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Spaces Of Liberation » Spaces of Liberation Blog
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Spaces of Liberation Blog

16th May 2015

Public Lecture: Professor Nezar AlSayyad -“Virtual Uprisings”

Our Project Followers can now watch our “Spaces of Liberation” Guest Lecture – 2015 of Prof. Nezar AlSayyad, on May 6th at Queen’s University Belfast ONLINE.

The lecture was introduced by Professor Trevor Whittaker, the Head of School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering @Queen’s and the hall was filled with staff, students from across Queen’s University and beyond.

Lecture Link: https://vimeo.com/127257826

Lecture Cover-1

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Public Lecture Invitation: 6th May 2015

Public Lecture: Professor Nezar AlSayyad -“Virtual Uprisings”

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Title: “VIRTUAL UPRISINGS: Tahrir Square, Social Media and the return of Public Space”

Speaker: Professor Nezar AlSayyad, the University of California at Berkeley

Venue: Canada Room, Lanyon Building, Queen’s University Belfast

Time: Wednesday: 6th MAY 2015, 2.30-4.00pm

The School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering (SPACE) and Spaces of Liberation Project at Queen’s University Belfast would like to invite you to the public talk of Professor Nezar AlSayyad at the Canada Room, Lanyon Building, Queen’s University Belfast on WEDNESADY 6th MAY 2015, 2.30-4.00pm. Professor Nezar AlSayyad is a distinguished Professor of Architecture, Planning and Urban History at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the Chair of UC-Berkeley’s Centre for Middle Eastern Studies, Former Head of International and Area Studies Graduate Programme, the co-founder and president of the International Association for the Study of Traditional Environments.

Professor AlSayyad is the Editor of the highly acclaimed Journal of Traditional Dwellings and Settlement Review. He recieved several high profile awards including Guggenheim Fellowship (2014) and UC Berkeley’s Distinguished Teaching Award (2008). He is the author and editor of over 15 books and two documentaries, including: “Traditions: The ‘Real’, the Hyper and the Virtual in the Built Environment” (2014), “Cairo: Histories of a City” (2011), “The Fundamentalist City?” (2010), “Cinematic Urbanism” (2006), “Making Cairo Medieval” (2005), “The End of Tradition” (2003), “Urban Informality” (2003), Muslim Europe or Euro-Islam” (2002), “Consuming Tradition, Manufacturing Heritage” (2001), and “Hybrid Urbanism”(2000).

Professor AlSayyad’s talk is titled: “VIRTUAL UPRISINGS: Tahrir Square, Social Media and the return of Public Space”. He will share his views on the practices and dynamics of social movements in public space over the past few years including latest developments on the protests in Hong Kong and the US and the political unrest in the Middle East, the rise of Islamist ideology of insurgency and the manner with which public space is accustomed to aprofound and radical change in the Twenty First century.

The talk is hosted by “Spaces of Liberation” Project based at The School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering (SPACE) and Co-sponsored by Architecture and Construction Management Research Cluster (ACM), Institute of Spatial and Environmental Planning (ISEP), and the Institute for Collaborative Research in the Humanities (ICRH).

Attendance is Free and open to public audience. For inquiries, please do contact us: m.gamal@qub.ac.uk.

 

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24 October 2014

 

Symposium

Spaces of Liberation project team organize a Panel at: The Second Contemporary Architecture & Urbanism in the Mediterranean & the Middle East Conference (CAUMME) II 2014.  CAUMME II, Architectural and Urban Research, Education, and Practice in an Era of ‘Post-Professionalism,’ is an international symposium organized by Girne American University – Cyprus, Yıldız Technical University – Turkey, and Qatar University – Qatar.

