Opening and Closing a Public Space: The Story of Tahrir Square

Authors: Mariam Abdelazim*, New Jersey Institute Of Technology
Topics: Middle East
Keywords: Tahrir Square, Accessibility, Egyptian Revolution, History, Design
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Delaware A, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Public Space is a gateway to civil society. In the best circumstances, a place where community members can communicate, interact and express themselves and their opinions freely. For this to be possible, at the very least the space, must be physically accessible.

The history of Tahrir Square in Cairo presents a revealing story of the changing accessibility of an urban public space . It was first constructed in 1863 as a traffic circle; then in 1919 it became a platform for political dissent besides being a traffic circle. After the 1952 revolution the government redesigned it to be a spacious roundabout, adding fencing to prevent access by large groups of people. However, in January 2011, the Square changed again to a stage for political protest, becoming an indispensable space for maintaining the momentum of the Revolution as well as for ensuring the safety of protestors who were able, for several weeks, to control access to the Square. Since that time and until 2017 the Square was re-designed, fences were reconstructed and its access is now controlled as it reverted back to its original purpose as a traffic circle.

The purpose of this paper is to examine this history in detail, exploring how the design of the square, its manifest function, and its management --both by government agencies and members of the public -- changed from 1863 to 2017. It will make clear how dramatic changes in accessibility supported completely the emergence and then the extinction of a powerful political movement.

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