Students colour the grey city of Cairo


Egypt’s capital is being painted by youths who want to brighten up your day.

Some of the students participating in the colouring initiative

Cairo, as is always said, never sleeps. It is a noisy, raucous capital, made ever more so by two revolts against the governments of the time in less than three years.

But following those two tumultuous revolutions, the country turned routine, dull and boring. Gone were the protests and the demonstrations that had made the city come to life. However, Egyptian students, being the lively characters they are, are now trying to make Cairo come alive again by colouring the way they feel the city should be like.

Aiming to change this frustrating reality, a group of students in the Faculty of Fine Arts in Helwan University came up with the idea of colouring various parts of the city, hoping to introduce comfort and happiness to the hearts and minds of the residents of Cairo fighting the war against the sad and the dull with the title of their initiative “Coloring the Grey City”.

Before and after picture of a wall in Kit Kat

“I was thinking about exchanging the dull grey that dominates most of the Egyptian streets with bright colours,” said Marwa Nasser, a second year student at the Faculty’s Decoration Department, and the initiative’s founder.

When Nasser explained the idea to a group of her friends, they were very enthusiastic to take part in the project. They searched the Internet for creative designs until the idea came of drawing 3D pictures on a bridge’s stairs. Although they thought that government permission and licences would be the most difficult part of the process, surprisingly they were not.

Colourful stairs of the 15 May Bridge

“Our goal is for people to see colours in their lives to spread happiness, especially since the problems around us are only increasing, so people’s psychological well-being is getting worse,” said Rana Tarek, a student at the Faculty of Fine Arts.

“We paid a visit to the governorate’s office to show the officials some photos of the different designs we wanted to implement. We were asked to submit an application,” Tarek noted. They were surprised when their request was quickly approved by the officials concerned and they praised the attention and support they received.

The group chose the stairs of the 15 May Bridge, connecting Cairo and Giza governorates, to be their first target.

Colourful stairs at Ain Shams University

They then went after the stairs of Ghamra’s footbridges, and after that the walls in front of North Giza Court in the Kit Kat neighbourhood.

“Although it may be frustrating to find out that people are still throwing garbage on the stairs we painted, we are still very optimistic,” said Menna Metwalli, one of the campaign coordinators. “We believe that it’s our responsibility to raise people’s awareness about the necessity of cleaning public streets and beautifying them and the importance of throwing rubbish in allocated places.”

“Because of the high rate of poverty, sickness and illiteracy in deprived neighbourhoods, we found that arts with their different types have no place in the hearts and minds of the residents there,” Nasser said. Coloring the Grey City therefore started contacting charity organisations that work in slums to help them determine which places they had to start with.

Colourful stairs in Ghamra

The group’s next project focuses on colouring the slum areas in Cairo and Giza. When they posted information about the event on their official Facebook page, they were surprised to find the idea appealed to large numbers of volunteers unrelated to the arts. But motivated by their love of the country and their hopes to beautify its gloomy streets, dozens of young people stepped up to volunteer their time and materials while some just wrote encouraging comments under the photos posted on that page.

Colourful stairs in Ghamra

Egypt’s revolutions produced tons of graffiti which, being a political statement as they are, for some are regarded as an eyesore. Not so the colouring of the city. It’s just one way of brightening up your day.