures, encounters keep coming. With the fear of unrest, tourists are scarce in Cairo for 2 years. While Egyptians often approach me. They are curious about what I do here, to know the perception of foreign overlooked the political situation of the country. They make it a point of honor to invite me to eat at their table to discuss with me, telling me their stories and how they experienced the successive revolutions.
Many times I was taken to see Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the great momentum of freedom that has gripped Egypt there 2 years. I could walk for hours in the adjacent streets with my camera, guided by locals, constantly challenged by the huge smiles of passersby and merchants. Many were those who wanted me to immortalize their picture with my camera. I spent hours in cafes to listen and take the pulse of the street.
Here, the predominant feeling is misunderstanding. The misunderstanding with respect to the West, which has dropped while they were fighting for their freedom. Because no, the people are not in themselves revolted against Mubarak still enjoys a good popularity rating, but against his will to pass power to his son. This is what has lit the fuse and that started it all!
The Egyptians are not against authoritarian regimes. The face of Nasser often returns in all the conversations as the example and the model. The man can be loved or hated, but he is respected because he has restored pride to the Egyptian people. And pride, the country aspires to find her again.
Mubarak’s fall was seen as an extraordinary catalyst for freedom. But the country was not ready. More than 30 years of autocratic rule have not allowed the emergence of an organized opposition. Only the Muslim Brotherhood was organized with a fine grid across the country, from large cities to smaller remote villages. The only organized political force to speak of.
Young people who were on the initiative and at the head of the revolution of 2011 saw therefore confiscated the ideals for which they fought so much.
From a purely Egyptian point of view I’m only relate here, the prevailing feeling is that the 2012 elections were stolen by the Brotherhood. These first democratic elections did not allow one to identify the clear majority for any of the parties involved.
The Brotherhood, with their mesh of the country and their structuring chose to push through taking the country hostage: “Either you leave us the power, the country is going to experience civil war.”
The army, the traditional mainstay of the country but weakened by the fall of Mubarak let them do and Mohammed Morsi was elected president.
Less than one year later, in July 2013, the same president was driven by more than 15 million people took to the streets and General Al Sissi was called to replace him.
Six months later, the economic situation is still very bad. The unrest has driven tourists and therefore foreign exchange earnings. Political instability has driven capital, many companies have put the key under the door and the exchange rate of the Egyptian pound has sharply depreciated bidding the purchase of foreign products.
Youths are distraught because no place is made to them in the new institutions and the power is back in the hands of the army but with the tacit agreement to prepare a political transition horizon 10 years.
The fact is that the Egyptian people are now tired of these disorders. What is democracy if it’s pushed back to 40 years ago? For the most part they now openly aspire to return to calm and many hope that the new powers will pull the country out of the rut as did Nasser there over 50 years.
From all this I draw, personally, a great lesson. These people are far from being desperate! Everyone knows that the situation is tough, but all are each expressed their willingness to make the necessary efforts to help the country to get better, to work!
One proof is that most Copts shops proudly and openly bear the portrait of the Patriarch of Alexandria. Also I could see this huge city to acquire the Christmas decorations from the end of December.
Unexpected for me!
The chance of this country is that people feel Egyptian before feeling of a particular religion or party. National pride and the weight of the history of this country unite in the same pot!
And all dream together of a new Nasser. The phrase that best sums certainly thought that prevails in Cairo is one, heard during one of my many discussions:
“Egypt, as far back as history has always been ruled by strongmen, autocrats and authoritarian who were able to serve their people and their country. Only this provided that the people rally behind such a man. We are not ready to democracy, and it is not even sure it would suit here. So stop to wish to impose a system that is not part of our history and of our genes and let us follow our own path.”
And also it will take time … after all … the pyramids were not built in one night!