Arab Revolution Springs from Public Squares

As a teen swept up in social networking, I understand the critical role our new digital commons has played in the democratic uprisings across the Middle East — call Twitter and Facebook the dictator-busters of our age. But I’ve discovered another “commons” that deserves equal attention for its power in transforming the Arab world: the public square.

The ancient squares of the Middle East have never been more relevant to our modern age. During the week that Egypt’s government shut down the media, the protests in Tahrir Square grew larger than ever. Even without the Internet to spur them, hundreds of thousands of protestors converged on Tahrir to overthrow Mubarak’s regime. Perhaps democracy depends less on cyber space and more on public space.

Mubarak understood the power of the pubic square. He worried about citizens meeting and mingling. He knew how places where people promenade and perform could quickly turn into places where they protest and revolt. A true midan — Arabic for public square — isn’t just a public meeting space; it’s a physical expression of democracy that can topple an autocracy. Fearing this, Mubarak planned his cities strategically. He dismantled and depopulated Cairo’s squares, like Tahir and Ramses, and even city gardens and parks. He subdivided and fenced off public spaces, turning squares into traffic circles. Under Emergency Law in Mubarak’s Egypt, a congregation of citizens on public grounds could be grounds for arrest.

But Mubarak underestimated the square’s power. Without vibrant public gathering places, cities deteriorate. Civic pride erodes. Discontent rises. Little did Mubarak know that repressing and neglecting the public square — policies meant to secure his regime — created the perfect launch pad for his demise. I can’t help but wonder what it means for Saudi Arabia that public squares don’t exist there — the closest thing to a meeting place is a shopping mall under close supervision by the religious police.

This past week tens of thousands of Egyptians in Tahrir Square — formerly Mubarak’s traffic circle — gathered to celebrate the ousting of Morsi. Egyptians cheered, “God is great!” and “Long live Egypt!” Just weeks ago, Tahrir was the center of violent and vociferous anti-government revolts against the Muslim Brotherhood. And, of course, two years earlier, Tahrir facilitated and symbolized the global push for freedom.

Like Prague’s Wenceslas Square in 1969 or China’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, all across the Arab world public squares have become ground zero for democratic change.

In Bahrain, Sunni revolutionaries, inspired by the Arab Spring, camped out in Pearl Roundabout to call for greater political freedom and an end to monarchy. After a brutal crackdown, the army cleared Pearl Roundabout of protestors and destroyed the square’s iconic statue.

In Libya, Qaddafi’s regime came to an end when rebels captured Green Square, later renamed Martyrs’ Square. After Qaddafi forced his supporters to protest in his favor at the square, it soon became a hotbed of political dissent in Tripoli.

In Yemen, Freedom Square, which some even call Tahrir Square, emerged as the epicenter of protests against President Ali Abdallah Saleh. Even though Saleh has been removed from power, protestors remain in their tents, continuing to call for change.

In Tunisia, the name of the main square in Tunis has been changed to honor Mohammad Bouazizi, the now world-famous street vendor whose suicide sparked a revolution.

In Iran, the government has banned dissidents from Tehran’s Revolution Square, but citizens have found ways to gather in smaller public spaces, like Valiasr Square and Vanak Sqaure. In Taksim Square, progressive Turkish citizens voice their grievances against Erdoğan.

This week, Morsi declared, “Justice dictates that voice of the masses from all squares should be heard.” His message may have been too late, but the message of the square endures, as common ground for the dreams and demands of democracy.

Photo Credit: Diario El Tiempo via creative commons


Akonfeon A.
Akonfeon A.4 years ago

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Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener4 years ago

Noted with interest!

Bryna Pizzo
Bryna Pizzo4 years ago

Thank you for the news.

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani4 years ago

Sorry for the misspelling in my previous posting - it's late here already:

It should read: Rabaa al-Adawiya Mosque

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani4 years ago

To Anne M. – How can you call more than 30 Mio people on the streets a “BUNCH OF FANATICS AND SORE LOSERS”? The fanatics are those in Raba Al Awayda = Moslem Brothers.

