Egypt Report

So far, the shift of power following the popular uprising – unprecedented in Egyptian history – has failed to keep its promises. The deposed dictator handed over the reins of state to a transitional military government headed by Marshal Tantawi, a former defense minister and commander of the Egyptian armed forces from 1991 to 2011. During the last twelve months Tantawi has lived up to his nickname of “Mr Torture”. The first free elections, however, have ignited great hope among the Egyptians, following the declarations of the first civilian assembly, and could be a sign of an end to the unrest.

In January 2011, photo-journalist Gael Favari had been intending to make a series of photo portraits of Jordanian society, and, ticket in hand, was preparing to set off when the first news of revolution in Egypt led him, instead, to Cairo. Landing in the middle of the violence overturning the capital, he found himself fascinated by the Egyptians’ unshakeable confidence in a better future. Fascinated too by their capacity to resist blows and cope with injury, faced with a police state no longer wanted after thirty years of Mubarak’s regime, corruption and glaring inequality in the distribution of wealth.

Once calm had been restored to the streets, there were many Egyptians bearing injuries from the Tahrir Square uprising: 6,460 wounded and 864 dead in three weeks, 23,000 prisoners released from prison. Gael visited Egypt regularly in 2011 and recently returned on behalf of the Global Journal with a view to publishing a sequence of daily images from January 25 to February 14, 2012, relating the story of life there, one year after the revolution. The Egyptian Spring did not only produce flowers and fruit – the army took power on February 11, 2011. In this land of 81 million inhabitants, where the majority of the population are under 25, where 50% of the men and 80% of the women under 30 with higher education qualifications are unemployed and without benefit, the Egyptian economy creates less than 200,000 jobs per year while 700,000 students graduate from university in the same period. In 2010, 40% of the population - around 33 million inhabitants - lived on less than two dollars per day. The road leading to democracy is a long one in a country where, before the downfall of Mubarak’s regime, only seven million people had the right to vote. For Gael Favari, the first messages to come from Liberty Square, Tahrir Square, still resonate in the ears of many Egyptians: “Copt or Muslim : all brothers of Egypt!”, “No to a military society!”, “No to a religious state!” and “Yes to a civil society!” It is estimated that there are nearly 1 million homeless people in Egypt - not counting all those who live in the most basic form of shelter without access to electricity or drinking water.

All the members of this family were born, and live their whole lives, on the streets, without access to sanitation, education or dignity... The men of this family elected not to have their picture taken, for fear of the police reprisals that punctuate their daily existence. In many ways, their social status is no better than that of an animal; their lives are a constant struggle to eat and survive in a hostile world where they are totally despised.

Illiterate, these people often don’t have a single piece of ID and don’t even know their date of birth, owing their survival to petty crime and begging. These same men were used for decades by the former regime to spy on opposition demonstrations, in return for a little food and money. It was these same poor individuals – poised on the brink of human existence – who came to swell the ranks of released prisoners and the secret police to crush the uprising in Tahrir Square. The climax of the story: in front of them rises the Sheraton Hotel complex, while behind them, the symbol of global capitalism – an advertisement for Coca-Cola. Has the revolution changed their lives? Unfortunately, the answer is an unequivocal “no”.

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A portfolio by Gael Favari