Contours of Cairo Revolt: Street Semiology, Values and Political Affordances

Abstract

This article contemplates symbols and values inscribed on Cairo’s landscape during the 2011 revolution and the period since, focusing on Tahrir Square and the role of the Egyptian flag in street discourses there. I start by briefly pondering how intertwined popular narratives readied the square and flag as emblems of dissent. Next I examine how these appropriations shaped protests in the square, and how military authorities who retook control in 2013 re-coopted the square and flag, with the reabsorption of each critical to that of the other and executed in the same place: Tahrir. Pro-military factions have created the pretense that they were for the revolution by altering the square and structures around it. Furthermore, the square has remained open to the public, but ceased to be inviting. This relates to post-revolutionary alterations that psychologically repel entry. I consider these changes in light of affordance theory, value sensitive design research and especially the defensible space model, arguing that Tahrir Square has been symbolically cordoned and closed.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For a visual record of flag motifs in Tahrir, click through photographs posted at https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/worldnews/8314088/Egypt-crisis-protesters-in-Tahrir-Square-Cairo-wear-the-colours-of-the-Egyptian-flag.html.

  2. 2.

    For video footage, visit https://www.theguardian.com/world/middle-east-live/2013/jul/02/egypt-obama-urges-morsi-to-respond-to-protesters-live.

  3. 3.

    For video footage, visit https://mobile.reuters.com/video/2013/07/03/helicopter-drops-flags-as-jubilation-swe?videoId=243777417&mod=related&channelName=worldNews.

  4. 4.

    In many Western cities, the traffic on surrounding streets might admittedly push people away. But Cairenes do not perceive this as an obstacle. They are skilled road-crossers and incline towards even small green patches in urban centers if accessible without payment, as mentioned earlier. Thus it is not out of place to see city dwellers hanging around or picnicking on traffic medians in heavily used roads.

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Acknowledgements

I would like to acknowledge Farida Youssef for her assistance on historical portions of this paper. I would also like to thank Shane Epting, Jules Simon and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful feedback.

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Correspondence to Matthew Crippen.

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Matthew Crippen declares no conflict of interest.

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Crippen, M. Contours of Cairo Revolt: Street Semiology, Values and Political Affordances. Topoi (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11245-019-09650-9

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Keywords

  • Affordances
  • Arab Spring
  • Cairo
  • Defensible space
  • Politics
  • Protest
  • Revolution
  • Semiology
  • Tahrir Square
  • Value sensitive design