 

Panel Title: “Dynamics of Change in Contemporary Middle Eastern cities”

Panel Chair: Dr. Gehan Selim & Dr. Mohamed Gamal Abdelmonem

 

Paper 1: Revolting Arts or Spatial Democracy: Performances of popular arts during the Egyptian Revolution

Bassma Abou El Fadl, IMT-Lucca, Italy; and Dr Mohamed Gamal Abdelmonem, Queen’s University Belfast, UK

 

Paper 2: Sites of Anger and Change in Egypt: An analysis of the geography of a revolution

Prof Galila El Kadi, Institut de recherche pour le développement IRD, France

 

Paper 3: Cultural Encounters in the Contemporary Moroccan Medinas: From Courtyards to the Public Squares

Dr Magda Sibley, University of Manchester, UK

 

Paper 4: It Counts for More than It Is: Rethinking ‘Urban Built Heritage’ through a Discussion of the Local Identity

Sahar Khoshnood, Technische Universität Darmstadt, Germany

 

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September 2014

Call for Research Visit: The British Council- Travel Grant

Spaces of Liberation project team @ Queen’s University Belfast invites interested young researchers in Egypt and Turkey, who wish to spend 3-6 months research visit at Queen’s University to take part in joint application for the British Council’s Travel grant 2014.

Details of the call and eligibility criteria in the call web-link below. details of our research themes are displayed on this page (see the Project page).

Deadline for application is: 30 September 2014; the research visit must take place before March 2016.

For further inquiries, do contact us on: m.gamal@qub.ac.uk.

 

For the call details, see: http://www.britishcouncil.org/education/science/current-opportunities/travel-grants-2014

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21 August 2014

Spaces of Liberation Organizes a special Panel at the World Congress of Middle Eastern Studies  at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey.

Panel 301: The Politics of Dissidence in Middle Eastern Urban Space

Building CCC, B Hall, 17,00-19.00pm.

Panel Chair: Dr Gehan Selim, Queens University Belfast, UK

Session Brief

The Public Square played a central role in shaping the urban experience of the modern city. Our spontaneous and traditional mental perceptions about the physicality of the urban square had dramatically shifted following the recent events of the Arab spring in the Middle East adding new narratives linked to democracy and liberalisation. During these events, citizens were able to express, practice and utilise a new patterns of democracy performance through various medias; protesting, marching, gathering.. etc. The occupation of the public square represented an evident self-confidence and assurance of a new subjectivity that grants its citizens the right to the city and its spaces. Also, the diversity of each uprising has had its unique dynamics and characteristics. These processes and patterns have yet to be empirically and systematically investigated. The undercurrents of such shifts offer multiple opportunities for empirical investigations on the way social practices and public performances have reshaped and reproduced new spatial meanings to the public spaces as historical and future venues that reflects democracy and liberation.

This session aims to interrogate the spatial practices and narratives that accompanied the Arab spring activities in a quest to analyse the mechanism, strategies and socio-cultural infrastructures that informed and linked these acts with the urban space and its political sphere. Attention will be given to papers that include a comparative dimension to provide insights into analytical and theoretical concerns of how these spaces were occupied and memorised, and whether or not it qualifies for introducing new dimensions of spatiality and temporality. How far the governments are tending to open/ block these spaces to prevent any associated spatial practices in the future? And finally, what are the emerging typologies or stereotypes that informs reshaping these spaces in cities under revolutions?

Speakers

“The Means and Ends of the Grounds for Rebellion”, Prof Aysegul Baykan – Yildiz Technical University, Turkey

“Displacement of Power: The reproduction of public space in post-2011 Arab City”, Dr Mohamed Gamal Abdelmonem, – Queen’s University Belfast, UK

“Visualizing Spatial (In)Justice in Middle Eastern Cities”, Dr Ipek Türeli, Assistant Professor, McGill University, USA

“Participants and conscripts in Egypt’s urban spaces”, Mr Mohamed Elshahed – New York University, USA

 

ABSTRACTS

 

