Space as Weapon: Mapping Repression in Tahrir Square & Cape Town

Event Date: 

Thu, Dec 4, 2014 - 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm

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Space as Weapon: Mapping Repression in Tahrir Square & Cape Town

Re-scripting the City:
Race, Gender and Architecture in Cape Town’s Migrant Labour Hostels
Sharone L. Tomer, Architecture

Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Cape Town was represented as a ‘white’ city. Because the indigenous population at the Cape at the time of European colonization was ‘aboriginale’ rather than ‘black’ – meaning Bantu-speakers that migrated from East and Central Africa – it was possible to discursively distance Cape Town from its (South) African context and the related ‘black’ identity. As apartheid came to an end, however, the narrative of the white city also began to come into question.

In this paper I examine one site that posed the possibility of unsettling Cape Town’s hegemonic racialized narratives, at a moment in which the end of apartheid was being negotiated. I examine the ‘Hostels’ Upgrades’, an architectural project that sought to convert single-sex migrant labour hostels into permanent family accommodation, as a case in which marginalized black residents made claims for space, security, and by extension recognition, in the city. I argue that while a simple reading may suggest that the project was merely about improving physical infrastructure, for the hostel dwellers and architects involved in the project, much more was at stake. The single-sex and dormitory attributes of the hostels rendered them liminal spaces that disturbed gender relations, forcing families to live apart, or in illicit and spatially compromised arrangements. The claims made by the hostel dwellers as they sought to convert the hostels were for a normalizing of gender relations: for the right to live in the city, as families. I examine how it was that by turning to the domestic – the space of the family – as a site of political action, the hostel dwellers were able to deploy the Upgrades as a form of political protest, when their precarious status in the city as migrant laborers put more typical forms of action - such as strikes and demonstrations - out of reach.

Using Stuart Hall’s concept of articulation, I examine how race, gender and space were brought together and worked through each other at the Hostels Upgrades. The case serves as an example of discursive and spatial post-apartheid transformation working together, in which the change to a spatial artifact of apartheid served as a site through which to re-script the city’s racialized and gendered identities.

The Disciplining of Space: 
Tahrir Square and the Gated Communities under the Military Governance 

Momen El-Husseiny, Architecture

In November 2011, the interim military rulers of Egypt erected concrete walls around Tahrir Square to surround the roundabout in an unprecedented act of zoning it out and separating it from the Downtown Center with its vibrant governmental, political, economical and commercial buildings. This act epitomized the death of the public space and the revolutionary momentum that was once celebrated in January 25 for the central role it played in mobilizing people and removing the head of the corrupted state, Hosni Mubarak. In the months that follow, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) imposed new security measures onto Tahrir Square to establish a profound genre of spatial discipline. 

This paper argues that the surveillance measures of walls and checkpoints are more than material objects for division and segregation; these measures have deeper significances of disciplining space that encompass a moral mission of religious conduct and subject trans-formation of protestors. Female activists had been arrested, humiliated, and subject to virginity tests, in which the military practiced its patriarchal role in framing what is haram, or forbidden, to constrict women’s participation in sit-in demonstrations and public space. Young protestors and activists continue to be arrested and accused for their immoral conduct of national treason. In fact this patriarchal device of governance and securitizing measures have a contemporary precedent in gated communities that are directly run and managed by military generals — after retiring, where they work as private security sub-contractors.

Accordingly, in order to understand the ramification of the disciplining mechanisms of walling space that is relatively new to Tahrir Square, I delve into the genesis of this spatial discipline that had been taking place in gated communities for more than a decade. In gated communities, the disciplining of space is more structural using mapping tools and training workshops of security guards that is pivotal in transforming them into better muslims or honorable citizens, becoming faithful, honest, and vigilant. The role of the security guards is then to enforce the moral rules through reporting and surveilling the misconduct of residents. My central argument is that the disciplining of space whether private or public, under the military governance, is always enmeshed with a moral project of religious patriarchy that is manipulated for national sentiments.