As for democratically elected – this case is still as of today in the courts. Of all the candidates which were in the race the two least likely to win any grounds were at the end the only ones left in the race! The Egyptians then had the choice – as the saying here goes – between the cholera and the plague. I don’t want to go into all the ballot boxes which were unattended over night outside the ballot centers nor do I speak about the numerous power cuts in the centers nor do I speak about the thousands and thousands of filled out ballots which were found in the fields and in the garbage.

Morsi failed the people on each and every account – the people had and have every right to get rid of him.

He took the oath swearing to honor and respect the constitution. The next day he overrode the constitution by a tyrannical constitutional declaration which granted him ‘godly’ powers. In the face of massive protests he took back the declaration retaining its consequences in full force. Of those consequences retained was 1) giving his decrees immunity against court orders and 2) unconstitutionally firing the prosecutor general.

Continued …

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani4 years ago

The court orders he expected and was trying to nullify included a) dissolving the Parliament which was widely believed to be unconstitutional and b) to write off the Constituent Assembly also formed on unconstitutional basis. To try and appear like he was offsetting that he promised an additional 2 months to continue national dialogue on the new constitution being written which was faced with nationwide opposition. Only 48 hrs later he announced the same objectionable constitution draft final and put it to a national referendum and made sure that it was shoved down the throat of all Egyptians.

Furthermore he overruled the courts and amassed his gangs to surround the High Constitutional Court and made it impossible for it to convene. He further amassed his thugs outside “Media City” to try and gag the free media. Protesting the constitutional declaration he made people were gathering outside the presidential palace where he set his thugs lose on the peaceful demonstrators and killed a number of them in cold blood. And so and so forth.

You still don’t see the absolute right - even the duty! - of the people to dispose of such a “President”?

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani4 years ago

To Jamie - I agree with your statement but would like to expand it:

""Arab uprising happened because of US meddling into affairs of the Middle East and stirring up conflict." and it continues despite the ongoing meddling of the US into our affairs.

As evidence I'd like to offer two events:

1) Various leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood where received during GWB tenure although poor them had to enter the White House through a side entrance . We should NOT allow ourselves to forget that the Muslim Brothers were opposed to the revolution of Jan 2011 and only jumped on the band wagon once they realised (or were informed?) that the USA will drop Mubarak. Only then did they join in - once they felt safe. Once a coward - always a coward. Nothing new from these bearded retards.

Latest proof of the meddling is Amb. Patterson's visit some 10 days before the 30th of June uprising to Khairat El Shater. He holds no official position in the government nor is he an official big head at the Muslim Brotherhood. Yet we all know that he is the grey eminence and pulls the strings at the MB and finances them. What was Patterson doing in his office? He is not even handsome enough to think of anything romantic ...

2) The USA was all for and helped in grooming Gamal Mubarak (the second son of Hosni) as his successor. The various times Gamal "Jimmy" Mubarak was invited to speak in front of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and was praised over the moon speaks volumes. On

GGma Sheila D.
GGmaSheila D4 years ago

To janice b. - Be fair now.

Many, not all, of us who sit behind our computers and complain are doing something else. If we're here on Care2, as are you behind your computer, we are signing pwtitions, getting others to sign petitions, and if we can afford it, giving a few bucks to our causes. Many Click to Donate on some, or even all, the causes listed on a daily basis just so sponsors will donate for us. We have earned the right to complain because we are NOT just sitting here...

I firmly believe that if you don't vote you have NO right to complain about how the Country is going. Complaining is a priviledge, not a right. It has to be earned. The only exception to this I allow is for Vets - they did their tours, they paid the prices tenfold. They have earned the priviledge to sit bk if they so choose...altho most do not.

As far as complacent - don't know why any are that way- frankly, could care less. Their choice.

Alan Montgomery
Alan Montgomery4 years ago

Tyrants fear any place where the public gathers in solidarity, united in cause and purpose, that is hostile to those tyrants. I think tyrants everywhere are becoming aware their days of control and oppression will soon be over. People all over the world have been inspired by Occupy Wall Street and then the Arab Spring. People have realized that tyrants are no match for people acting collectively with a common purpose. I promise you the Chinese Spring and Russian Spring is not far behind and if the right wing and corporate America continues to dominate the discussion in American politics I assure you an American Spring is not that far off either.

Winn Adams
Winn A4 years ago