The Means and Ends of the Grounds for Rebellion

Prof Aysegul Baykan – Yildiz Technical University, Turkey

During the last decade, the flow of masses to city squares have marked the political regimes as no other time in the history of the Middle East. This paper aims at understanding the structural character of social movements and civil dis-obedience without a historicist reading of the modernization paradigm and its causal reductionisms to economy and class, and/or religion. The absence of singular causes, planning, organization, and authority, as well as, the fluid flow of subjects, spontaneous occurrence of rituals and performative presence nevertheless have had a peculiar order and structure. This paper will argue that due to these structural characteristics, the political regime of the AKP have been unable to name the Gezi rebellions of the Summer of 2013 and powerless to ban the movement (as it used to be with banning of the left for example) and therefore have sought to ban presence on streets, parks, and squares. This paper will look for other occurrences of social movements’ embodied presence on public space for comparative purposes through the insight offered by cultural historians E. J. Hobsbawm (Primitive Rebels: Studies in Archaic Forms of Social Movement in the 19th and 20th Centuries) where Hobsbawm analyses social banditry, the millenarian movements and urban riots, and P. Burke (Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe) where he analyses the banning and restrictions on the carnavelesque in early modern Europe.

 

Displacement of Power: The reproduction of public space in post-2011 Arab City

Dr. Mohamed Gamal Abdelmonem, Queen’s University Belfast

Mass protests during the Arab Spring in the Middle East have revealed layers of complex process of private/public patterns in massive urban movements which are yet to be empirically investigated. The collective practice of privacy as seen in eating, sleeping, and even studying were at work in an extreme setting of public domain that includes hundreds of thousands people of different classes and lifestyles for weeks. Tahrir Square in Cairo emerged as a profound case example of a state of genuine overlapping between the private and the public in a powerful social performance of solidarity behind political demand. The boundaries and powers of the public sphere have not just been broken; rather, a unified intertwine spatial order has forced an integration between the apartment building private spaces and the street and square open public spaces. During the first 11 days of February 2011 that forced the regime change in Egypt have shown strategies of spatial flexibility of both the public and private spaces in an influx of social events of interchangeable nature. The phenomenon brings the debate on the private-public interchangeable nature to a new scale and ground of the political arena. This paper uses the events in Tahrir Square as an analytical tool for an enquiry about the changing condition and state of the urban space of the contemporary Arab City in post 2011 uprising.

By mapping patterns of interaction, social behaviour and use of space with the physical characteristics and spatial order of the Tahrir Square since the uprising, this paper investigates the quick pace by which the public space was reshaped and reproduced to assist its role as a space for resistance and liberation. In line with Michel De Certeau’s Practice of Everyday life, this research develops a series of analytical socio-spatial models that determined patterns of interaction and social practices in the urban core of the revolting Arab Cities, declaring an evolution of new urban condition whereby the socio-political centres are being displaced to the peripheral satellite towns. This paper argues that the Arab Condition in post 2011 uprising is in the process of changing its urban structure and reproducing new economic centres outside the old centres of power that are locked into state of zero-sum idleness.

 

Visualizing Spatial (In)Justice in Middle Eastern Cities

Dr Ipek Türeli, Assistant Professor, McGill University, USA

Economic recession, conditions of restricted spending and austerity politics have led architects to seek ways of expanding architecture and to a mainstreaming of ‘small’ architectures, small-scale designs and short-term interventions, many of which focus on contesting and remaking public space. Mass mobilizations of the past years, especially the protests of the so-called Arab spring and the Gezi protests in Turkey, pose new opportunities for the field. How are designers in the Middle East responding to contemporary mass mobilizations? Although there is certainly no lack of politicization among architects historically, it is difficult to provide examples that use architecture as a form of cultural critique in the manner of avant-garde groups in Europe except within the domain of international art events. A democratic realm is the necessary precondition of cultural critique, and the engagement of architecture as an intellectual pursuit, rather than merely a technical profession of problem solving. While, paper or built, architectural proposals have been few; a new generation of designers have been producing visualization and mapping projects: From Eyal Weizman and Rafi Segal’s “A Civilian Occupation” (exhibition) to more current websites: “What is happening in Taksim? or “Networks of Dispossession, designers are trying to make visible the invisibles of injustice. Such efforts may be more effective than spatial “interventions” which can easily be incorporated into methods of product development and marketing strategies in the consumer economy. Yet, their legibility and audience remain as questions. While it is difficult to predict the outcomes of the social movements of the past few years in the region, the way they have activated public spaces and the public sphere present a potential world of new opportunities for architects.

