Since the publication of the Arabic Graffiti Book in 2011, which I co-edited with Don Karl, the scene and stance of graffiti in Beirut has changed drastically. With the development of the Arab Spring across the neighboring Arab nations such as in Syria and Egypt, Beirut has experienced a new Arab graffiti scene and a new censorship aspect that was not present in the previous years. Alongside Lebanese socio-political stencils and murals, Beirut is being bombarded with Syrian, Egyptian and as usual Palestinian political and revolutionary writings.
What we are seeing as Egyptian graffiti in Beirut is just a small fraction of the growing graffiti scene in Egypt since the revolution. Writings against Mubarak and the “Be with the revolution” stencil, created by the Egyptian designer Mohamad Gaber, were seen on the walls of Beirut during the past year.
On the other hand, when it comes to Syrian graffiti, it seems that one of the few “free” spaces for Syrians and supporters of the Syrian revolution to spray is Beirut. Stencils and writing in support of the revolution/opposition and against the Syrian regime are being spotted either fully rendered or blacked out. We have heard of arrests, tortures and killings of teenage Syrians who have sprayed slogans on the walls in Dera’a and Homs against the Syrian regime. It proved that in Syria it is not only a matter of censorship but also a matter of life and death. The Syrian government has also banned spray cans from the stores and Syrians need a special ID at the moment to purchase spray cans. This said, it seems like the Syrians in Lebanon and their Lebanese supporters are finding Beirut walls easier and safer to spray on, but they are also being followed and censored by the political parties in Beirut that support the Syrian regime. Stencils of Bashar Al-Assad with Hitler’s hair style and moustache have been sprayed all over the walls of Beirut and blacked out immediately afterwards by pro-Bashar political parties in Lebanon.
The Bashar/Hitler stencil was originally designed by Egyptian street artist El Teneen who was one of the first designer to stencil around Tahriri Square in Cairo in January 2011, the stencil spread over the social networks and it was popping up in Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt.
Stencils like the: “Syrian opposition flag” of green top strip, three medial red starts and black lower strip, “Revolutionary hand of Homs”, “Free Syria 2011-2012”, “Nation in the Building”, “Liar… is the Syrian Media”, and among others are sprayed and blacked out. The stencils are not only being blacked out but also replaced by pro-regime writings besides them. After this being done, the graffiti become more credible and the censoring parties become obsolete in their act. The names of the pro-Syrian regime political parties will not be mentioned in this article since this is not a political blog.
The stencils are not only being blacked out but also replaced by pro-regime writings besides them. After this being done, the graffiti become more credible and the censoring parties become obsolete in their act. The names of the pro-Syrian regime political parties will not be mentioned in this article since this is not a political blog.
Coming back to Lebanese graffiti, we have been surprised by a wave of censorship/blacking out and court orders beings implemented on Lebanese artists who are spraying images or slogans against the Lebanese Army or the Security Forces. It seems like they are being influenced by their Syrian counterpart, and they are blacking out and sending artists to court if the graffiti is targeting them. Ali’s stencil of a Lebanese policeman wearing an “I love corruption” T-Shirt under his uniform, was blacked out hours after it was sprayed alongside a graffiti done by the Egyptian artist known as Ganzeer. Samaan Khawam was sent to court on the charges of vandalism of public spaces and might be sentenced to prison for a few months or pay a fine after he did a stencil showing army boots, rifles and hamlets above each other. Graffiti was not being put under the spotlight in the past years by the LSF; however, graffiti artists are being prosecuted nowadays when they target governmental issues.
Is this situation changing due to the blacked out Syrian graffiti in Beirut? Does the government want to silence any opposing view towards the Lebanese Army and Security Forces? Why weren’t all the previous socio-political graffiti in Beirut seen as vandalism or threatening national security?
I have previously written in the Arabic Graffiti Book that the LSF never spotted any graffiti artist in the act after midnight or during daylight. However, as we noticed, the opposing political Lebanese and Arab graffiti is being watched out now by governmental and political parties in Lebanon. Hopefully, this censorship will not evolve to affect other artistic socio-political drawings, and the freedom of street art in Lebanon will not be silenced and marked as vandalism by the Lebanese government.