Panel 1d. Contesting Militarization: the changing maps of existence and resistance in Cairo

Chair: Heba Raouf Ezzat

Stories from the city of the revolution: Narratives between architecture and literature
Nesma Gewily, The American University in Cairo

Parallels can be drawn between architecture and literature. Both media are concerned with telling a story that emerges from a certain context, and both aim at creating meaning in relation to their surroundings. However, each of these media has its intrinsic characteristics that control the kind of narrative it tells. While architecture is bound to telling the formal political narrative of the State, literature tells the counter narrative of the people who were subjects of political actions and objects of State oppression. During the past four years, the State established memorials in the squares that witnessed the fiercest battles between the army and protesters. In November 2013, the State built a memorial in Tahrir square to Mohamed Mahmoud martyrs who were killed during the period of SCAF rule in 2011. Protesters accused the military officials of the time of killing their compatriots in the streets, while the official statement accused “A third party” of the crime. In 2013, another memorial was built in Rabaa square in front of the famous mosque. This time the memorial signified the role of military in saving Egypt and protecting Egyptians from terrorists. In different occasions, poems were written to counteract the narrative of the state. Poets like Tamim Al-Barghouthy, Mostafa Ibrahim and Mahmoud Ezzat documented the experience of the revolution from the perspective of revolutionaries. This paper aims to read the ongoing dialogue between architecture and literature in the city of Cairo and the impact it has on the city dwellers.

Public Spaces of Memory: Contested Visualizations of Absence
Aya Nassar, University of Warwick, T.A. of Political Science, Cairo University (on leave)

The inspiration of the paper stems from the ongoing conflict between the multiple narratives about 2011 and its aftermath in Egypt, at the heart of which is contested narration of public space ownership and appropriation, as well as identifying with and commemoration of absent victims of violence. The paper thus looks at acts of imagining and visualizing absence in urban space, and engages with a specific understanding of public space as a site of memory; or rather as a space for public memory (Cassey, 2004). It focuses on two different practices of ascribing public memory of absence into urban space. First, it looks into architectural construction of national memorials associated with the production of theatrical space of the monumental sites in post-independence Cairo, specifically as it speaks to the politics of the spectacle and the national imagination of the state (Debord, 1967, Anderson, 1991). I look into these landmarks dedicated to the state’s visual practices of aspired memorialization and legitimation that are ‘carved in stone’, immortal, and a-temporal to contrast them with the ephemeral practices of commemoration of post-2011 martyrs through the city. This practice is argued to not have an imagination of immortal symbolism as an objective, but rather it seeks to act as a provocation of an ethical position towards those have become absent. The paper thus seeks to interrogate the urban visualization of absence/presence (Mier, 2013) as contested very constitutive of the imagination of ownership of public space.

Military Appropriation of a City
Ahmad Borham, American University in Cairo and the Arab Academy for Science and Technology in Cairo.

Street markets constitute a major supplier for the basic needs of most of the inhabitants of the city. The range of clients these markets serve ranges from employees to travelers from around Egypt who can get food and other needs for cheap prices. The presence of street vendors is nowadays considered, according to the law, as an illegal encroachment. However, this has not been always the case. Traditionally the appropriation of the street vendors of parts of the sidewalks was allowed as long as it did not cause harm to the passersby in the street who were considered the legal owners of the street. During the early days of modernization, a shift in responsibility and ownership of the public spaces in the Middle Eastern city that turned the street into a state property. On the other hand, the presence of the military was always part of the city of Cairo. Recently , specifically since June 2013, a significant shift in this presence can be observed. Nowadays, while walking or driving, you can easily bump into a sudden dead end that were not there before. Then, you realize that the road has been confiscated for military use or to serve as a security buffer zone. The paper intends to investigate the duplicity in perceiving these two practices of appropriation within the city. In mapping this state of exception, the research will depend on the observations of the researcher and the newspaper articles of relevance supported by specific precedents within the city.

Demilitarizing Cairo: Military Sites as Urban Voids
Abdulrahman El-Taliawi, Independent Architect/Researcher

With the advent of the industrial revolution and its accompanying warfare advancements, European city walls were demolished in exchange for the introduction of railroads. Citadels, obsolete factory complexes and river ports were deserted and came to be sites of potential that, along with city walls, lacked neither size nor strategic positioning. Those industrial and infrastructural voids turned into opportune sites for reuse within or on the limits of the expanding boundaries of the city. Military sites have not been an exception from this shift. Local municipalities have increasingly been dispensing military sites for architects and urban planners to investigate their potential for public reclamation, urban renewal, and regeneration. This paper aims to examine military sites in Cairo as potential urban voids, taking Salah Salem road as case study. An artery that perforates Cairo and Giza narrating stories of different epochs, it remains occupied with military complexes -that have become engulfed by the urban expansion- behind walls serving as deterrent barriers and as eloquent architectural expressions of obstruction. During the popular uprisings of 2011, those sites secreted the urban military that strangled Cairo for months, and was the subject of many protests challenging its authority and questioning the extent and legitimacy of its empire of land and properties. Those sites of potential now represent a sizable share of the contemporary city. While the planning authorities attempt to solve the city’s growing housing and infrastructural problems by transporting urban settlements to the desert, military land within Cairo now stand as ideal sites for public reclamation as political reform, and for reuse as generative tissue for strategic urban interventions.

The appropriation of Space Definition for Political Use
Mohamad Abotera, Independent Researcher’

If we consider the city as a board game; districts/land plots will be the cells and players may be represented as political powers. It is possible then to understand players’ objective and tactics through the study of their behaviour regarding the space they occupy, all a revealing glimpse of its project. In a stable condition players will compete over strategic locations within a common agreement on the game rules; in an urban case laws and common practice. But, in conditions like what the region is witnessing, political projects carried out by players naturally tend to compete not within the rules but against them to put their own and force a new regime. During the dramatic changes Egypt is witnessing various parties were sequentially successful to gain public support and practice some power. In each phase of these each political project or philosophy was revealed and visible through marks on public space. Either as a physical presence or a public behaviour, embodied values are present. By tracing some of these urban changes we can understand more how does each power see the city, which in turn can help us predict how the city will look like if any was able to secure ultimate dominance. In this paper I will try to trace some key transformations in public space policies in laws, and even more in actual happenings. Sites which witnessed major political events become more significant and hence will be used as key evidence resources. Since the army (or the current authority) seems closer to this ultimate control state, I will focus more on the current behaviour of this government through its impact planning and public space. Finally, using these findings I will try to speculate the future of Cairene public space should the project be complete.

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