THE ARAB SUMMER: A DIGITAL REPUBLIC (Frederick Kannemeyer, 2019)
THE ARAB SUMMER: A DIGITAL REPUBLIC (Frederick Kannemeyer, 2019)

“If you please - draw me a sheep...” said the little Prince, thinking not about a real sheep, but a virtual one. For virtual sheep requires very little space and can live a long time.

-The Little Prince (1943)

Morocco, the West-most region of the Middle East, is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament. The King of Morocco holds vast executive and legislative powers, especially over the military, foreign policy and religious affairs. (Khan, M. 2019)

The Arab Spring was a series of anti-government protests, up- risings, and armed rebellions that spread across the Middle East in late 2010. In the news, social media has been heralded as the driving force behind the swift spread of revolution throughout the world, as new protests appear in response to success stories shared from those taking place in other countries. The use of social media platforms more than doubled in Arab countries during the protests. Facebook, Twitter and other major social media played a key role in the movement of Egyptian and Tunisian activists in particular. Nine out of ten Egyptians and Tuni- sians responded to a poll that they used Facebook to organize protests and spread awareness. (Mitchell, A., Brown, H. and Guskin, E. 2019.)

On 20 February 2011, thousands of Moroccans rallied in the capital, Rabat, to demand that King Mohammed give up some of his powers, chanting slogans such as “Down with autocracy” and “The people want to change the constitution.” The protests in Morocco were inspired by the Arab Spring protests and revolutions in other North African countries. They were centered around demands for political reform, which included reform against police brutality, electoral fraud, and political censorship (Bouhmouch, N. 2011). But, post-Arab Spring, little or no change to laws can be observed. Morocco still follows many strict doctrines, which, played out in its civic spaces results in very curtailed public space. Homosexuality in Morocco is punishable by law. Though it may not be exercised by law, women are still excluded from the public realm in many respects.

Historically, architects have dealt only with the physical and tan- gible realm, projecting onto the ground in built forms that represent the ideologies of their time(s). According to Stefano Boeri, the Italian ar- chitect, a great shortcoming of contemporary architecture has been its inability to keep astride with the structural spatial changes that infor- mation and communication technologies have brought about in recent years (Boeri, S .2003). Our architectural vocabulary and forms largely still belong to an earlier age and have not hybridized and morphed to accommodate and inspire changing spatial conditions.

In urban design terminology, we still speak of ‘private’ and ‘public’, ‘in- side’ and ‘outside’ as static functions, yet our contemporary spatial ex- periences in the digital public realm belong to a different kind of order: shifting, intangible and often without scale.

Now, the public sphere is virtual, digital and dispersed across billions of desktops, laptops and mobile phones. As a result, the public sphere is not just a bourgeois indulgence but a global phenomenon. Digital space has overturned conventional thought about space both ex- perientially and politically. It is fundamentally different to other public spaces in so many ways and while it is held together by hashtags in- stead of bricks and mortar, its impact in actual physical space has been nothing short of revolutionary.

I intend to write a new policy and rules for this cyber-port by accessing the extent to which freedom of expression is enhanced or un- dermined in the digital age where the computer systems of driverless cars, google maps, urban management systems and CCTV surveillance are now fundamentally reshaping urban experience and the cultures of our cities. Are ‘fundamental’ writings about public space, such as the work of Jane Jacobs, Robert Moses and Kevin Lynch at all appropriate for this public space? Perhaps, they have only ever been relevant for certain kinds of publics and certain kinds of cities? My project seeks to create an entirely new “public”, an expanded urban lexicon relevant for this time.

The project takes the form of an online ‘place’ - loose from all the trappings and ceremony of any town square, and drawing on digital research and online tendencies in Morocco. What would this new dig- ital place, which is home to many functions that are not allowed in the physical city allow? In a region with a highly curtailed public space, my project becomes a speculation of a new type of public space that exists entirely in the digital realm. The Arab Summer speculates on an opti- mistic, celebratory, digital public - a public entitled to and allowed ac- cess into a world they fought to bring into existence in the Arab Spring. My project is both a spectacle (making the invisible visible) and per- formative, it is digital (as a website) and ‘real’ (it draws on real places in Morocco’s economic centre, Casablanca)

Counterspace Studio