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

Barcelone, du 19 au 24 julliet 2010


URBAN SPACES OF IDENTITY VERSUS SPACES OF URBAN IDENTITY IN THE ARAB WORLD - 2/2: Urban Spaces of Identity versus Spaces of Urban Identity in the Arab World (040) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED institution: CERAW - Institute of Geography, University of Mainz

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Ala Al-Hamarneh and Nadine Scharfenort

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: Chair: Nadine Scharfenort, CERAW - Institute of Geography, University of Mainz, Germany

Paper discussant: Christopher Parker, University of Ghent

Various urban development projects have been changing the structures and the pictures of the major Arab cities in the last decade. The scale and scope of the projects vary from restoration and renovation of medieval urban heritage (Cairo, Damascus, Marrakesh) or re-planning and re-constructing of city centers (Beirut) to such large scale projects and plans that develop new urbanities (New Cairo, Dubai, Abu Dhabi). The urban re-construction processes are not predominantly products of rulers’ visions and architectural visualizations but rather are outcomes of economical, political and social dynamics and interactions. The question of city/urban identity is highly addressed in all these plans and projects; especially the notions of ‘modernity’, ‘globalism’, ‘Orient’, ‘progress’ and ‘heritage’ are frequently used and out-lined. The need for urban infrastructural innovation and development is embedded in the highly speculative economy of construction, the shifts in the political structures, the state governance, the expansion of the GCC construction capital, the increasing social gaps and the rising intraregional and interregional migration. The global cultural domination of the North American city planning and image as well as its local pioneer modifications in Dubai, Riyadh and Kuwait City (shopping malls, gated communities, transit and by-pass highways, commodification and museumification of cultural heritage, ethnic segregation, privatization of public spaces) are challenging the urban heritage and the social fabrics of the Arab city. Urban spaces are supposed to present the identity of a city and to reflect the collective identity of the city’s main social groups. The up-down practices of planning and implementing urban developments in the Arab world generally do not include public participation and democratic mechanisms of design making. Established and emerging social groups are loosing their ‘rooted’ urban spaces in favor of huge reconstructions. The new developed urbanities are lacking the ability to deliver spaces of alternative belonging. The cities’ urban spaces are becoming more fragmented, ‘exchangeable’ and less authentic. In the context of globalization and post-modernity, partially, similar phenomena may be noticed in democratic industrialized countries. Nevertheless, the question of scale, intensity, participation and socio-economic standards gives the developments in the Arab world a different character. The panel includes eight papers dealing with factors and backgrounds of urban design, governance of urban planning, spatial reflections and interactions of identities, urban presentations and images in the Arab worlds as well as papers dealing with theoretical aspects of spatial identities in general.

Paper presenter: Fouad Marei, University of Durham, UK, "Beirut twenty years later: renegotiated urban spaces of identity "
With the end of the 15-year-long civil war in Lebanon, many hoped Beirut would regain its position as the cosmopolitan, multi-sectarian ‘Paris of the Middle East’. Twenty years later however, the society seems more divided than hopeful peace-makers had hoped and the fault lines are evidently multiplying. Nevertheless, the fault lines between the different communities in Beirut are far from static. With each ethno-sectarian – or confessional – community living a developmental path of its own, the boundaries separating the various communities are in a state of constant renegotiation – sometimes violent, other times not. The evolving and renegotiated boundaries themselves are far from rigid barriers preventing the ‘invasive’ expansion of one community at the expense of another.
The renegotiation of boundaries between different confessional communities in Beirut is therefore reflective of the heterogeneous patterns of emigration, employment, wealth-creation and upward mobility within each of the communities. The diverse political economies, socio-political cultures and national narratives of each community are therefore reflected in the expansion of certain neighbourhoods and the contraction of others. The visual representations (be they mosques, flags or murals and graffiti) are perhaps a clear indication of the renegotiation of boundaries and the expansion of one ‘urban space of communal identity’ into that of another.
This proposed paper/chapter will explore the expansion of the Shiite neighbourhoods at the expense of Sunni and Christian neighbourhoods in relation to the patterns of emigration and the political economy of the various communities. The paper will focus on the Shiite neighbourhoods of Zoqaq El-Balat and El-Basta El-Fawqa in central Beirut as well as on certain quarters of Dahiyeh, Beirut’s Southern Suburb.

Paper presenter: Leila Vignel, Oxford University, UK, "Consuming the city: New actors, interests and struggles in the making of the "globalised" Damascus "
Over the last decade, the urban fabric of Damascus has been undergoing important changes in the context of rapid urban growth and of the implementation of reforms linked to economic liberalisation. The urban space of Damascus has become a playing field for new actors and/or new economic and political interests. For the growing private sector, investing in the city has become one of the landmarks — and symbols — of success. In the meantime, Arab groups development strategists have targeted Damascus as the next frontier to conquer. Big high-end projects — residential, commercial and office buildings — have been announced over the last five years, although most of them are still at a preparatory/construction stage. These changes have been made possible by the fact that, after decades of tight state control, the authorities have started selling numerous public plots and have authorised the development of projects on public, private and sometimes waqf assets. In the same spirit, the old city, considered as unfashionable since the beginning of the twentieth century, seems to be undergoing a sort of revival: high-end restaurants and hotels have multiplied over the last few years and new public interventions seek to accompany what can be described as a process of commodification as well as of privatisation of the city. At the same time, various forms of resistance have emerged, in order to oppose some of these projects, emanating from a variety of stakeholders of the urban space, without however connecting (yet).
Based on two examples, this presentation will discuss how liberalisation and insertion in the global system are transforming the urban space of Damascus a place and an object of new economic, political and symbolic struggles.

