TAHRIR (LIBERATION) SQUARE
So named to commemorate the 1952 downfall of Egypt's monarchy and the founding of its new republic, Cairo's main public space is a sprawling area ringed by downtown monuments like the Egyptian Museum, the Arab League headquarters, and the old campus of the American University in Cairo.
The square has long been the focal point of public rage, from the 1977 bread riots to the 2003 demonstrations against the Iraq war to the anti-government protests that overwhelmed police forces on Jan. 25 and 28, 2011. The following week, on Feb. 2, the protesters in Tahrir repulsed a brutal assault that included hundreds of armed thugs and dozens mounted on horses and camels. The Tahriris quickly set up makeshift barricades, carting in medicine, blankets, food, and tents, and vowing to stay until President Hosni Mubarak stepped down. Over time, the well-defended square developed its own unique ecosystem, complete with its own newspaper and Facebook page, valet parking, cell-phone charging stations, popcorn vendors, and even a screen for watching satellite television. Today, the square is turning into one of Egypt's most popular tourist destinations, with what one travel writer described as a "slightly carnival atmosphere." The government now says it hopes to persuade Oprah Winfrey to make a visit.
Unlike its sister square in Cairo, Sanaa's Tahrir Square is currently occupied by pro-government supporters of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has more or less ruled Yemen since 1978. "Many are impoverished villagers and tribal members who come and stay because of the free food and allegedly because of a small daily stipend," according to Canada's Global and Mail newspaper.
Saleh's backers -- some of whom are armed -- have reportedly set up tents in the square as well as booths selling books and "plastic art and handicrafts exhibitions." The square has been the scene of fierce clashes between pro- and anti-government groups in recent weeks, forcing the opposition to set up its base some 2 kilometers away at Sanaa University.
Yup, Baghdad's got a Liberation Square, too. On Feb. 25, around 6,000 Iraqis thronged the central area across the river from the Green Zone to express their anger with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government, which has struggled to provide services and stability even as it has won a second term. Protesters chanted slogans denouncing Maliki and the U.S. occupation and even tried to march on the Green Zone, though they were quickly and violently suppressed by riot police.
The square's main landmark is a work of art designed by Jawad Salim, the late Iraqi sculptor, to commemorate the end in 1958 of British colonial rule. Salim's Freedom Monument is an enormous horizontal slab holding in place 14 bronze reliefs depicting allegorical scenes related to the uprising. "[T]he monument has clear symbolic significance since it conveys the suffering of the Iraqis throughout history," writes Iraqi-American anthropologist Zainab Saleh. Of course, the 1958 revolution (in reality, a coup by officers seeking to overthrow the pro-British Hashemite monarchy) ended badly: It was followed by decades of instability that led to the rise of Saddam Hussein. And we know how that turned out.
The site of a deadly pre-dawn raid on Feb. 17 by Bahraini security forces, Lulu (Pearl) Roundabout is a busy traffic circle along the waterfront in Manama's financial district. The roundabout is named for the giant statue at its center, an enormous white pearl held aloft by six swooping arms said to represent sails. The roundabout itself is about 100 meters in diameter, but the surrounding area is much larger, allowing room for tens of thousands of people.
Bahrain's days of rage began on Monday, Feb. 14, and as protesters gathered they were met with a swift but clumsy police crackdown that killed one person and injured dozens more. A day later, angry, mostly Shiite protesters seized the strategic location and began setting up camp in a self-conscious imitation of their brethren in Cairo. "The people want the fall of the regime," demonstrators began chanting -- another echo of Egypt -- and hunkered down, bringing in shisha pipes, food, bedding, even electric generators. The fun ended, however, when riot police attacked the camp with tear gas and live bullets, killing six and blockading the site. The government then reversed itself two days later, calling for dialogue, and the protesters returned. They're still there.
AVENUE HABIB BOURGUIBA
Tunis's central artery is Avenue Habib Bourguiba, named after Tunisia's first president, the predecessor of recently deposed President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Every city in Tunisia has an Avenue Bourguiba, but the one in the capital is especially important. The broad avenue is lined with trees, restaurants, and shops. It traverses the city from east to west, running from the older part of the city to the port, and terminating in Tunis's own Independence Square. Some refer to the avenue as the Tunisian version of the Champs-Élysées.
During the country's popular revolt in January, the avenue became a gathering place for protesters, as tens of thousands came out to demand Ben Ali's ouster. It was also the scene of police raids -- tear gas and the sound of gunshots were ubiquitous throughout the protests and hundreds of people were arrested. Some of the estimated 219 people who died over the course of the three week revolution were killed protesting here. The street has since calmed since Ben Ali fled Tunisia on Jan. 14 and an interim government began prepping for democratic transition. Now, Avenue Bourguiba is the site of a different kind of political action, as citizens argue and debate about the future of the Tunisian government.
Oman's own series of protests intensified on Feb. 27 in the northeastern port city of Sohar, an industrial hub in the normally placid country. The Globe Roundabout, also known as the Kurra Ardiyah Roundabout, is so named for the large globe atop a hexagonal plinth that sits in the middle of the traffic circle. It has become the hub for Oman's protests demanding an end to corruption, better pay, lower food prices, and the abolition of taxes. A small number of people have camped out there for days, despite efforts by police and the army to get them to disperse. On Sunday, Feb. 27, police opened fire killing two people and injuring several more, but the protesters were not dissuaded: Hundreds more convened in the roundabout the next day.
On Feb. 28, the police presence disappeared and the protests turned fiery as an angry mob set ablaze Lulu Hypermarket and looted the store. Graffiti scribbled on a nearby statue read: "The people are hungry."
MAY 1 SQUARE
May 1 Square in the capital city of Algiers is named for International Labor Day, but last month protesters expressing the same grievances as other Arab world demonstrators tried to turn it into the Algerian version of Tahrir Square. May 1 Square has been the scene of popular demonstration in the past -- in 1991, supporters of the Muslim fundamentalist group Islamic Front occupied the square to protest electoral rule changes.
On Feb. 19, protesters congregated there for the start of a march -- the first since an early January protest saw youth setting fire to government buildings and yelling "Bring us sugar!" -- inspired by other Arab world uprisings. The protesters' numbers were relatively low -- Algeria's official news service estimated that only 60 people were in attendance, and Reuters said there were 500, while opposition leaders said 5,000 joined in. Nonetheless, their voices were loud with repeated chants demanding the ouster of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has been in power since 1999.
Before these latest protests, the government had lifted a 19-year state of emergency. But a ban on marches in Algiers remains -- along with the anger behind the recent protests.
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