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ESSAY CONTAINS EXPLICIT CONTENT
EPF 2011 Finalist
In the Shadow of the Pyramids: Egypt
The revolution of Jan. 25, 2011 revived a long lost sense of pride and strength for Egyptian people.
In my lifetime, I’ve seen Egyptians live under a totalitarian regime pressing down against their dignity. People lost their national pride and unity. Wealth and power rested in the hands of a few who seemed the only ones with the right to live. The masses felt isolated and with this isolation people became foreigners in their own land.
Over the past three decades this country of nearly 85 million – the Arab world’s most populous and traditionally its most revered – became a country of lost souls – ripped apart by political, social and economic turmoil. I didn’t have to go beyond the streets to see the depth of this estrangement.
The signs were this is a country on the verge of an explosion.
“It’s a horrible feeling to realize that your country is weak, your voice is weak, your opinion is weak – to realize that if you sell your soul, your body, your pen and your name, you still wouldn’t be able to afford a loaf of bread,” writes the Egyptian vernacular poet Hesham al-Gokh in “Goha”.
In the 30 years of former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime, Egypt became one of the world’s top 10 most corrupt nations. Bribery was common practice to get anything done, from a driver’s license to getting employed. Torture & humiliation of Egyptians was a daily occurrence. At least 24 million can’t read or write & estimates say more than 10 million live outside Egypt in pursuit of a better life. Egypt is one of a handful of countries where poverty forced roughly one million people to make homes out of cemeteries, breathing the spirit of the dead to stay alive.
In 2005 I began to document the lives of everyday Egyptians. The purpose of my work has & is to identify the essence of being Egyptian during & after Mubarak’s era. In doing so I aim to show how events in this strategic North African country can give insight into the future of the Middle East.
In parts, this project has been published before in different places, one of them being BURN magazine.
Laura El-Tantawy is a British/Egyptian photographer spending her time between London and Cairo. She was born in Worcestershire, England and grew up between Saudi Arabia and Egypt. She works on self-initiated projects.
She worked as a newspaper photographer with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Sarasota Herald-Tribune (USA). In 2006, she became freelance to focus on personal projects. In 2008, she was nominated and accepted as one of 15 photographers from around the world to participate in Reflexions Masterclass, a two-year photo seminar directed by Italian photographer Giogia Fiorio and French curator Gabriel Bauret. In 2005 she started work on her first book documenting her journey through a changing Egypt. As part of her urge to understand the issues, in 2009 she accepted a six-month fellowship at University of Oxford (UK) to research free speech in Egyptian. Her work has been published and exhibited in the US, Europe, Asia and Middle East.