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Revolution and Identity Building in Tripoli's Public Spaces
Posted on May 07, 2020 |
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In northern Lebanon, the deteriorating economic and social conditions over the decades have directly affected public spaces in their makeup, identity, and people’s relationships with them. Tripoli, in particular, may be one of the richest Lebanese regions in public spaces due to its historical sites and archaeological monuments, which can provide ample room for the promotion of citizenship and the creation of a social, political and cultural fabric leading to comprehensive development.
the Author
Journalist at the Al Modon independent electronic newspaper and contributor to several Arab news platforms
Revolution and Identity Building in Tripoli's Public Spaces

In northern Lebanon, the deteriorating economic and social conditions over the decades have directly affected public spaces in their makeup, identity, and people’s relationships with them. Tripoli, in particular, may be one of the richest Lebanese regions in public spaces due to its historical sites and archaeological monuments, which can provide ample room for the promotion of citizenship and the creation of a social, political and cultural fabric leading to comprehensive development.

However, what do these “public spaces” look like?

In form, Tripoli has abundant public spaces, but its residents do not benefit from most of them as public spaces mirroring their social context. In addition, these spaces have not been utilized without restrictions on everything related to the affairs of the community and its members’ interaction with politics, culture, activities, living, education and the economy.

If we consider Tripoli’s heritage landmarks first, we see that some have played a role in configuring a space or a type of public spaces. For instance, some public spaces in Tripoli located in ancient and traditional khans, such as Khan El Saboun, Khan Al- Khayyatin, and Khan Al-Askar constitute a gathering area for the city residents and visitors. Similarly, the ancient baths of Tripoli have constituted public spaces; however, out of the 11 baths, only “Hammam Al Abed” is still operational and is located in the old markets area. The residents of the city and its suburbs flock to it, and so do most foreign tourists who visit Tripoli.

Gardens and squares

On the other hand, there are a number of squares in Tripoli, such as Abdul Hamid Karami Square known as Al Nour Square, Al Tall Square, Al Koura Square, and the Mina Roundabout Square, as well as a number of other public parks, the most famous of which is Al Mansheya Park in the middle of Al Tall Square. Today, this garden has become almost non-operational and people rarely cross it or gather in it, while its role is limited to being a haven for beggars or homeless people.

Changes brought about by the October 17 uprising

All of the aforementioned has failed to help the residents of Tripoli shape their identity and social fabric within their public space, as a result of the city’s marginalization by the state and the lack of effective plans that ensure equitable development. However, since the outbreak of the popular protest movement on October 17, 2019 to date, the relationship between the Tripolitanians and public spaces has turned upside down, as has been the case in various Lebanese areas. On the one hand, their relationships with these spaces have changed, and on the other hand, they have created new public spaces that contribute to framing their movements, bestow a special symbol to their living and economic demands, and mark their slogans against public order and authority.

Perhaps the most important achievement in Tripoli following the popular uprising has manifested itself in the city’s regaining its usurped standing, albeit morally. As a result, it is dealt with as Lebanon’s actual second capital after being dubbed the “bride of the revolution.” Tripoli has acquired this title from its public squares, specifically from the Al Nour Square to which hundreds of thousands of Tripolitanians and people from surrounding and other areas flock to express their discontent. In this square, they have produced a new discourse that embodies their economic and political demands and sparked a major revolt against the ruling political class at the level of Tripoli and Lebanon.

The events witnessed in Al Nour Square after October 17, can be seen as one of the most prominent gains of the popular uprising, following the success of male and female citizens, for the first time in decades, in regaining public space in most areas, thus shattering the idea of Beirut’s centrality. Al Nour Square is one of the squares that have shaped its common public space and broken its stereotyped traditional role as a roundabout for passing cars only. Similarly, its role as a geographic entity where events unfold has been transcended by that of a civil entity reinforcing the concept of citizenship and an essential component contributing to the making of the revolution, ensuring its continuity and scheduling the fueling of the revolution or even its fading away. One of the most prominent manifestations of people’s changing relationships with the public squares in Tripoli is the expansion of the revolution to places and streets that were not available to them, such as Azmi Street, the port, and some inner streets. Even the vicinity of leaders’ homes in Tripoli, which had its “prestige” and privacy in terms of surveillance and security, has been incorporated into the public spaces formed by the revolutionaries who have challenged such prestige by besieging the area and demonstrating in front of these homes while shouting revolutionary slogans.

After the popular uprising, Al Nour Square had its geographic and interactive scope widened to include other roads leading to the square where some activists have set up tents to hold dialogues on political, economic, educational and cultural issues.

In turn, these tents have also formed “public spaces” accessible to the public in the open air where they can meet, hold discussions and raise awareness at various levels. As for some institutions and offices which are symbolic of the state and the authorities, they have become free-for-all. Examples include the Serail, public financial institutions, banks, and Kadisha Electricity Company which have been transformed from mere public offices into public spaces visited by citizens to express their anger, opinions and demands. Although the creeping poverty has expanded to the heart of Tripoli in light of the worsening economic crisis, chaos and high unemployment, the city residents have succeeded in public squares in practicing the concept of citizenship and in engaging in political life, after politics had been rather an unattainable realm in this city.

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