 

Participants and conscripts in Egypt’s urban spaces

Mr Mohamed Elshahed – New York University, USA

On Friday the 12th of August, 2011 hundreds of protesters returned to Tahrir Square waving Egyptian flags, singing nationalist songs, and holding placards with various demands. Protesters competed for space with moving vehicular traffic, which returned to the square when the army used force to once again end a sit-in, which had started a month earlier. The now famous grassy epicenter of Tahrir Square (Midan al-Tahrir) was clear of any protesters. The entire circumference of the traffic circle, which had become the primary site for political movements to set up camp, was on that summer day guarded with a wall of soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder armed, wearing helmets and black uniforms. The security apparatus had reclaimed the grassy center of Tahrir but the protesters still had the rest of the square and the rest of the city to claim as their rightful place to protest. On this particular day there were no violent confrontations, however a confrontation was taking place over civic space and symbols between the voluntary participation of civilians in a political event and the ordered militarized conscripts carefully positioned in the city to prevent civilians from occupying a particular space.

The city, as Egyptians have come to know it, is the result of the political and economic structures protected by the governing regime. Cities, in this current political economy of Egypt, have lost their vital role as places of economic possibilities for the majority of the population. The spatial confrontation in Tahrir Square in August 2011 between protesters/participants and soldiers/conscripts protecting a piece of land in the heart of the city is in many ways a vivid illustration of Egypt’s struggle over its politics, economy and space. In this paper I will revisit several moments of conflict in urban space and reread these events as part of a civilian struggle against the colonization of everyday life and spaces by state institutions with a monopoly over violence.

 

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6 March 2014   

Seminar with Dr. Gehan Selim at the University of Tokyo, Japan

SPATIAL PRACTICES OF REVOLT: SQUARE-STATE RELATIONS DURING THE ARAB SPRING PROTESTS

Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, The University of Tokyo, Japan

CAIRO ANTI-GOVERNMENT DEMONSTRATION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 2011 Revolution in Egypt was in large part a contest between the State and active, motivated, well-connected generation of determined Egyptian youth. It was and still an on going battle over who owns Egypt; the ageing past or the flourishing future generation. It is a radical but everyday conflict, in which memory of society is a paramount factor. The entire struggle came down to the city’s public space to materialise this conflict and provide a symbolic asset of the square to claim victory. A contest over a representative space that continues for three years till now, that witnessed the complexity of the urban experience, conflicts of everyday life and the structure of the state exposed to a visual display.

Spaces of Liberation’s Lead Researcher, Dr Gehan Selim was the guest speaker at the Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia at the University of Tokyo where she delivered a seminar on ‘Spatial Practices of Revolt: Square-state relations during the Arab Spring protests’ chaired by Professor Nagasawa and followed by a session of discussions and debate. She shared her insights on how Egyptians gathering in Tahrir square conceptualized their own spatial actions of revolt, the manner and tactics that allowed them to occupy the square. Through a number of historical narratives, she drew on the ways that spatial practices of protests constituted not only rational attempts and practices to bring about societal changes, such as the realization of democracy, but also processes constructing specific social spaces for political contentions, through which actors’ worldviews were both formed, expressed and spatialised during the first 18 days of the Egyptian recent uprising.  The debate raised several discussions about issues of the future formation of public spaces in Egypt, gender relations in the square during demonstrations and the current situation and management of the square by the state.

She sees that public spaces are momently gaining new values and uses which imbeds actions of democratic practice and stands for as the space of appearance, where I appear to others as others appear to me.  Such public space of appearance can always be reproduced with new meaning wherever individuals gather for a political cause, being a sign on dynamic active citizenship and collective deliberation. This moves beyond the basic human right to decent living, liberty, and freedom of expression, but also the right to action and to opinion. Therefore, alternative platforms of communication become substantial tools to negotiate power, communicate the cause in a manner that attract sympathetic viewers.

