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Friday, 4 February 2022

Iconic images of Egypt and the stories they tell

This iconic photo of the legendary Louis Armstrong by the Pyramids has even more depth to it than meets the eye. Much like good photography, good music transcends time, words, and cultures. The US State Department made use of that knowledge during the Cold War, and decided to capitalize on the burgeoning concept of cultural diplomacy by sending its most powerful ambassadors abroad: Jazz musicians.

In 1961, Egypt got a visit from the one and only Louis Armstrong. His brief time in Cairo was immortalized through this heartwarming shot, in which he plays the trumpet for his wife, Lucille Wilson, by the pyramids and the Great Sphinx. Look closely, and you can almost hear the timeless tune of “What A Wonderful World.

Note: The photographer of this image remains unknown.


“Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eyes first.” These words by Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, a Coptic Bishop from the 4th century, are artfully written on the walls of the infamous Garbage City in Manshiyat Nasser — the fascinating community of garbage collectors that is virtually guaranteed a visit from every foreign journalist in town. French-Tunisian artist El Seed went a little deeper in 2016 and took on a 50-building wide initiative, Perception.

This image, taken by El Seed himself, was shot from the nearby Mokattam Hills after he completed the project. The aim of his “caligraffiti” was not just to add visual appeal to the disenfranchised area, but to shed light on its misunderstood residents, who have been Cairo’s informal rubbish collectors and recyclers since the 1940s, El-Seed told TRT World.


The Ballerinas of Cairo series took our social media grids by storm in 2016. Photographer Mahmoud Taher portrayed the multiple facets of Cairo through the magnificence of its ballet dancers, who were initially hesitant to accept his request. Upon seeing the breathtaking outcome, more dancers started volunteering to take part in the captivating series of photos.

Inspired by New York’s Ballerina Project, Taher’s Egyptian version quickly took on a liberating mission of its own: Helping women stand up to harassment and reclaim their streets. Armed with ballet shoes and skirts, the ballerinas elegantly danced through iconic spots like ElMoez Street, El Hussein, downtown Cairo, and even the southern beauty of Aswan.

The January 25 uprising gave us an endless stream of memorable images: M60 tanks pushing through the city, artists performing alongside soldiers, burning buildings and ransacked shops, and thousands chanting in unison for a cause other than their football club. Amid the turbulence, striking photos of unity took center stage in local and international media.

Muslim-Christian solidarity was a dominant theme in the very early days of protests. So this image of a Muslim holding the Quran and a Coptic Christian holding a cross, gripping on to each other and carried on shoulders in Tahrir Square, was front-page material. Captured by Reuters’ Dylan Martinez on 6 February, 2011, this moment was placed alongside cell phone photos of Christians joining hands in a circle to protect Muslim protesters as they prayed in Tahrir square, dispeling sectarian tension.

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