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In the ‘pre-revolution’ era (not substantially different from the era we live today) the official institutions acted as the custodians of this country and as those with the rights to determine what is good for the people, solely by virtue of their position.
Those working in or heading these institutions could not help but behave and take decisions affirming this attitude, very much in line with the principle of anonymous structures espoused by the French philosopher Michel Foucault. In the ‘post revolution’ era (more a perception than a substantially different state of reality) most of the people -those who stood in Tahrir, and those who stood behind them- feel strongly that this state of supremacy of official institutions has to change.
They are supported by the argument that if these institutions had done right there would not have been a revolution.
The revolution sought to remove both Mubarak and the patronizing ways that undermined the people’s capacity to participate in the process of shaping their world and their destiny.
If we accept Foucault’s arguments, and if we concede that the willful destruction of the ‘free thinking Egyptian’ started at least thirty years before the Mubarak years, in a concerted effort to control and rule this nation by a singular power structure, then the challenges of forming a really different ‘post revolution’ era are considerable.
If we were to simply change the heads of these official institutions, we would probably still fail to affect tangible change in the performance of the institutions.
If we seek to change all their constituents, where would we find substitutes that are materially different?In these ‘post revolution’ times, everybody is united by the strong need for change – though there are different conceptions of what that change needs to be. Disregarding the need to change back to the ways of yesterday –understandably advocated by the segment that lost the most- the vast majority of the population seeks a different form of change, irrespective of the roles they played in the old system.
How is real change affected without resorting to total annihilation of the old? How can real change be affected when the old has to be part of the change process?
The current scene is full of experiments focused on these sorts of questions, because the people have made that choice of a peaceful transition in collaboration with the institution when they chanted ‘el geish wel sha3b eid wahda.’ (the army and the people are one).
Midan is a non-governmental organization that arose from the midst of that interplay to become an agent of change specifically in the process of transforming our urban spaces into more human places.
Its mission is to work in a participatory manner on the sustainable development and management of urban space to transform it into a vital place that meets the needs of users and the community.
This multi-disciplinary group first came together over the open dialogue that started around the Midan Al-Tahrir competition. Their dedication towards ensuring that the outcome of this proposed competition be relevant and meaningful to the people and users led them to get deeper into the process, so much so that they realized that their input cannot be restricted to the proceedings of a single competition because in itself it is a mere reflection of a broader problematic context, on both the professional and urban levels. The group, which includes professionals and students, in addition to active members working out of the USA, Saudi Arabia, and Dubai, collaborates actively with official institutions like the Governorate of Cairo and the Organization of Urban Harmony in gathering the necessary data for the preparation of a terms of reference that reflects the aspirations of the people.
Besides compiling the information from the various open dialogues on the net, members of the group have designed a questionnaire in collaboration with the AUC Mass Communication Department to survey the public’s views on the revolution and Tahrir Square to incorporate it in the competition documents. Midan has thus come into existence to be an agent of change that plays the pivotal role of intermediary between all the stakeholders: institutions managing the urban spaces, professionals designing and shaping them, and the community at large using them and eventually appropriating them.
This collective of professionals in fields like town planning, urban design, architecture, art, environmental planning, sustainable development, traffic and transport engineering, together with the non-professional activists concerned with urban space, seeks to interject a critical approach to the problem and process of developing, designing and managing urban spaces with the aim of making them alive and meaningful to their users.
It seeks to bridge the gap between the political priorities that traditionally have an affinity towards the attractive and publishable solution, and the communal priorities, which may be influenced by short-term goals.Midan espouses a participatory approach with all stakeholders without compromising the necessity for professional standards of performance and quality.
In each case the context is different and the stakeholders are different, and accordingly the process has to be specifically designed. The process itself (the real objective behind Midan) is thus educational for all parties and more effective in defining the real problems at hand.Midan is a process in the making by those who choose to get involved in it. If it succeeds we all end up with more ‘places for life’ in our city.