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Spaces of Participation: Topographies of Political and Social Change in Morocco, Egypt and Palestine

Moroccan Team

Although the project in Morocco consists of two cases studies, one in Casablanca and the other in Rabat, the team seeks to work within a coherent vision that will allow the two case studies to fit into a wider understanding of how different kinds of space in Morocco are constructed, used and invested to create opportunities for political pressure and participation of different kinds. Whether the authorities resist or express some support is not given as such positions may change in the light of the varying circumstances.
The first case study (Mohamed V Avenue, Rabat) can be said to be a temporary space and is a place of continuous tension between authorities and protestors, a tension that often leads to violence to disperse crowds on the avenue. The second (Lbatwar) is somehow a fixed a space, used for cultural activism and expression. Although it enjoys some "official" support, it remains a fragile and poorly funded space that could disappear at anytime.


The Re-Construction of Public Space as a Way of Political Socialization and Participation: The case of Mohamed V Avenue in Rabat

Prof. Mokhtar El Harras
Hicham Ait Mansour
Mouloud Amghar

Mohamed V Avenue in Rabat in front of Morocco's parliament building is a space heavily utilized by protest groups of all kinds. They include unemployed youth among college graduates, which is a very active movement that has been using this space as its main point of protest for about 20 years. Other groups include protestors complaining about high food prices and human rights demonstrators seeking greater gender equality rights for women. More recently wider political protests, such as the 20th February Movement, have been taking place on the avenue that call for deep political reform to establish true democratic rule in Morocco. The space can be said to be a temporary (or discontinuous) space of continuous tension between authorities and protestors that frequently leads to violence to evacuate the space. The plurality of protestors as well as the symbolic aspect of this space makes it ideal to study as a space of political pressure and participation.

The Research Questions Are:

  • How the space emerges for each group? The process, the construction and the meanings.
  • Why do these spaces emerge as a venue for political socialization and participation as opposed to traditional political institutions i.e. political parties? The motivations and perceptions.
  • What is the relationship between the physical and virtual spaces and how do they relate?
  • Do these spaces give rise to change?
  • What are the strategies and issues that each group adopts to invest in the public space?
  • What are the gender dimensions and issues that arise in these spaces.  

The target groups are:
Human rights associations, women's rights groups, the unemployed and political groups.

Main Steps and Methods:
First, a critical literature review will be undertaken including both theoretical issues of space and participation as well as studies undertaken in Morocco on the subject. Such a review will permit the identification of existing knowledge and also identify the gaps in literature to make sure the project brings in new insights.
As far as the methods are concerned, the project will use a mixed-methods approach. A quantitative survey to measure the attitudes toward the public space as a way of political socialization will be conducted with a sample representing the four target groups (no less than 400 participants). However, since space is "socially constructed", it is necessary to conduct qualitative research to answer questions that would not be covered by the quantitative survey. For this purpose, a variety of methods will be used such as in-depth interviews, ethnographic approaches such as participant observation, focus groups and documents analysis including photography.


Lbatwar: a Cultural Space in the City of Casablanca

Dr. Fadma Ait Mous

The space that Fadma Ait Mous studies is the site of Casablanca's old slaughterhouse. It's locally known as "les abattoirs" or "Lbatwar". The Lbatwar is located in Hay Mohammadi, Casablanca's historic industrial neighbourhood. The building was designed by a French architect (G-E. Desmarest) and was completed in 1922. The idea to convert Casablanca's old slaughterhouse into a cultural space became a reality in 2008 when a series of workshops were organized by Casablanca officials in collaboration with officials from Amsterdam in order to build connections between culture and industry. A cluster of cultural actors and associations revisited the "Slaughterhouse Project" responding to a request by the mayor of Casablanca. It is a place of many cultural events held mainly by cultural and youth NGOs (Racines, Casamémoire, L’boulevard des jeunesmusiciens, etc.) and became a well-known centre for the arts with local and global artists exhibiting/performing as well as a gathering point for people from the neighbourhood. Although it enjoys some "official" support, it remains a fragile and poorly funded space that can disappear at anytime. In February 2013, despite the support of the king to register the space as a place of national heritage, government officials started to use the space as a parking lot. The artist community mobilized via online and offline networks (a petition, a Facebook page named "Save L’Batoir", blogs and forums, etc.) and created a protest movement to reclaim the space.

Lbatwar is mainly characterized by its emergence as a renewed cultural space in the city of Casablanca. The project aims to analyse power relationships between the city and the NGO's involved (tensions, control, hierarchy, power, etc.), the multiplicity of actors and their uses of the space and the meanings they associated with it, as well as the link between virtual and spatial. The project will also look at sources of funding and alternative identities and discourses. The main methods used will be in-depth interviews with the members of the Lbatwar collective, participant observation, focus groups and analysis of documents.