February 18, 2011

David Degner in Cairo: The Bridge, Hospital, Metro Stop, Library Formerly Known as "Mubarak"

This commentary is distilled from a conversation with photographer David Degner in Cairo. Our working title was: Overnight Changes (But You Can’t Change Things Overnight).

–Michael Shaw

Yes, this is the Mubarak metro stop. It’s been a very common name. It’s on power stations. Metro Stations. Schools. Airports. Hospitals. Bridges. Actually, schools and hospitals tend to be named after Mubarak’s wife and infrastructure and transportation tended to be named after him.  Susan Mubarak supposedly cared about the youth and health of the people.  It was a running joke, though, that she would show up someplace (named after her) a total of twice, but not leave the car.

There is a debate going on now over what to do about all the things named after Mubarak.  According to my Egyptian journalist friends, the military didn’t really denounced Mubarak so much as didn’t salute him when he stepped down.  Meaning, they are trying to preserve his reputation as a good guy with flaws and retain him as a legitimate social figure.  Though, according to my journalist friends again, they think all these signs and markers will soon be changed.

It seems that the process is well underway. I went to photograph another Mubarak sign on the library this Wednesday but it had been taken down. There is a now a debate going on about what to re-name it, too. There is also talk about what to rename this metro stop.  Many want to call it the “25th of January Station.” There are many, many roads here named for key dates, usually from wars against Israel.

In fact, I just heard about the hospital in Gaza which was built by Egyptian businessmen back in the 90’s.  Its name was changed from “Mubarak” to “Tahrir Hospital.”

It’s not just names that are changing, though. One thing the police did last week was change their slogan from “Police and people at the service of the state” to “Police at the service of the people.”

But how quickly can you change the mindset of a country?  I think about the culture of the police. These are men who haven’t been  treated that well or compensated very well. It’s why they’ve been so angry and accepting bribes. What’s particularly bothering me is how easily people are accepting changes of institutions, leaders and slogans as actual change in policy.

When people have been “under Mubarak” (like you see in the picture) for as long as they have, it’s not something you just change overnight.

–David Degner


You can see the archive of all the photo-reports from BagNews since the Middle East crisis began at Middle-East Uprising 2011. For David’s photo-documentation of life in Cairo, including more crisis images, visit his website, Incendiary Image.

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