Egypt: Finnish and Egyptian street artists labeled ‘terrorists’ for graffiti art project

14 July 2014

Sampsa, a street artist from Finland, is wanted in Egypt for his art, and the Egyptian artist Ganzeer has been forced into hiding. A German artist collective, Captain Borderline, has been involved in the street art ‘terrorism’ as well.

In the article titled ‘Artist Collective Labeled Terrorists in Egypt’ on, posted on 27 May 2014, Laura C. Mallonee explained:

“Last summer, during protests in Cairo that injured more than 1,000 people, the Finnish street artist Sampsa met Ganzeer, an Egyptian artist whose fame mushroomed after the revolution, thanks to images he created such as “The Army Above All” – a poster depicting a blood-thirsty soldier standing amid a pile of skulls.

A few months later, together with the Cologne-based art collective Captain Borderline, Sampsa and Ganzeer launched the social media and street art campaign #SisiWarCrimes. It called attention to alleged abuses by Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, the former head of Egypt’s armed forces, who could become president if he wins the election.

Within 24 hours of the campaign’s launch, the artists and the collective were called terrorists on the Al Kahera Wal Nas TV Network and accused of being connected to the Muslim Brotherhood (in April 2014, an Egyptian court sentenced 683 of its members to death). The station is known for its support of General Sisi and had broadcasted a message from him just the week before. Three weeks later, Egypt’s largest state-owned newspaper, Al Gomhuria, repeated the accusation, and Ganzeer was forced into hiding.”

Sampsa reached out to Hyperallergic via email and wrote about the terrorist labeling:

“This is not a light accusation — or term to be tossed around so lightly — as the general used the same term for Muslim Brotherhood in order for int’l communities to rally in support of the murder his soldiers were executing.
If we are not terrorists — which is clear — as the only thing we have done is paint against the general — then who else is not a terrorist? It is a disgrace in modern times that artists would be targeted in such a Stalin-ish way. This is the democracy that Sisi is offering in Egypt — absolute rule — absolute oppression of dissent.”

In a blog post, Ganzeer wrote that the actions represent a loss for Sisi:

“Rather than see us as a threat to the State, critical artists should be seen as a source of information to the State. By paying attention to what we do, perhaps the State can better understand popular grievances and adjust its policies and governance accordingly, rather than invest so many resources into trying to shut us up.”


Finnish street artist Sampsa joins Ahmed to discuss why his graffiti has the Egyptian government labeling him a ‘terrorist’.

» See video report on:

Index on Censorship: Where to draw the line?

Art has been a means of stretching the boundaries, but can art sometimes be a public safety risk?

A series of cartoons, some of which depicted Prophet Mohammed, published by a Danish newspaper in 2005 sparked angry and violent protests across the Arab world. The same happened again when a 13 minute trailer of a movie called Innocence of Muslims appeared on Youtube two years ago. Earlier this year, French comic and political activist Dieudonné was banned from performing after his shows were found to incite racial hatred and anti-semitic sentiment by French courts. The comedian was also banned from entering the United Kingdom.

These cases raise a very important question: When does giving a platform to extremist views through art or journalism become an act of terrorism? Should artists or journalists be exempt from terrorism laws or should inflammatory works be banned?

Join the free speech debate
Get involved the discussion using the hashtag #IndexDrawtheLine and tell us — where do you draw the line?

» Index on Censorship – 14 July 2014:
#IndexDrawtheLine: Can art or journalism ever be terrorism?

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