For further information on the seminar in Japanese, visit the institute’s website:

http://www.ioc.u-tokyo.ac.jp/news/news.php?id=SunMar81038122014

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15 January 2014   

Call for Papers: Special Panel

DYNAMICS OF CHANGE IN THE URBAN SPACE IN CONTEMPORARY MIDDLE EASTERN CITIES

Contemporary Architecture & Urbanism in the Mediterranean & the Middle East [CAUMMEII 2014];

23-25 October 2014; Girne, Cyprus

Panel Concenors: Dr. Gehan Selim & Dr. Mohamed Gamal Abdelmonem, Queen’s University Belfast

In a changing atmosphere of modes, politics, and ideological conflicts, investigating the role of urban space in the emerging culture of democracy in the Middle East is a profound task. It has multi-layered complexity, contradictions, and scopes for different disciplines. At the time when oppression and corruption are the main challenge for Middle Eastern nations’ search for socio-political liberation, Western societies are seriously questioning the democratic system that is based on exclusive political institutions and confronting their decision-making processes. In searching for their own utopias and just state, every society searches for its urban space of liberation through different routes and at different times. How the urban space is central to the idea and reality of liberation, peculiar to every society, will be the question that motivates researchers for years to come. The negotiation of power between the political and the spatial, the city and its spaces always exists. However, the practice of liberation in urban, virtual and social space might remain subject to, in Manuel Castells’ terms, networks of outrage and hope.

The growing literature on global urban spaces hardly takes on the interrogation of the permanence of the temporal condition of liberal culture performances that are actively reshaping the urban space in Middle East cities, through forms of arts, spatial practices and everyday dynamics. The tendency of urban uprising to be a consequence of change in the urban condition leads to new socio-political and spatial modalities of public space, being urban, social or virtual, as a manifestation of a paradigm shift. Through performances of art, speech, cultural engagement in coherent rehearsals of everyday life, public space becomes a ‘space of appearance’, where subjects assemble, group and speak as equals. For the urban space to become a platform of inquiry and display of freedom is essentially a paradigm shift in the fate of Middle Eastern cities’ public space; liberating it from its prescribed intimidating image. Liberating a society requires a challenge to inherited tyrannies as seen in the political, spatial, and social systems that are visibly at work in the region’s politics of urban space.

This session invites papers from specialist theorists, researchers, artists, and practitioners to interrogate, analyse and discuss practices of liberation in the Middle Eastern cities, societies and culture as they emerged in the public space in the twenty first century. The session aims to interrogate the spatial practices and narratives that accompanied interdisciplinary activities in Architecture, urban planning and Art work (graffiti) in a quest to analyse the mechanism, strategies and socio-cultural infrastructures that informed and linked these acts with the urban space and its political sphere. It also looks at how new visions in the Architectural pedagogy had been reshaped and redefined accordingly which could be reflected in the education or the research realm. Attention will be given to papers that include a comparative dimension to provide insights into analytical and theoretical concerns of how these spaces were spatialised and memorised, and whether or not it qualifies for introducing new dimensions of spatiality and temporality. And finally, what are the emerging typologies or stereotypes that informs reshaping these spaces in Middle Eastern cities. With the scope mentioned above, we will be enriched with valuable and stimulating ideas and we expect that some papers presented in this panel would be proposed for publication based on quality.

Please send your abstracts before Sunday, 16th of February 2014 to: g.selim@qub.ac.uk

 

