January 19, 2012

In memory of martyr Ziad Bakir - Democracy, democracy, democracy

Is it almost a year already? Is it almost a year that Ziad Bakir left the house in Cairo to join the Egyptian revolution?

When Ziad went out on January 28 to be peacefully part of the quest for a new, free Egypt, he had no idea how murderous the regime was going to react. But when the day came to an end, he never returned.

Now that almost a year has passed, you might think the memory of all this has faded, the sadness of those, who loved him dearly, has passed on to bearability. It hasn‘t. „When you lose someone you love, 20 years are nothing“, a woman in a documentary said the other day who had lost relatives in a plane crash in 1979. - Twenty years is nothing. And a year? - So much less.

Did it really happen, this year? Or did all this happen only yesterday? For the relatives this question comes up again and again with no satisfactory answer.

Ziad Bakir was no revolutionary. He was an artist, a fine artist in his trade, heading the design department an the Cairo Opera House. His posters for performances were stunning in layout and colour, creative in their combination of text, photo and colour schemes, and art in itself. Even if you should have known that the event was going to be of poor quality, Ziad‘s posters were so brilliantly arranged and alive that they compelled you to visit the performance. What better quality could such a poster have? The Cairo Opera House was and could be proud of having him as their chief designer.

When Ziad went out into the streets of Cairo on that January 28 he had no rocks with him, no molotov cocktails, no weapons - just a perception of a dream: that Egypt - his Egypt he loved - would become free of tyrannical rule, would allow freedom of speech and secure democracy. For in his family these were values he and his sister and brother had been taught, with early contacts to other cultures and languages of the world. All this documented itself in his multicoloured, multicultural wonderful designs. And the soft-spoken, kindhearted father of three went out to see for himself if this dream of Egypt could peacefully come true.

The rest is bitter history. One day only, one single day turned everything upside down. When Ziad did not return even late at night, his family started to get worried. His sister, who was studying art in Europe and who had spoken with him again and again on the phone about the revolution of Egypt and what it could mean to the country, was deeply disturbed and immediately interrupted her studies and booked a flight home. When she arrived on January 31, Ziad had still not been found.

For weeks the family searched all possible places in Cairo, and while the revolution went on in Tahrir, where sister Mirette often could be seen with a photo of Ziad and her hopeful look, someone could recognize him and have some information about him, while Mubarak finally stepped down to the cheers of the Egyptian people - the fear grew in the hearts of those that loved him that he might perhaps never return. Yet, no one was willing to give up on him. His brother and cousin tirelessly searched the morgues and hospitals, his sister organized the media, giving interview after interview to the local and foreign press, hoping someone out there seeing it would have some news on Ziad.

Five long weeks

But the only news they kept getting was devastating in itself. Calls from unknown callers stating they knew where Ziad is, or saying they saw him only days ago in a prison in Sinai - or quite bluntly threatening the family that Ziad would never return alive if they did not stop talking to the press about him.

Undoubtedly the crooks of Amn El Dawla, of Mubarak‘s hated riot police or the despised former ruling party NDP thought it appropriate to torture the family even more. As if the desperate search for their son and brother day in and day out was not hard enough to bear.

Five weeks after Ziad had disappeared, a phone call from a trusted source came to say that a body was seen in Zenhom morgue that could be him. The family was in doubt, for his brother and cousin had been in Zenhom morgue many, many times in those five weeks, they had seen unbelievable scenes and unaccounted bodies, yet never a body that resembled him. But when they went to inspect, the hopes of finding Ziad alive, sitting perhaps in some godforsaken military prison in Egypt, was shattered. With all difficulties of identification, it was in the end to be taken that Ziad Bakir had been found. And his bullet wounds clearly showed that he had been killed by snipers from rooftops.

It is not wise to go back to every detail of those horrible days when he was found and finally buried on March 13. Why open all the wounds once more? A huge funeral was held at Omar Makram mosque next to Tahrir square, only a few meters away from the spot where Ziad had last been seen on that fateful January 28. Many had come to pay their respect: family and friends and many of his colleagues from the Cairo Opera House. Grieving, they parted from a man they had held close to their hearts for so many years and had now to let go.

Ziad Bakir died at the age of 37. A father of three wonderful children, a gifted, talented, friendly character who never found pleasure in hurting. Those who killed him from the rooftops of Cairo had no idea what they destroyed. To them he was nothing. To his family and friends he was a world.

A memorial exhibition

Only those who are forgotten, have truly died, a saying goes. And if this is so, then Ziad has never left. A moving eulogy was published by one of his colleagues, many memorials were held both in and out of Cairo Opera House, and now, that almost a year has passed and after seven months of intense preparation by his family and friends, a wonderful exhibition has opened in his memory at Hanager Arts Center on the Cairo Opera House grounds in Zamalek, showing for a fortnight his impressive posters and designs and making it once more possible to be captivated by his spirited, lively yet soft-treading talent. As if he was still with us, as if he was still alive. And when the people pass through the exhibition, marveling at the flow of movements and colours, his almost shy, humble smile will undoubtedly accompany them. Ziad is speaking to them through his art and many might be sorry that the performances, for which he once so compellingly advertised, are long over. Seeing the posters, one might yet be inclined to buy tickets. He artistically tempts us to the day.

The Ziad that left on January 28 might have been empty handed. But the Ziad that is remembered had a heart full of passion, of light and of dreams. It is art‘s privilege after all to see light where others see nothing, and a revolution also relies on dreamers if it wants to succeed. Life is nothing without art. Love is nothing without the belief in light. If all come together, the chances are good something new and valuable for the world is born.

The legacy

When hopes were still held up that Ziad could be alive in some military prison somewhere and would one day return to his family, his father, Mohamed Bakir, in an interview with the BBC was unmistakably clear about what was needed for the future of Egypt: „Democracy, democracy, democracy.“

His words to this day ring in my ear.

No, there is no sense in a killing, and nothing that comes can make it seem justifiable that Ziad Bakir, as so many others, lost his life. But if there is any legacy to be found in his death, let this be it - the ongoing responsibility to allow it to happen in Egypt: Democracy, democracy, democracy.

Only then will there be a chance for the family to come to rest. Only then will Egypt manage to bear the loss of its sons and daughters that were so ruthlessly torn from their lives. Harming nobody, chanting with joy and marching peacefully to their unexpected death, so Egypt could live.


Exhibition of works by martyr Ziad Bakir
18 January - 31 January
Hanager Art Center exhibition hall at the Cairo Opera House grounds


  1. Very moving. Thank you for mentioning my article. RIP Ziad Bakir. Ati Metwaly

  2. One year on: Ziad Bakir's exhibition at Hanager provokes reflection http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/32102.aspx

    1. A wonderful article on the exhibition and Ziad's way of working. I wholeheartedly recommend it.