eL Seed, a Tunisian-French artist, painted a mural whose Arabic calligraphy reads "Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eye first," spanning 50 buildings across Manshiyat Naser, a neighborhood where the city's largely Coptic Christian garbage collectors live.
The text itself is a quote from a third-century Coptic Christian bishop.
eL Seed planned the work for a year with the permission of Rev Samaan Ibrahim, a leader of the neighborhood's Coptics. The priest secured the assistance of the people whose balconies, roofs and walls eL Seed decorated.
The final result is breathtaking, and doubly so for its prominence in post-coup Egypt, where first the Muslim Brotherhood and then the military government have attacked the street artists who were so prominent during the revolution, driving them underground.
The Manshiyat Naser district is notorious for its poor living conditions and the bias its residents experience because of their work with the city's garbage.
From the streets of the neighborhood, the painting appears in fragments: above a courtyard where members of one family carefully search for recycling in bags of trash, or looming over a rooftop occupied by a handful of sheep. The bracing scale of the mural is fully visible only from the Mokattam Hill on the edge of the district, near a famous cathedral carved inside a cave.
Viewed from there, the colors interrupt the monotonous red brick facades below, distinguishing these buildings from the thousands that have sprung up across the city over decades, with little oversight, to contain Cairo's bursting population.
In the days after the mural was completed, the residents of Manshiyat Naser seemed not to focus too closely on its message: Many people had yet to trek up the hill for a viewing, and few had any idea what the calligraphy said.
Sprawling Mural Pays Homage to Cairo's Garbage Collectors
[Kareem Fahim/New York Times]