The Arab Spring of 2011 was a windfall for a number of artists across the Middle East and North Africa. But two years later, are they really better off? Last weekend, there was an update on the Tunisian art scene, and this week, the Art Newspaper checked in on the state of free speech in Egypt, a country which experienced a number of democratic hiccups in the two years since protesters in Tahrir Square spurred the overthrow of dictator Hosni Mubarak. Artists in the North African country are skeptical that the new freedoms afforded them under a democratically elected regime will last, as the new government is run by the ultra-conservative Muslim Brotherhood.
Egyptian street artist Keizer told TAN that Egypt’s art world is only safe currently because it’s under the radar. “At the moment, there’s an emphasis on television and the movies,” he said. “[The Muslim Brotherhood] has yet to really discover the art world, but when it does, it will clamp down. We have already had statements in the media from sheikhs saying that all art made in the past 20 to 30 years will be abolished.” Worry of censorship, however, has not silenced the nation’s artists. Keizer also noted that it may have spurred more artistic creation, particularly from street artists.
A number of different sources noted the issues inherent in the country’s highly controversial new constitution, such as vague language and an emphasis on religion over rule of law, have the potential to adversely affect the freedom of the art community. However, there is time to change the direction the country is heading for the better, according to Egyptian critic and curator Bassam el Baroni. “We need a couple of years to see what damage this constitution can inflict on culture. A lot can happen in that time to counteract that and push for a better outcome,” he told TAN.
— Shane Ferro