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7th Nov. 2013

Conference Report: Spaces of Liberation

THE CHANGING SOCIO-POLITICAL CULTURE OF THE URBAN SPACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST

12-13 September 2013; CMES, University of California, Berkeley

Mohamed Gamal Abdelmonem

In his afterward notes to Diane Singerman and Paul Amar’s seminal manuscript, Cairo Cosmopolitan (AUC Press, 2006), Nezar AlSayyad, the notable urban historian, set an intriguing question, ‘Why is Egypt unable to develop a new political culture and spatial manifestations that reach beyond the slogans of traditionalism, religious revivalism and anti-modernity?’ If the events of the past three years in Egypt would prove anything, it would confirm that Egyptians are persistent to change their political culture and to break with the traditional binary power-house, the military state and the anti-modern religious autocracy.  Mass protests, silent stands and sit-in camps in urban squares have been the common features of spatial manifestation of this change that would introduce equilibrium to the inherited institutions of power. Such spatial performance of democracy is a discrete display of exploited anger in face of deteriorating standards of living, social justice, human rights as well as surmounting levels of oppression and corruption. In essence, urban space has regained its central position in Egyptian politics. However, this was not beneficial in all cases. For some critics, street politics, or perhaps street democracy, was overwhelmingly influential to the extent it drove unwise decisions whose sole purpose was to satisfy the crowds instead of rationally steering the nation towards a credible democracy.

But, the answer to AlSayyad’s question is a long transitional process during which the traditional powers (the state and religious opposition) would recede under sustained pressure from the liberal youth to give way to new generations of politicians and activists.  However, he might be satisfied to see his prediction that the Cairo School of Urban Studies, designated by Singerman and Amar, would lead the urban world, taking shape as a reality. The online-offline political tactics mastered by Egyptian activists was a genuine model to mobilise, assemble, manoeuvre and manage a conflict with a stronghold police state. According to Miriyam Aouragh and Anne Alexander’s study, The Egyptian Experience, this model worked on the integration between cyber space and spatial control of the urban space. As a rational and novel model, it succeeded in introducing effective change in the political culture and social movements in the Middle East. The reverberations of this change, however, developed waves of dissidence that quickly hit Europe and reached as far as the United States and Japan.  From the mass protests in Athens, Rome, London, Madrid to the occupy movement in Wall Street, Oakland and anti-nuclear protests in Tokyo, Egyptian flags and Signs of Tahrir Square were familiar scenes of solidarity and inspiration.  The parallels in the west were empowered by the quick pace of change and raising confidence in people power, as Wael Ghoneim terms it. Accumulated spatial experiences being transferred from one city to another were a testimony on the emergence of a transnational political culture of urban uprising.

But the notion of liberation in urban space needs in-depth scrutiny. Liberation means to set someone free from imprisonment, oppression, or restrictive social conventions. From the freedom of speech, gatherings, and protests to performing collective actions such as political rallies, prayers, and art performances, urban space is the platform of display and a focal point to communicate actions in the public sphere. To better understand spaces of ‘liberation’, we need to understand how they were spaces of ‘intimidation’, whereby urban space is used to affirm grip on power by a regime, party or even ideology. The most explicit example of intimidation was perhaps the scenes of Tiananmen Square in Beijing in1989, with tanks assembled in the Red Square defying any prospects of challenge to the state’s power.  In the Middle East, however, the contest with the State did not spare even the streets of residential neighbourhoods. Since Muhammad Ali’s attempts to control the streets of Cairo and their appearance in early Nineteenth Century, the state never eased their grip on the public space to the extent local events like funerals and weddings needed permission before they could take place. When intimidation soared, the precondition of liberation became the inevitable outcome. Revolting against the tyranny of the state, Tahrir Square, the stronghold urban space and symbol of state power and secular history, was the perfect venue for public display and media coverage. Liberating a nation was simply to defeat intimidation in a single urban space; the target was clear and the stake was high. Urban spaces no doubt have emerged as ‘places of power’, not only in political terms but more profoundly in socio-cultural terms.

However, practices of liberation have their own complexities and revelations. Following three busy years of experimentation with electoral and constitutional systems, alliances and confrontations between parties and ideologies, Arab societies are surely coming to terms with their problems of identity, traditions and modernity.  The divide between the radical and the liberal, the traditional and the progressive has prevailed in the urban space as well as in the political sphere. So, what do spaces of liberation really mean to those who occupied and defended them in search for social justice or ideological utopias? Could people with different way of thinking really co-exist in the physical space or on the social media platforms? Amongst vast volumes of literature on the Arab Spring, there is a need to analyse the dynamics of mass protests in Arab Cities’ new ‘places of power’. Spaces of Liberation, as a project, fosters the Cairo School with a discourse on the identity, culture and spatial articulation of a socio-political condition in the making. This project aims to interrogate long-term currents of change that lead and motivate the socio-cultural liberation of the Arab Societies and their urban spaces. It is in the detailed practice of the individuals and groups rather than the grand scheme of political agendas that this change of mode could be interrogated. Spatial patterns of everyday actions, mapping the geography of the uprisings as well as the culture of ideological engagement at urban squares are yet to be empirically scrutinised, an investigation that is largely overdue.

