Public Spaces, Forms of Contestation and the Urban Reshaping of Cairo: A Year after The January 2011 Revolution
A year has elapsed since the18 days revolution that led to the ousting of president Mubarak. Whether or not the revolution inEgypthas succeeded, many believe that it is best to define it as an incomplete revolution. YetTahrir Squaredid trigger a powerful process for advocacy of freedom and democracy through reshaping street politics. This has been accompanied with the discovery of the effective power of public spaces as a powerful means of exercising pressure on the military junta. The Square became a pervasive space for contestation, for grieving and for public performance as well as being a space to see others and to be seen. The revolution has been teaching many that this is going to be a long learning process of trial and error that might take a long time to materialize. Most importantly however, it created a new public culture of protest and cultural expression that broke the circle of fear. This new public culture is reformulating a novel understanding of public spaces as spaces of contestation, of communication, and as spaces of the spectacle and artistic expression and of public interaction. All his is certainly transforming the visual landscape and peoples’ behavior in public spaces. Yet, this public culture is taking place in a novel urban reshaping of the city, which is in a precarious moment under military rule. It could be characterized by two parallel phenomena. On the one hand, the city is witnessing localized war zones that are followed by the erection of barriers, barricades and controlled areas. SCAF (Supreme Council of Armed Forces) seems to think of solving the confrontation of the protesters by erecting isolating walls after walls, and spreading internationally sanctioned lethal gas and teargas, which render not only mobility impossible, but which has made daily life in the Downtown area surroundingTahrir Squaresimply unbearable for its dwellers. What the military has been doing during the past few months through the lesson it has learned from the frozen moment of the 18 days of January which paralyzed the entire city and thus was effective in the downfall of the regime, was to counteract the revolutionaries by “zoning” and squeezing the protesters by segregating them in limited spaces of war. The tactics of zoning, including the zoning ofTahir Squareis equally a tactic to blame the revolutionaries for paralyzing Downtown. The confining of the space of conflict is one way of squeezing the street fights as SCAF thinks that this is the way to contain rebellion. DowntownCairo, in particular the area of Kasr al-Aini nearing theZone of Tahrir Squarewitnessed several battlefields between the various factions of the revolutionaries and the security forces. The way the junta imagines the solution for ceasing the skirmishes is by the erection of multiple cement walls and by equally blocking entire parallel streets with block stones walls and military vehicles. The zoning is thus one way of containing the protesters in specific areas while “normalizing” the rest of the circulation and the business sector and bank in the city ofCairo.