Recognition of the Relation between Urban Spaces and Social Movements with Emphasis on Cairo, Sana’a and Manama

Document Type : Research Paper


1 PhD Candidate in urban planning & design, school of Architecture and Environmental design, Iran University of Science and Technology, Tehran, Iran

2 Associate professor of architecture and environmental design, Iran University of Science and Technology, Tehran, Iran

3 Associate professor of architecture and environmental design, Iran University of Science and Technology, Tehran,Iran


The recent upsurge of different social movements in Middle East can represents the central role of cities for the social movements. The late months of 2010 were the starting points of the liberation movements among Arab countries in the Middle East. The fall of Tunisian government and democracy leading attempts in Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, and Syria based on the news broadcast caused urban spaced such as Tahrir sq. in Cairo, Pearl sq. in Manama and university sq. in Sana’a to be known as the sign of liberalism and social protest against dictatorship, whereas they were completely unknown beforehand.
Putting political parties away, continuity in protest movements happening in public spaces in the Middle East have attracted the attention of many urban planing specialists about the properties of the mentioned spaces. The present study attempt to answer the following questions based on the relations among place, power, and social-political movements.

Is there any meaningful relation between host public spaces and social movements?
Which type of public spaces has got more potential to attract social movements?
What are the similarities and differences among the spaces hosting the social movements in the Middle East?

Thus, three main aspects of Location, Typology of talented spaces, and social class arrangements are used to explain the issues in the three mentioned spaces in Cairo, Manama, and Sana’a.
Present study is a practical research using blended quantitative-qualitative approach. This is quantitatively investigated through space syntax method as a means of monitoring. The aim of the use of this technique is expression of various aspects of relationship between morphological structure of built environment and the social and spatial structure of events in the city.
The theory of space syntax was proposed by Bill Hillier et al. in the 1970s at the Bartlett School. The theory is a technique for exploring the relationship between space and society. The most important discussion in this theory is an emphasis on the fact that the pattern of a settlement is rooted in the collective life of its users. It is in a way that some social norms of communities can be achieved by analyzing patterns of settlements.
The analysis is conducted based on converting maps to linear graphs and quantifying the spatial qualities of the nodes through the use of mathematical formulae. This method provides a simple operational process for explanation, comparison and translation of settlement patterns.
In this Study, some indexes of space syntax such as global integration (Rn), local integration (R3), synergy and intelligibility were investigated in the axial map and the "choice" value was investigated in the segment map using depthmapX software. 
Results and discussion
Content analysis of hosted urban spaces in the three cities shows that they have fundamental objects in common about the following issues:
ü Social movements shaped in squares (public identity type) had higher priority than those shaped in the streets (informal behavior type). The protests are mostly transferred to the street due to the suppression. The best examples are Manama and Sana’a where the protests are transferred to the street.
ü The studied social movements tend to develop in all regions with equal or higher integration than the average integration of entire city. Social movements and social forces in the Middle East have occurred with the participation of majority of the community (superior and inferior groups). We witness the formation of the movement in the areas with higher integration like Central Spaces in Cairo and Sana’a.
ü Intelligibility index analysis in the case studies shows that the majority of the spaces hosted the movements has got higher intelligibility than other parts of the city. While in Sana’a and Cairo there were protests in other parts as well, Tahrir and University squares in both cities include high participation of the protesters.
ü Social movements which have the least support of the majority group or sometimes even opposed by them are divided into superior and inferior groups. Inferior groups are forced away and continue their protests in the spaces with low levels of integration and intelligibility. In these cases, urban areas adjacent to the origin of these forces have been selected. Like Bahraini Shiite protests in Manama’s Pearl sq. or Ekhvans Supporters in Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya Sq.
ü Social movement spaces have been shaped up regarding the priority. Selected spaces in social movements are supported by the majority of the selection criteria as appropriate pedestrian movement. Tahrir square and University square in Sana’a are examples of this.
ü In all cases, the governments attempted to change the existing relations in space, and control the spaces. The Egyptian government failed in its efforts to occupy the space with security forces and paramilitary forces fans. But the Yemeni government occupied the space by force expelling protesters, and the government of Bahrain took stronger action to capture the space.
Wave of Islamic awakening movement against authoritarian regimes in Persian Gulf Arab states has provided an opportunity to look at the relationship between space and power, and to study the characteristics of the host spaces in these countries. This paper attempts to examine spatial configuration samples using quantitative indicators to analyze the relationship between space and social arrangements of productive forces of social movements through a different approach.
Examining the hosted spaces in the cities of Cairo, Sana’a and Manama shows that there is a meaningful relationship between the formation of social movements in square-like spaces (accumulation) and squares of urban spaces (gathering space) and that these spaces are more preferable compared with other urban spaces like streets and cafes. 
Public protest experiences in the case studies of this research show that when the social movement considers the support of the majority of social forces, it must be assumed that a space including the properties of space syntax should be considered as the first priority of being chosen as the protest space.


Main Subjects

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Volume 50, Issue 1
April 2018
Pages 181-197
  • Receive Date: 02 November 2016
  • Revise Date: 06 December 2016
  • Accept Date: 09 December 2016
  • First Publish Date: 21 March 2018