In May and June 2012, and following a meeting in Belfast, with Professor Nezar Al-Sayyad, the Chair of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) at the University of California at Berkeley, a series of meetings with researchers and scholars including Professor Frank Gaffikin and Dr. Gehan Selim (Queen’s University Belfast), Professor Ahmad Rashed (British University in Egypt), Dr. Magda Sibley (University of Manchester) took place to debate and negotiate the objectives of the project “Spaces of Liberation”.  In a joint effort and sponsorship between The CMES at UC-Berkley and Queen’s University Belfast, the first Spaces of Liberation Conference and annual meeting took place on 12-13 September 2013, with the aim to initiate a forum of debate on the discourse of Liberation in the Arab world’s Urban Space.

In his Opening Address, Nezar AlSayyad gave a scholarly account of the challenges and problems of researching these unfolding events in the “Arab Spring”. He referred to the way place and history come together in unexpected way to form an urban condition that influences contentious politics, social uprising and insurgency. From Habib Bourqiba Avenue to Tahrir Square, places symbolic for their secular and colonial history and outward spatial characteristics enabled masses of protesters to flood into urban space, giving state security no chance to control them. From spatial patterns, to social media platforms and networks, emergence of ‘collective enactment’ in large cities, according to AlSayyad, developed a demand to investigate dynamics and change in the socio-spatial sphere that altered conventional tactics of urban uprisings and used the digital realm to shape a transnational phenomenon.  The practice of ‘Street Democracy’ or perhaps ‘Direct Democracy’ in Egypt between 30th June and July 3rd 2013, to remove an elected president was plausible public action. ‘Revolutions do not just happen in the cyber space’, he contends. Only through collective actions in the physical and real space, would urban uprising become a reality.  It is in-between the urban space and the virtual space that Spaces of Liberation could be envisioned.

In his paper ‘The Paradoxes of Planning & Conflict in the Divided City’, Frank Gaffikin, the Director of the Institute of Spatial Environmental Planning at Queen’s University Belfast, presented his work on urban conflicts, focusing particularly on those rooted in ethno-nationalist, ancestral religious disputes and the relationship between territory and identity. According to Gaffikin, space is central to conflict origin and resolution. Planning and design are central to these conflicts, and cannot absolve their responsibility by casting themselves as apolitical technical disciplines. There are many dilemmas facing how both disciplines intervene most effectively in conflict resolution strategies. Gaffikin referred to the main paradoxes of Planning in such circumstances that can inadvertently accentuate rather than ameliorate the divisions and inequities.

Mass protests during the Arab Spring in the Middle East have revealed layers of a complex process of private/public patterns in massive urban revolt. In my paper, ‘Spaces that revolt’, I presented research investigations into the quick pace by which the public space was reshaped and reproduced to assist its role as a space for resistance, a liberation from the traditional state-led power and control. By mapping patterns of interaction, social behaviour and use of space with the physical characteristics and spatial order of Tahrir Square, our research team at Queen’s University interrogates the emerging and developing socio-spatial practices to find credible narratives in the memory and cognition of the individuals that could be recalled as situations to inform actions. A comparison between Tahrir & Rabi’a practices highlighted aspects of integration/confrontation with local residents as a major factor for successful sit-ins.

