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Egypt seizes graffiti book for ‘inciting revolution’

Border forces have seized 400 copies of a photography book that features protest street art

When you think of customs seizures, you picture baggies of cocaine or live animals or a gun-toting stuffed armadillo. Egyptian customs, however, have been busy confiscating 400 photography books. Walls of Freedom features images of the provocative street art that covered walls and buildings in Egypt during the 2011 revolution that eventually led to the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak.

Customs services in Alexandria seized all incoming copies of the book from Germany and announced that they would be transported to prosecution services. A spokesperson for the finance ministry, Undersecretary Ahmed al-Sayyad, told al-Masry al-Youm that the book was seized for "instigating revolt" as it contains "advice on confronting the police and armed forces". 

Edited by street artist and activist Don Stone, along with design professor Basma Hamdy, Walls of Freedom shows how street art came to embody the Egyptian people's revolutionary struggle. The book profiles a hundred graffiti artists whose street art transformed Egypt's walls "into a visual testimony of bravery and resistance", as its publishers put it.

"We are surprised because the book has been already for sale in Egypt for nearly a year," Stone told us. "It had already passed censorship. The situation is still unclear, especially on whose authority this happened. On the other hand, if you have followed the developments in Egypt over the past four years, nothing surprises you anymore."

Stone says that political graffiti is hardly ever seen in Egypt these days: "Work in the street have nearly stopped. There are some graffiti projects related to social issues rather than politics."

In a protest against the seizure, novelist and political commentator Ahdaf Soueif republished her foreword on Facebook: "Our street art exemplified the difference between the revolution and the system: the system murdered, the revolution immortalised.”

Following a military coup that ousted the Muslim Brotherhood from power, Egyptian citizens have endured a mounting cycle of political violence. This isn’t the first time Egypt cracked down on freedom of expression: there is a growing list of journalist and writers that have ended up behind bars for speaking out against the current regime. Only last year, three Al Jazeera journalists were jailed for nothing less that reporting the news. The revolution has ended, but the stability of the Egyptian government still lies on a knife-edge.