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Ramy Essam is an Egyptian rock musician who soared to international fame during the Egyptian revolution in 2011. During the height of the uprising, he performed in front of millions in Tahrir Square. His music became the soundtrack of a generation fighting for a better life and a fairer society. Essam has become an international symbol of social activism and a beacon of bravery in the Middle East. Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine once said Essam is the “rock Bob Dylan of the Middle East.”
Essam’s song “Irhal,” in which he demands the resignation of then-ruler Hosni Mubarak, is referred to as the real anthem of the revolution. The song was ranked no. 3 on the list of 100 songs that changed history by Time Out London. Fame came with a heavy price, however. Essam experienced brutal torture and arrests meant to silence him. His songs were banned and he was forbidden to perform publicly. He resolved to come out even stronger against oppression, saying, “In the revolution I was born again. The struggle became the purpose of my life.”
In 2018, Essam released a video that went viral for a song called “Balaha,” which he cowrote with Galal El-Behairy, an Egyptian poet, lyricist, and activist who has been in detention in Tora Prison in Cairo since March 2018.
Essam lives in exile in Sweden, where he continues to speak out with songs about gender equality, freedom, social justice, equity, and health care, among other topics. He works with organizations such as Artists at Risk, PEN International, Perpetual Mobile, Artistic Freedom Initiative, and ICORN, among others.