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A New Monument Shows The Egyptian Government’s Rush To Reclaim The Legacy Of Tahrir Square

Tahrir Square, the historic site that has come to symbolize the 2011 Egyptian revolution, has gotten a makeover in recent days. But Egyptian activists say it is yet another effort by the government to erase any traces of the last few years.

Sheera Frenkel / BuzzFeed

Cairo – It was just after 8pm on Thursday when construction engineer Emad Abdel Rahman received an urgent phone call from a government official.

“He said to me, go to Tahrir now. We have an assignment for you. He told me, you have to start building tonight, this must be done as quickly as possible,” said Abdel Rahman, who on Sunday wiped sweat and dirt from his neck, as he looked over the nearly completed project.

“We have never built so fast. I have not slept, I have been here just building, building so that it will be done,” he said. “The only important thing is that it is done in time.”

The project is a monument in the center of Tahrir Square, and the deadline is this Tuesday, when Egypt will mark the anniversary of the November 19, 2011 killing of 40 protesters on Mohamed Mahmoud Street off Tahrir Square.

Bur for activists and many of those involved in the lofty hey-days of Egypt’s revolution, the monument in Tahrir Square is, like many things in Egypt today, a hasty effort to re-cast the recent past.

According to engineers and designers who are working on the project, it is a temporary fixture, a rushed job to be completed before November 19 and demolished in a few months time.

Within the next two months Egyptian officials will place advertisements in all the state newspapers and call for artists to submit their own designs for a monument in Tahrir. The winning design will be chosen by committee, said Rahman, and erected in Tahrir.

“This is just a temporary monument,” he said. When asked how much it cost, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “that is not my business, they just said to have it done as soon as possible.”

Even the artist behind the design, Mahmoud Faranawi, said it didn’t really matter how good the monument looked.

“They gave me a week. They asked me to design something which symbolized the Egyptian people rising up, but which won’t stay here forever,” said Faranawi.

So he designed the semi-circle of sand-colored stones, rising around what he described as a “Pharaonic stone” in the middle.

Mahmoud Faranawi stands in front of the nearly-completed statue. Sheera Frenkel / BuzzFeed

The most important thing, Faranawi stressed, was that it was done in time.

On November 19, rival political camps have called for protests to mark the anniversary of the killing of 40 protesters by police in 2011. Last year, the commemoration of the incident turned violent, with protesters rioting over then-president Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government.

This year, the Egyptian government has tried to claim their protest as their own. On Tuesday, cabinet ministers will gather in Tahrir and hold a ceremony marking the opening of the monument.

“Each one of them will go and place a stone on the statue, on the stone in the middle. It is symbolic, you see,” said Faranawi.

In the square, a tent had already been erected for the ministers and a billboard hung high above the square.

At the bottom the billboard reads, “Egyptians love their country.”

Egyptian activists have called the government’s involvement in commemorating the memorial of the clashes ironic, especially as Defense Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, was part of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces that oversaw the killing of protesters during the 2011 clashes.

Activist Ahmed Douma told Egypt Independent that the new monument being built in Tahrir and the ceremony being planned on November 19 was “a failing, fake attempt that primarily seeks trading the souls of tens of martyrs.”

Olfat Mohamed, whose son Islam Abdel Wahab was killed in 2011, told the Mada Masr new site, that the new monument doesn’t represent her son.

“What does this monument represent? Who does it represent? Of course the government will aim it at the martyrs who are being talked about now and not those who were forgotten,” she says.

On Twitter, Egyptians were quick to notice the monument.

In Egypt you die twice, you get killed in a protest then you killers co-opt your memory .

— Ghozo (@Moghazy)

Moghazy

@Ghozo

In Egypt you die twice, you get killed in a protest then you killers co-opt your memory .

/ Via

And because we are lucky people #SCAF will even provide a stage from which the will cast their aspersions. #Tahrir

— neiselstein (@Natalie Eiselstein)

Natalie Eiselstein

@neiselstein

And because we are lucky people #SCAF will even provide a stage from which the will cast their aspersions. #Tahrir

/ Via

Saddest thing about "memorial" being built in Tahrir is how crappy it is. Slapped together thoughtlessly on the fly http://t.co/0jYsruz0Yu

— tomgara (@Tom Gara)

Tom Gara

@tomgara

Saddest thing about “memorial” being built in Tahrir is how crappy it is. Slapped together thoughtlessly on the fly http://t.co/0jYsruz0Yu

/ Via

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Sheera Frenkel is a Middle East correspondent for BuzzFeed News. Her secure PGP fingerprint is 0B69 4C66 9228 93D5 91A3 010B 7542 9FAF 4315 B404
Contact Sheera Frenkel at Sheera.Frenkel@buzzfeed.com
 
 
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