Middle East Research and Information Project: Critical Coverage of the Middle East Since 1971

Environment

Masdar City 2020

In February 2020, shortly before the COVID-19 lockdowns, I visited Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). I had not been there in five years.

“Turkey Wants to be Part of the Nuclear Club” An Interview with Can Candan

Kenan Behzat Sharpe spoke with Candan about his latest film project Nuclear alla Turca, a documentary on the history of atomic energy in Turkey, a country on the verge of building its very first nuclear plant despite a growing anti-nuclear movement.

An Interview with Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins

Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins, an assistant professor of anthropology at Bard College, is the author of Waste Siege: The Life of Infrastructure in Palestine (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2020), which won the Albert Hourani Book Award from the Middle East Studies Association in 2020. Tessa Farmer talked to her about her research, the book and her next project.

“Algeria is not for Sale!” Mobilizing Against Fracking in the Sahara

Although Algeria’s 2019 Hirak uprising came as a surprise to many, previous instances of popular mobilization, like the impressive protests against fracking that emerged in several southern Algerian cities in 2014 and 2015, not only highlighted the intersection of political and environmental questions, but also paved the way for peaceful modes of resistance.

The Lost Wetlands of Turkey

Every year around World Wetlands Day on February 2, Turkish news outlets report that the country has lost between 1.3 and 2 million hectares of wetlands since the mid-twentieth century. Since the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923, over 1.3 million hectares of wetlands have been drained and transformed into fields, factories or urban neighborhoods, flooded in large dam reservoirs and irremediably damaged by various infrastructural developments.

Terra Infirma – Dead Sea Sinkholes – A Photo Essay

The colonial vision of terra nullius—unoccupied or empty land—is the epistemological basis of any settler colonial project. A vision of land as empty or null drives the dehumanization of indigenous communities and the violent elimination of existing land claims. A great deal of scholarly attention has been focused on the nullius piece of terra nullis. But what happens when the terra does not behave?

Bird Markets, Artisanal Pigeons and Class Relations in the Middle East

On a dark, empty lot along Garden Street in Amman, Jordan stands an illuminated sign for Victors Café, a subterranean game space advertising pinball, pool and snooker, where pigeon breeders in the know secretly gather every Friday at 9pm for one of the best bird auctions in the capital.

Birth Defects and the Toxic Legacy of War in Iraq

In Iraq, birth defects are a visible embodiment of the enduring toxic legacy of war for future generations and the environment. War and occupation shattered public infrastructures necessary for health and well being, but also triggered cascades of environmental degradation.

Global Aspirations and Local Realities of Solar Energy in Morocco

Morocco’s massive Noor solar power installation in Ouarzazate is celebrated as an important step in the transition to renewable energy. But the benefits are not flowing to all citizens. Rural unrest and other demonstrations of discontent in recent years are piercing the government’s techno-optimism. Long-standing repression, economic marginalization and lack of investment in services or infrastructure as well as water pollution are among the local realities faced by residents.

On Blaming Climate Change for the Syrian Civil War

The idea that the Syrian civil war was partly caused by climate change induced drought is widely repeated and yet deeply flawed. Jan Selby excavates the sources of misleading information and dismantles the simplistic cause and effect argument. Most importantly, he explains the real political and economic reasons behind agricultural crisis in Syria’s northeastern breadbasket region.

Water in the Middle East: A Primer

Water is a prominent topic in discussions about the Middle East. Yet media coverage, policy reports and scholarly works often fall into simplistic accounts of scarcity, imminent crisis and potential water wars. “Water in the Middle East,” a primer in PDF format by Jessica Barnes, offers a valuable introduction to the topic that challenges these dominant narratives.

Global Aspirations and Local Realities of Solar Energy in Morocco

Morocco’s massive Noor solar power installation in Ouarzazate is celebrated as an important step in the transition to renewable energy. But the benefits are not flowing to all citizens. Rural unrest and other demonstrations of discontent in recent years are piercing the government’s techno-optimism. Long-standing repression, economic marginalization and lack of investment in services or infrastructure as well as water pollution are among the local realities faced by residents. Forthcoming in MER 296 “Nature and Politics.”

On Blaming Climate Change for the Syrian Civil War

Jan Selby 09.29.2020

The idea that the Syrian civil war was partly caused by climate change induced drought is widely repeated and yet deeply flawed. Jan Selby excavates the sources of misleading information and dismantles the simplistic cause and effect argument. Most importantly, he explains the real political and economic reasons behind agricultural crisis in Syria’s northeastern breadbasket region. Forthcoming in MER issue 296, “Nature and Politics.”

Birth Defects and the Toxic Legacy of War in Iraq

Kali Rubaii 09.22.2020

In Iraq, birth defects are a visible embodiment of the enduring toxic legacy of war, burn pits, sanctions and other military interventions. War and occupation shattered public infrastructures necessary for health and well being, but also triggered cascades of environmental degradation. Kali Rubaii investigates the consequences for the forthcoming MER issue 296, “Nature and Politics.”

Water in the Middle East: A Primer

Jessica Barnes 09.15.2020

Water is a prominent topic in discussions about the Middle East. Yet media coverage, policy reports and scholarly works often fall into simplistic accounts of scarcity, imminent crisis and potential water wars. “Water in the Middle East,” a primer in PDF format by Jessica Barnes, offers a valuable introduction to the topic that challenges these dominant narratives. Forthcoming in MER issue 296, “Nature and Politics.”

The Campaign Against Coal in Egypt

A campaign opposing coal imports would seem unlikely to attract much attention given the political upheavals and deepening social polarization that Egyptians have witnessed over the past three years. Yet since 2012, a loose coalition of environmental and human rights activists, government officials and voluntary organizations have led a sustained campaign to contest the government’s decision to import coal to supply Egypt’s cement plants. Making use of new and old media, and drawing upon the “Tahrir networks” forged in street protest, the anti-coal coalition challenged government and business assertions that importing coal was the only way to meet Egypt’s energy needs.

Mikhail, Water on Sand

Alan Mikhail, ed., Water on Sand: Environmental Histories of the Middle East and North Africa (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

This fascinating volume provides an excellent overview of how environmental perspectives can enrich Middle East studies, thanks to contributions from leading scholars in the fields of global environmental and Middle East history. Chapters range in time from the medieval to the contemporary periods and in space from the French and Ottoman empires to the borderlands of the Eurasian steppe.

Community Participation and Environmental Change

Cairo — a city home to upwards of 14 million inhabitants — is known to be one of the most polluted cities in the world. Although measures of pollutants in some places in Cairo exceed internationally recognized standards, popular collective action organized around environmental issues is rare. The case of ‘Izbat Makkawi, an industrial area in northern Cairo, and the successful struggle of the residents there to close local lead smelting factories is a reference point regarding possible forms of popular organizing in response to environmental pollution and sheds light on the limits and merits of community participation as experienced within the wider political context in Egypt.

Environmental Conditions in Cairo

In a 1994 assesment of environmental health risks prepared for the US Agency for International Development (USAID), American and Egyptian experts identified three leading environmental health risks for residents of Cairo: particulate matter air pollution, lead and microbiological diseases from environmental causes. The report also identified a number of less serious threats to human health, grouping them as middle, middle/lower, lower and uncertain risks. Ozone air pollution was one of two health risks in the “middle” category. The material presented below is drawn almost exclusively from this report.

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