Skip to main content


Ramy Esam: The Singer of the Egyptian Revolution

Previous Next

When we met Ramy Esam, the singer of the Egyptian revolution was lying face down on the same twin bed he slept in as a child.

His shirt was off, and the blanket was pulled down halfway.

He didn't want anything touching the red gashes and welts all over his back.

Esam was a little-known young guitarist until he gained fame by putting his fellow Egyptians' protest chants to music.

He performed one of those songs, called Leave, about former President Hosni Mubarak, on stage at Tahrir Square with thousands singing along, and video of the show became a hit on YouTube.

But his celebrity did not protect him when, after playing a concert in Cairo six days ago, he stopped by Tahrir Square. Without warning, the army stormed the square, ripping down tents and arresting more than 100 people, including Esam.

He says men in army uniforms dragged him to the Egyptian National Museum, which had become a security headquarters.

He says the men took him to a courtyard, stripped him to his shorts, and beat him.

An interpreter rendering Esam's Arabic into English says, "there was a soldier who jumped up in the air and (came) down on his head."

Esam, also through the interpreter, says the men beat him with a stick and a metal rod, and applied electricity "all over his body."

By the time the army released him, he could barely walk.

But even as he recuperates from his injuries, Esam refuses to condemn the army as a whole. He says he still believes that there are honest people who will investigate what happened.

Esam is an architecture student at Mansour University on the Mediterranean coast. But he says his heart is not really in architecture. It's in music — Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, Nirvana — and his own compositions.

One of his latest is a song called Tatey, which sarcastically declares, "Bend your head, bend your head, you're living in a democracy," suggesting that Egypt's democracy isn't real yet.

As Esam speaks with us, the family apartment is filled with friends, smoking cigarettes and waiting to help if needed.

His mother is in the kitchen, cooking a huge pot of macaroni.

Visitors smile when Ramy and his brother Shady recall how their mother feared for them when they joined the revolution.

"In the beginning she was very afraid," they say through the interpreter. "She said I will come after you. But after that we have said again and again, we are okay, mother. You have borne men, not just young people, and we can do it."

We ask if, when he got hurt, his mother said, "I told you so."

They laugh and say yes. Even in pain, Ramy Esam smiles. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit

Get the WBEZ App

Download the best live and on-demand public radio experience. Find out more.