My colleague Jessica recently won the Tufts GIS Poster Expo with her excellent poster on civil resistance. She used GIS data to analyze optimal approaches to Tahrir Square in Cairo. According to Jessica, many previous efforts to occupy the square had failed. So Egyptian activists spent two weeks brainstorming the best strategies to approach Tahrir Square.
Out of curiosity, Jessica began to wonder whether the use of GIS data and spatial analysis might shed some light on possible protest routes. She began her analysis by identifying three critical strategic elements for a successful protest route:
“1) Gathering points where demonstrators initiate protests; 2) two types of routes—protest collection areas of high population density through which protesters walk to collect additional supporters and protest approach routes on major streets that accommodate large groups that are more difficult to disperse; and 3) convergence points where smaller groups of protester merge to increase strength in order to approach the destination.”
For her analysis, Jessica took gathering points and convergence points into consideration. For example, many Egyptian activist met at Mosques. So she selected optimal Mosques based on their distance to police stations (the farther the better) and high road density area “as a proxy for population density.” In terms of convergence points, smaller groups of protestors converged on major roads and intersections. The criteria that Jessica used to select these points were: distance to Tahrir Square, high density of road junctions and open space to allow for large group movement. She also took into account protest route collection areas. These tend to be “densely populated and encourage residents to join, increasing participation.” So Jessica selected these based on high road density and most direct route to Tahrir Square using major roads.
Overlaying the data and using GIS analysis on each strategic element yields the following optimal routes to Tahrir:
Jessica writes that “the results of this project demonstrate that GIS tools can be used for plotting strategic routes for protest using criteria that can change based on the unique geospatial environment. In Cairo, the optimal gathering points, strategic routes and convergence points are not always located in an obvious path (i.e. optimal mosques located in areas with low road density or convergence points without gathering points in the close proximity). The map does, however, provide protest organizers with some basic instruction on where to start, what direction to head and where to converge for the final approach.”
She does also acknowledge some of the limitations of the study owing to lack of high-resolution spatial data. I would add temporal data since civil resistance is fluid and changes, which requires rapid adaptation and re-strategizing. If her analysis could be combined with real time information coming from crowdsourced data such as U-Shahid, then I think this could be quite powerful.
For more on the civil resistance tactics used in Egypt during the revolution, please see this blog post.