Spaces of Liberation is a research collaboration initiative that involves research centres and institutions from Europe, North America and the Middle East and aims to study, investigate and analyse the changing socio-spatial practices and dynamics of urban squares in the contemporary city in light of the extensive revolts and protests that not only emerged in the Arab cities of Cairo, Tunis and Sana’a and Damascus during the Arab Spring but also appeared in Madrid, Athens, and Rome in addition to the riots in England over the summer of 2011.
Each case of a conflict offers as unique situation in which the populace sought to use the urban square as a venue to voice their anger and to challenge the authority of traditional political institutions. Urban squares, during these events rose to accommodate different socio-spatial practices that vary from collective support, security and protection, medical treatment, and food supply. It was claimed that a Square-State occurred at several liberation squares with services, food supply, medical treatment, policing and defence that defied the formal regime. These conflicts have exposed the urban square to new order, function and constraints, which shall have long-term effect on the design of the public space and on anti-riot policing strategies.
The significance of the urban square, however, appears on multi-layered grounds that include symbolic, historical, political, cultural, and spatial qualities. The socio-spatial patterns of practices and dynamics within the square could signify much deeper identities and values of pluralist or divided society. But, the way the square was consumed and reproduced on daily basis during the popular protests and revolts had added an otherwise unrealised value of the urban square as a pivotal political and spatial system that could accommodate and facilitate the emergence of the a parallel state that is capable of defending its own process of operation.
The square emerged since 2011 as an undiscovered universe and fields of negotiation between the populace and the State, the protesters and the riot police, between the sought liberal values of equality and social justice and the conservative values of existing political institutions.
Spaces of Liberation in this sense gains its significance on the ideological and cultural level as agents of effective change in the dominant mentality of society, whether segregated and divided on identity, race, religious or gender matters. The socio-cultural and spatial systems of the Urban space and square, however, stem its form its history as a public venue in which the state and democracy should dominate while the privacy of individual groups fades away. In fact, the square was designed as a medieval anti-protest Plaza which was designed to defy protests, rather than to support them. By scrutinizing the changing socio-cultural dynamics of the people’s voice and uprisings, the initial phase of this project anticipates studying practices of defence, collective security and protection of community in face of hostile attacks within contested liberation squares in the Middle Eastern cities of Cairo, Tunis, and Benghazi. It looks at the way media and mobile communications were used to communicate spatial strategies of defence, autonomous security and accessibility of supplies.