Congrès Mondial des Études sur le Moyen-Orient et l'Afrique du Nord

Barcelone du 19 au 24 Juillet 2010


(Hyper)Realities on Stage in the Arab Gulf (134) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED institution: Centre for Modern Oriental Studies - ZMO (Germany)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Katrin Bromber

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: The panel focuses on postmodern urban development in the wider Gulf region. Mushrooming large-scale waterfront and infrastructure projects, theme parks, gated communities, the commodification of heritage, innovations in architecture and style and new practices of urban experience characterise the Arab Gulf cities of the 21st century. According to postmodern theories, many of these projects can be interpreted as a kind of hyperrealities - as sanitized versions of reality cleansed of strive, world problems and dirt. Whereas the return on investment of many of these development projects will be contested, their global impact on collective imagery and location branding for the dawning post-oil era is not. Concurrently, the creation and packaging of a pseudo-culture designed to serve corporate and political interests provides the building blocks of a 'fallacious paradise'. The creation of this brave new world is facilitated and pushed by the ruling authoritarian regimes in the gulf, creating the necessary institutional and financial environment for such a development.The post-modern condition, which is characterized by the radical transformation of how space and time is conceived, becomes manifest in a simulated hyperreal present which is insulated from the fatality of the future and which often lacks historical and cultural embeddedness. Dislodged from the specificity of the locale, the newly created hyperreal Cyburbs and Simcities fit into the homogenized ageographical commodification of urbanity which disguieses the relationship between reality and its construction.Against this background, the question arises of the role the mentioned projects are going to play for the future social, cultural, economic and political development of the region. It has to be asked if current trends in architecture and infrastructure in the Gulf States can only be conceptualized in terms of commodity fetishization - a simulated serial reproduction of images - or if they are also occupied with substantial economic and social issues. The panel aims contribute to a theoretically informed interpretation of the materiality, meaning or aesthetics of postmodern phenomena that address these issues.

Chair: Benjamin Zachariah (Centre for Modern Oriental Studies (ZMO))

Paper presenter: Katrin Bromber (ZMO, Berlin), "Simulated Difference – Serial Reproduction of Architecture through Sports"

Sports have moved to a new play ground. Architectural cites as hotels or gigantic highways do not function as scenes in sports advertisement, but the to the contrary, sports have become the substance with which to fill empty signifiers. They are part of a simulated difference which is necessary in a economy of mass consumption in which comfort is drawn from serial reproduction of images.
The paper investigates the nexus of the commodification high class sports, as an important form of capital investment and a vibrant trend of branding the Gulf States, which aspire to present itself as fit for the challenges of the 21st Century. This fitness trend does not translate into the building of strong national teams, but rather in fitting sports into a rhetoric about life style and grandness. The diverse sports cities are but one example.
The paper argues that the connection between already established signifiers with high class sports images serves a dual purpose: First that it helps to draw international sports community to region, in spite of its sports-unfriendly climate and, second, to keep up the symbolic value of the numerous extremely expensive architectural sites with branding qualities but without social substance.

Paper presenter: Luca Ciabarri (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology (Halle), "Dubai style: the resonances of Gulf’s Grandeur along the trading link Dubai-Somaliland"

“Once they were coming to our coasts to buy goods – they were coming even to buy bones”; “If you go back just 30 years ago, Dubai was like us, a desert and some trade. Why shouldn’t we become like them again?”
These and similar observations – of course exaggerated under various respects – are the kind of comments that I’ve frequently collected from Somaliland businessmen about Dubai. They blend together a sense of admiration and envy towards the thriving trading post that they regularly frequent or where they live in. And they also articulate a set of resonances related to Dubai economic and evocative power in the region. As far as north-west Somali coast is concerned, such resonances draw upon a dense web of exchanges between Dubai and Somaliland. On the bases of a massive immigration to the oil-rich Arabic countries since the 1970s and before and building upon the consequent flow of remittances back to Somaliland and upon long-term and intensifying trade relationships, Dubai since the late 1980s and to a greater extent after the collapse of the Somali state in the early 1990s, became a central economic post for any Somali region. It is the place from where many of the imported good Though the Somalilanders’ presence in Dubai is relatively marginal and invisible – their trading companies occupy buildings in Deira and in the central souks and many of them reside in Ajman or Sharjah – in Somaliland it is possible to notice several real and symbolic signs referring to Dubai. Here, these signs are for instance instrumental in articulating imaginaries of success and future and in setting a possible road and agenda for development.
Drawing on fieldwork conducted both in Somaliland and Dubai between 2007 and 2008 under the frame of a research project on “Post-conflict Somaliland: the commercial factor in state building practices and territorial integration. An ethnography of commercial routes”, this paper aims at exploring these signs and connections and their relevance for Somaliland development.
As an aggregate of economic resources and symbolic power, Dubai is a form of power that extensively transcends its own borders. The way it exercises this power is through resonances where at certain points in time and space it builds a “density” and a “factuality” through which local actors can refer to or draw resources from in order to carve out their own agency and accumulating their own forms of symbolical and economic power in the places where they live. This is precisely what the businessmen do in Somaliland operating along the trading line which intensively connects their country to Dubai.