Paper presenter: Ala Al-Hamarneh, University of Mainz, Germany "Heliopolis for the Neoliberals?: The New Cairo as an Urban Space of Identity "
In the pick of British colonial global hegemony, in the first decade of the 20th century, the “Sun City – Heliopolis” was established in the desert to the northeast from Cairo. Under the patronage of the Belgian Baron Empain and the organization and planning of the Heliopolis Oasis Company a new satellite city for the British and other European upper class was established in Egypt. The new urban community demonstrated, reflected and reproduced the socio-political hierarchy of power relationships in colonial Egypt; on the one hand, by keeping the social and geographical distances between the “European” and the “Arab Muslim” Cairo; on the other hand, by establishing boarder lines between the different socio-ethnic groups inside Heliopolis itself (British, Greek, Armenian, Syrian-Lebanese etc. quarters). The housing area for the British nationals was the most representative and the less representative areas were reserved for the “Muslim” workers and Nubians, while the Armenians and Greeks gained “middle positions” in the urban space. Later on, various colonial dominated and determined urban spaces were established in (Zamalek, Garden City) and around (Maadi) Cairo.
Similar urban developments, though of different scale and socio-political backgrounds, were starting to boom in Cairo Metropolitan Area (CMA) in the last decade of the 20th century as well as in other parts of Egypt (Marina at Mediterranean coast, El-Gouna at the Red Sea coast, multiple gated communities along the Desert Road). The impact of these developments became clear in the first decade of the 21st century, where certain phenomena of socio-spatial in/exclusions are redefining the urban space. The new urban development of New Cairo can not but to draw parallels to the 100 years earlier development of Heliopolis; a new socio-political class is establishing its own urban space. The globalized neoliberal elite of the Mubarak era is repositioning itself spatially in the socio-spatial fabric of CMA.
Heliopolis is known in Arabic as “New Egypt, misr el-gedida” and the new urban development to the north-east of Cairo is called “el-qahirah el-gedida” (New Cairo). Beyond the obvious linguistic similarity, the idea of social superiority, political power and wealth dominates the geographic place by physical constructions (villas, golf courses, shopping malls, private schools etc) and by symbolic elements (Mubarak Police Academy, gated communities etc.). The new campus of the American University in Cairo and the campus of the German University in Cairo underline the elite character of the area.
The paper discusses four aspects of the development of New Cairo;
First, to which extend this urban development reflects a physical, behavioural and political “exodus” of the neoliberal elite from “old” Cairo. Second, to which extend the social and political distances are increasing between the neoliberal elite and the “people” of Cairo. Third, to which extend the increasing socio-spatial segregation is contributing to the deterioration of the infrastructure of the city of Cairo. Fourth, how this segregation is reshaping the transportation infrastructure in/around Cairo and the processes of beautification and renovation in the city.

Paper presenter: Annemie Vermaelen University of Ghent , Belgium "Spatial fantasies and techno-government: rearranging landscape and identity in the Wadi Araba "
As Foucault remarked, “Space is fundamental in any form of communal life; [and to] any exercise of power.” Starting from this insight, my project maps power relations in and through the Wadi Araba, a semi-arid area stretching between the Red and Dead Seas, and spanning the border between Jordan and Israel. The point is to highlight points of actual and potential struggle over the representation of places and populations as plans proceed apace for a radical redevelopment of the Wadi Araba, and to consider what these representational struggles might tell us about how discourses of nature, necessity and culture are deployed to de-politicize contemporary projects of development and capital accumulation.
Typically, the Wadi Araba is presented as an empty space. The people who live there—when they are taken into account at all—are viewed as living heritage: quaint relics of a bygone era. In recent years, however, several mega-projects have been envisioned for the Wadi Araba. Primary is the Red-Dead Water Conveyer, a project that—besides restoring water levels in the Dead Sea—would generate hydroelectric power and enable water desalinization. This could in turn enable the emergence of new cities housing 100-200,000 people, agricultural transformation, industrial development and mass tourism. In short, the seeming emptiness of the Wadi Araba makes it possible to imagine the blueprint of a particular modality of government and development introduced free from the gaze of history and contentious politics. Capitalist development is presented as a force capable of conserving both nature and culture.
Drawing on ethnographic study in the Wadi Araba this paper questions these assumptions. Drawing on Foucault’s remark cited above, my first concern is to counter the representation of the Wadi Araba as empty, and to show what difference this makes. Second, drawing on Foucault’s insight that “power is everywhere because it comes from everywhere,” the paper will also advance a (bio)politicized reading of engagement by the Wadi Araba’s inhabitants in the face of impending change.