The link between the transnational politics of contention and spaces of liberation was explored in Tamirace Fakhoury’s paper, ‘Transnational ‘spaces of liberation’: the case of Arab Immigrant networks in the Occupy Movement’. Adopting a transnational immigrant lens, Fakhoury, who is a professor of Political Sciences and International Relations at the Lebanese American University, examined the ways Arab immigrant networks drew on spaces of insurgency in the Occupy Movement, Occupy Oakland and Occupy Wall Street in particular, to voice the demands of the Arab uprisings on the one hand, and to juxtapose the Occupy Movement’s and Arab uprisings’ grievances on the other.  Although spaces of insurgency helped build intersectional links of solidarity across both protest movements, they also brought the ‘fractures’ separating both movements.

Randa Kaldas presented the Economic and Business History Research Center (EBHRC) at the American University in Cairo’s remarkable documentation project “University on the Square: Documenting Egypt’s 21st Century Revolution”. In her paper “The Perception of Tahrir Square during the First Eighteen Days of the Egyptian Revolution, an Oral History Approach” Kaldas, the Associate Director of the Center, presented a critical examination of the project in which 70 hours of oral narrative from more than 40 interviewees, the majority of which are AUC faculty, staff, students, and alumni, were collected, in addition to holding a few interviews with the non-AUC community.  Using oral histories collected by EBHRC as the main research tool, Kaldas shed light on Al-Midan (Tahrir Square) as a new-born space that was conceived on January 25 and its gradual shaping, development, and characteristics during these first eighteen days.

In his paper, ‘From Reality to Virtuality to New Reality’, Ahmed Rashed, the Director of the Centre of Future Studies and former head of the Department of Architecture at the British University in Egypt, referred to “the reality of the matter” in the revolution to chiefly aim for seeking real change; change of the way people think and behave, but also be innovative and to think outside of the box. One interpretation of the reality of the revolution is that living within the 5%, with limited space and scarcity of resources was the main reason behind it. For Rashed, despite what many believe, the revolution has not yet started. Tahrir Square lost its significance as a space of liberation and only the names and faces, not the policies and mentality are what changed in Egypt, pulling it back to point Zero.  Perhaps, short term change and vision, reflected as being reactive to coincidences and the daily mitigation actions, are not the solution. Alternatively, scientific research and the energy and enthusiasm of youth could act as a vehicle to real and sustainable change. The virtual spaces, the main platform that is mastered by the Egyptian youth, could offer scenarios for a different future for Egypt. Through a competition presentation titled “Taking Leave” he discussed innovative techniques and virtual spaces that could lead to a new Reality of Egypt on much of its 95% land through real practice of revolutionary thinking.

The debate on Spaces of Liberation would continue to raise more questions than it answers. In a changing atmosphere of modes, politics, and ideological conflicts, investigating the role of urban space in the emerging culture of democracy in the Middle East is a profound task. It has multi-layered complexity, contradictions, and scopes for different disciplines. At the time when oppression and corruption are the main challenge for Middle Eastern nations’ search for socio-political liberation, Western societies are seriously questioning the democratic system that is based on exclusive political institutions and confronting their decision making processes. In searching for their own utopias and just state, every society searches for a space of liberation through different routes and at different times. How the urban space is central to the idea and reality of liberation, peculiar to every society, will be the question that will motivate researchers for years to come. The negotiation of power between the political and the spatial, the city and its spaces always exists. However, the practice of liberation in urban, virtual and social space might remain subject to, in Manuel Castells’ terms, networks of outrage and hope.

 

*Spaces of Liberation: is a collaborative research project that involves five Universities and research centres from Egypt, the United Kingdom and the United States. For more information on the project activities and events, please visit the project’s website: www.spacesofliberation.org.uk.

**For further information on the conference, please visit the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) at the University of California, Berkeley’s website: www.cmes.berkeley.edu.

 

Images from the event

Q&A session of the first Panel

Q&A session of the first Panel


Panel 1: Frank Gaffikin Presentation

Panel 1: Frank Gaffikin Presentation

 

 

Nezar AlSayyad Opening Address

Nezar AlSayyad Opening Address


Panel 2: Ahmed Rashed

Panel 2: Ahmed Rashed

 

 

 

 

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