“Mafto7 – Public Space in Cairo” A Documentary
The short video, Mafto7 – Public Space in Cairo, was an introduction to the idea of how to improve public spaces in Cairo without waiting for the government, which might take years or may not even happen. The full length of Mafto7 – Public Space in Cairo introduces more examples of transformations of public spaces in Cairo and how citizens cope with the poor maintenance of these spaces.
Public spaces in Cairo are diminishing, closed with fences and are becoming more and more politicised. Therefore this film deals with the role of politics in public spaces. The experts, May al-Ibrashy (conservation architect, Megawra), Omar Nagati (architect& urban planner, CLUSTER), Ahmed Zaazaa (architect, MAAD), and Mazin Abdulkarim (architect, ZAWIA) talk about the relationship between public spaces and the revolution. This includes its impact on citizens and how public spaces were controlled before the revolution. Since the January 2011 Revolution, arts and culture have become tools to claim spaces. Many groups have implemented interventions in public spaces in Cairo such as Mahatat, Rasheed 22, etc. A group of independent artists, intellectuals and cultural institutions organized a successful festival, El-Fan Medan, two months after the fall of Hosni Mubarak. Oneof the experts spoke about El-Fan Medan and its goal and success. In addition, one of the students discusses his experience of an event in the creative arts in opera.
Despite the work being done, the citizens I have interviewed in public spaces such as Midan al-Opra, Qasr al-Nile, Midan Abdeen and Genena al-Maza explained to me how the lack of green spaces have had an impact on their lives. One of the students in Megawra says: “Most believe that the poor don’t go out. Some of the rich or middle-class people believe that the poor have double jobs, and don’t have time to spend their time in public spaces and aren’t even interested in using public spaces”. This is one of the big issues about social classes. The popularization of shopping malls, along with the deterioration of quality of public spaces have contributed to a divide among the upper and lower classes and how they use their free time. There is very little interaction or relationship between the poor and the rich, as the poor tend not to frequent the shopping malls. With improvement in the quality of public spaces, there will be more interest in utilizing them, therefore, bringing people together from all classes. Importantly, we must better understand how people spend their time in public spaces and why they are important to groups and individuals.
Most of the citizens I have interviewed have told me of only one place that they go to use their free time, and that is Azhar Park. The poor people are somehow forced to spend their time in Azhar Park and pay the fees for them and for their children due to a lack of playgrounds in the public spaces of Cairo. With this lack of suitable public space in Cairo there is a lack of public meeting places, large amounts of both noise and other environmental pollution, and most importantly, open and clean spaces for people living in Cairo to enjoy together.
In cities around the world, many activists and citizens have occupied spaces and converted undesirable public spaces into places for such activities as gardening and dancing. For example, City Repair from Portland painted street intersections in bright colours and patterns. They involved neighbours to help in converting them into neighbourhood gathering places. In Taiwan, citizens frustrated with expensive housing costs staged a “sleep-in” in the streets of the most expensive district in the city to protest the government inaction. In Great Britain, Space Hijackers, a group of self-proclaimed “anarchitects,” has performed numerous acts of “space hijacking,” from “Guerrilla Benching” (installing benches in empty public space) to the “Circle Line Party” in London’s Underground.
The end of the film details the project I, with the help of my family, have worked on in three public spaces in Cairo. In order to break apart from the politicisation in public spaces, encouraging change of the use of public spaces is needed. This politicisation of public spaces alienates people from the public spaces they might otherwise frequent near their homes. The government of Egypt and citizens of Cairo will soon lend their attention to public spaces as the way they are used evolves. According to Don Mitchell, a distinguished professor of geography: “[The idea of public space] has never been guaranteed. It has only been won through concerted struggle”. Mitchell further argues that struggle “Is the only way that the right to public space can be maintained and only way that social justice can be advanced.” According to Mitchell, it is through the actions and purposeful occupation of a space that it becomes public.
Sara Hassan is an architecture student at Technical University in Vienna. She is currently writing her master thesis, Mafto7 – Public Space in Cairo“ as well as is making a short film. She is also an activist at Amnesty International in Vienna. She hopes to reside in Cairo after her graduation this summer and to continue projects in public spaces in Egypt.