The Middle East: Questions for U.S. Policy draws students into the U.S. policy debate on one of the world’s most important regions. Students examine the role of oil in geopolitics, the issues between Israel and the Palestinians, the significance of the Iranian Revolution, and other historical issues that have shaped U.S. relations in the region.
- Assess the role of graffiti in political protest.
- Use a short video to analyze the relevance of graffiti during the Egyptian revolution (January 2011-present).
- Articulate opinions on graffiti and censorship.
Note: This lesson requires access to the internet and teachers will need to be able to project videos in their classroom. Preview the YouTube video in this lesson to make sure it is appropriate for your classroom.
Videos (see below)
In the Classroom
1. Setting the Stage
Write the following question on the board: “Is graffiti a form of art or vandalism?” Call on students to share their opinions. Does the location of graffiti—for example, on the outside wall of a public building, private residence, subway tunnel, or dumpster—make it more or less acceptable? Or is it the type of graffiti—political cartoon, tag, mural, etc.—that matters?
2. Case Study: Egypt
Form groups of three or four students. Distribute the handout “Graffiti as Protest: Mohamed Mahmoud Street.” Tell students that they will consider the role of graffiti in Egypt in the years since the start of the revolution in January 2011. Remind students that this revolution began during the “Arab Spring,” a wave of popular uprisings that swept the Arab world starting in December 2010. In Egypt, demonstrations in January-February 2011 led to the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s almost thirty–year authoritarian regime. Egypt has undergone many changes since 2011, but a democracy has yet to be established. A revolution is still ongoing, with Egyptians calling for “bread, freedom, and social justice.”
Have students read the handout. Then show them the PowerPoint, “Graffiti as Protest in Cairo,” which has a collection of images from Mohamed Mahmoud Street and other locations in the Egyptian capital. What did students find surprising or interesting? What is the importance of Mohamed Mahmoud Street? Do students think graffiti is an effective protest method in this context?
3a. Analyzing a YouTube Video
Distribute the handout “We are Determined.” Tell students that they will be watching a YouTube video by an Egyptian activist group, the Mosireen Collective, which has been documenting the revolution. The video shows a woman protesting the erasure of graffiti on Mohamed Mahmoud Street. Ask students to complete the handout in their small groups and be prepared to share their answers with the class.
Note: The YouTube video is in Arabic, but there are subtitles in English. Click the “Captions” button on the lower bar of the video frame to turn these on. You may want to play the video multiple times, as students may not pick up on certain details the first time. Please be advised that some videos produced by Mosireen are graphic and options to view these will appear at the end of the YouTube video used in this lesson.
Call students back together. What observations do students have about the video? Why was the graffiti covered up with paint? Who whitewashed the walls? Why might the government view the graffiti as threatening? Why do students think the YouTube video was created?
3b. Further Analysis
Show one or more of the following video interviews with Mayssun Succarie, a scholar of social movements and youth culture in the Arab world. These videos present Succarie’s perspective on the YouTube video and the role of graffiti in Egypt’s revolution.
Why is the graffiti important? [1:27]
How does it relate to other events in Egypt? [1:57]
What is happening in this video?
4. Graffiti and Censorship
Remind students of the initial question on the board, “Is graffiti a form of art or vandalism?” Have students’ perspectives changed? If so, why? Why might graffiti be an important method of protest in Egypt? Have students ever seen political graffiti in their own communities? If yes, what types of issues or topics did the graffiti depict? If no, why not? Are there reasons for why this type of graffiti does not exist in their community? Do students think political graffiti should be censored?
Photo Credit: Gigi Ibrahim (CC BY 2.0).