Paper presenter: Delfina Serrano (CCHS-CSIC, Spain), "The Raha beach waterfront project in Abu Dhabi"

The Al Raha beach water front project is being developed by ALDAR properties, an Abu Dhabi based property development, investment and management company with a vision on "establishing Abu Dhabi as the United Arab Emirates' most dynamic, forward thinking real state market by creating unique and prestigious developments that can be used as a benchmark for quality". The company promotes "attractive, sustainable and environmentally friendly communities" within a general commitment to "building the nation".
According to ALDAR properties, Al Raha beach water front will become the "ultimate water city", a "great Arabian water city" and "one of the greatest waterfront cities in the world" allowing about 120.000 people to live in it. This Venice of the dessert has also been designed to meet business, tourism and recreational purposes, and is expected to occupy a surface of 500 hectares extending eleven kilometers along the coastal waters to the East of downtown Abu Dhabi. It will comprise eleven precincts that will be interconnected through a net of water ways in which transportation will be possible, among other means, by fast catamarans, ferries and water taxis.The transportation routes communicating the different precincts will be connected to a pedestrian network that -the developers say- will enhance social exchange. In fact, the Al Raha beach waterfront is the first urban development project in which non-UAE nationals will be able to buy real state property within Abu Dhabi. Rail and Tested against the background of the UAE’s history, the country’s traditional relationship with the sea and its present physical an environmental conditions, the above mentioned facts render almost rhetorical the question of whether or not Al Raha beach waterfront project can be treated as a case of hyperreality. In my paper I will further elaborate on those elements in the project that fit into the categorization of hyperreality, resorting to models of analysis already put forward by scholars such as Jean Baudrillard or Umberto Ecco. I will subsequently address the project’s functionality to attract national and foreign investors, to foster consumerism and to convey a series of symbolic messages that speak of current cultural developments in the country and of its aspirations at the international stage. This will be done through an examination of texts and images describing the project in brochures, videos, press releases and through in situ monitoring the workings’ progress

Paper presenter: Christian Steiner (University of Mainz), "Simulated Urbanity: the Hyperrealisation of Urban Development in Dubai"

Large-scale waterfront development projects, iconic buildings, gated communities and shopping malls are shaping the urban development in Dubai in the last few years. Other Emirates and Gulf States are copying this development path. Referring to the theories of Soja, Baudrillard and Bourdieu the paper interprets these new phenomena as being part of a postmodern urban devel-opment. However, Dubai is exceptional due to the unique scale of its projects which are dominating the whole city and shaping its international image. In fact, the new development projects do not only construct a new hyperreality of the Orient as they do largely lack historical and cultural em-beddedness. Moreover, they characterize a postmodern urbanisation process which lacks a mod-ern predecessor. Consequently, instead of transforming the modern city, the new postmodern de-velopment projects create an almost totally postmodern urban environment. As materialized sym-bolic capital the new privately owned developmen

Paper presenter: Steffen Wippel (Centre for Modern Oriental Studies (ZMO), "Between Reality and Hyperreality: Port and Tourism Development in Oman (with Special Reference to Salalah)"

To prepare for the post-oil era, Gulf countries are looking for alternative economic activities and sources of income. Especially Dubai is well known as a place where plenty of immaterial and virtual activities are located combined with postmodern architectural and infrastructural projects, often creating hyperreal worlds.
Oman, on the one hand, has been fascinated by the recent success of its northern neighbour, on the other hand, it distances itself from his exaggerations and tries to follow a more modest, steady and sound development path. Its 1995 "Vision Oman 2020" emphasises economic diversification and integration into the global economy. Port development was an important issue, and according to the five-year plan 2001-05, tourism became another sector to be developed. Since then new ports have been constructed or are in an advanced stage of planning, and industrial and commercial free zones are being created. Large integrated tourism projects, including residential areas and complementary infrastructure, have begun to be set up recently. The long relatively unknown Sultanate has also been quite successful over the last few years in branding and marketing itself as a production place, trade hub and tourist destination which not only offers (post)modern facilities, but also displays a deep histor
So "real" activities and "hard" infrastructure, although less and less attached to human work, mix with hyperreal features, which include "traditionalised" tourist sites and themed (e.g. Mediterranean-style or allegedly "Oriental") tourism projects - both are, however, virtually unlinked to concrete geographical places. The paper will look at the gradation, the interpene¬tration and the mutual influence of these realities and hyperrealities. Their placelessness vs. their use in "selling" places will be considered, too. Approaches to hyperreality and to postmodern cities by authors like Baudrillard, Eco or Soja offer conceptual backgrounds. Further reference will be made of the idea of "non-lieux" developed by Augé.
Special attention will be given to the development of the city of Salalah, in Oman's Southern Dhofar region, which the central government had neglected for a long time. Now, it is opening up to the outside world with a new container port approaching the world's 20th rank in throughput, a new international Free Zone and new tourist projects that play a central role in regional development strategy and branding Oman internationally.

Paper presenter: Denis Bocquet (Technische Universität Dresden / CNRS-LATTS), « The Dubai Metro between splintering urbanism and the global crisis”

In "Splintering Urbanism: Networked Infrastructures, Technological Mobilities and the Urban Conditions" (Routledge 2001), Stephen Graham and Simon Marvin argued that the development of infrastructures of public utilities in a neo-liberal context had introduced a major change in the evolution of urban societies. Instead of connecting different layers of society through a common access to utilities, infrastructures in this context tend to serve only a limited part of the population. They are not an instrument of welfare anymore, but rather instrumental in the consolidation of social and spatial frontiers within cities. This thesis has been the object of many discussions in the last 10 years, and the case of the Dubai metro might help reflecting on the role of mobility infrastructures in the making of the urban complexity: the Dubai metro has all the basic features of the splintering urbanism tool, in a city which is often seen itself as a caricature of the neo-liberal urban dream. But between early visions and the global crisis of 2009, many elements also allow to discuss the very concept of splintering urbanism, and to confront many trends in present urban theory about the Arab Gulf hyper realistic urban scene.