He has been arrested, beaten and even tortured by the Egyptian military forces after a concert in Cairo. Three years before the Arab spring, Ramy Essam, a former architecture student, had already begun writing political songs, trying to make a name for himself in the musical industry. Raised in Mansoura, the Egyptian rocker left his city in 2011 to join the protests in Cairo. He quickly became the voice of Tahrir Square. Called the singer of the revolution in the media, his song Irhal made him famous and became Tahrir’s anthem during the 18 days of the January 25 revolution. However, when he decided to take to the streets to participate in Hosni Mubarak’s fall, Essam wasn’t going to bring his guitar. “But my brother and a friend said ‘You must bring it. You have songs. You can help the people,”’ he told the New York Times.
On March 9, 2011, the army rounded up group of protestors Essam was with. Because his face was already known, he became the target of police aggression. “Normally one army officer would torture a group of people, but I had a group of officers just on me,” he remembers. “They called me by name and knew that I was there as a symbol so they stripped me down and electrocuted me.” Eight months later, on November 2011, the Egyptian singer won the Swedish Freemuse Award and received it a ceremony in Stockholm. But it was difficult for him to be proud of the award while the protests raged on in Cairo. “It’s very hard to be here when everything is happening in the square,” he told journalists at the time.
Three years later, Essam isn’t in Tahrir anymore. But he hasn’t stopped singing, and above all, he’s remained true to himself. On the eve of the anniversary of the revolution, he released a video on YouTube. “Mahnach men dol” (We don’t belong to them), a rock song, attacks everybody: the army, the Muslim brotherhood, and the remnants of the old regime. "I criticize all the politicians," Ramy explains, "especially Sisi, because he is the strongest … Now the famous actors and singers who supported Mubarak before the revolution are supporting him,” he declares, disgusted. But he doesn’t belong to them.