Musician in the firing line of the Arab Spring
|His songs were inspired by the experiences he had in the eye of the revolutionary hurricane on Tahrir Square. The events gave Ramy Essam the reputation as one of North Africa’s new musical revolution heroes, and the Western media have proclaimed him to be ‘Egypt’s Bob Dylan’.
By Mik Aidt, web editor, www.freemuse.org
When popular uprisings led to the fall of regimes in January in Tunisia and in February in Egypt, music played its part in the firing line. In Egypt, on Tahrir Square in Cairo, loudspeakers carried the voice of 26-year-old singer Ramy Essam to the thousands of protesters who gathered there.
On 28 January 2011 the musician and artist Ahmed Basiony was killed by a sniper’s bullets while he participated in the demonstration in Cairo. The last paragraph he wrote on his Facebook profile was, “Bring a camera, and do not be afraid or weak.”
Ramy Essam was one of the many young Egyptians who travelled to Cairo to participate in the demonstrations on Tahrir Square. He came from the city of Al-Mansoura in northern Egypt, and he brought his guitar along with him. Arriving on 30 January, and on site non-stop over the next two weeks, he spent the nights in one of the tents on the square, and he wrote new songs each day, inspired by the atmosphere and by the demonstrators’ slogans.
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Especially his songs ‘Irhal’ (‘Leave’) and ‘Jan25 Tahrir’ was played again and again throughout the Egyptian revolution in the month of February 2011.
“It was so intense, even with just him on an acoustic guitar, it literally rocked the Square,” said the American professor and musician Mark LeVine, who also was at Tahrir Square at the time.
Mark LeVine is, among other things, the author of a report on heavy metal musicians’ situation in the Middle East and Asia which was published by the international music organisation Freemuse in February 2010.
At the same time democratic elections can turn out to pave the way for fundamentalist religious forces that would want to ban all pop and rock music on religious grounds.
For Ramy Essam what he thought was past history in Egypt suddenly hit him like a bomb on 9 March 2011 in the afternoon:
Armed soldiers unexpectedly stormed Tahrir Square, which had remained a meeting place for many who participated in the demonstrations. Ramy was brought into the National Museum, where his hands and feet were tied, he got kicked on the body and face, stomped on and had thrown shoes in the head. His back and feet were beaten with sticks, whips, pips, wires, and hoses, he got electric shock, his long hair cut was off, and eventually they rolled him around the dusty street with bleeding, open wounds before they let him free.
Shortly after his report and a photo of his battered face and torso circulated on Facebook and blogs world-wide.
Even a revolution does not change the incorporated brutality in police and military from one day to the next. Egypt under Mubarak was an extremely authoritarian society where heavy metal musicians and rappers were hunted. It can happen again.
Ramy Essam, performing at Tahrir Square in Cairo during the demonstrations in January. Photo by Mark LeVine
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