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

Urbanization

Sami Tayeb examines how a multitude of privately financed urban development projects in the Israeli-Occupied West Bank are creating a form of colonization that parallels that of Israel. Unlike Israel’s settler-colonial urbanism, however, this form of urban colonization is driven by global, and particularly neoliberal, capitalism, as it consumes Palestine’s remaining agrarian land at an unprecedented rate.

In a wide-ranging interview, Hiba Bou Akar shows how urban planning is being used to turn some neighborhoods and urban peripheries in the Middle East into militarized frontier zones between competing political, military and sectarian organizations guided by the dystopian logic of a war yet to come.

Operation Sur cannot be reduced to the destruction of an old walled city. Beyond the deaths, destroyed buildings and compensation payments, what has been lost are the potentialities—the wish-images—that Kurds imbued in Sur and with which they defended it.

“Mosul Will Never Be the Same”

In June 2014, the self-declared Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) launched an assault on the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. Within days, the Iraqi army collapsed and ISIS proclaimed its sovereignty over the city. An anonymous blog named Mosul Eyebegan reporting on life under ISIS rule. With details about daily life alongside social and historical analysis, Mosul Eye documented the transformations that ISIS imposed on Mosul—including the expulsion of Shiites and Christians, the enslavement of Yazidis, strict gender segregation, rape, torture and executions—as well as the impact of air strikes by the US, Turkish, and Iraqi militaries.

Israel’s settler-colonial project has been premised on a set of racial and spatial assumptions that require the dispossession—even the elimination—of the native Palestinians. Over the seven decades of Israeli rule in Jerusalem and throughout historic Palestine, the state has produced abiding landscapes of loss for Palestinians, while enabling mass Zionist settlement on lands and in homes wrested from the indigenous population.

Since 2011, violence in Syria has worsened the widespread displacement of people in the Middle East and destroyed several cities. The images of displaced Syrian families fleeing to Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon broadcast around the world had a haunting resonance. Archival photographs of Armenian refugee camps in Aleppo from one hundred years ago are today echoed by images of Syrian refugee camps across the southern Turkish border. Bourj Hammoud is widely regarded as Beirut’s Armenian neighborhood, built by survivors of the Armenian genocide of 1915–1919. This densely populated city has seen ethnic cleansing, transnational migration, war and displacement. Sadly, the Syrian crisis is a new chapter. Yet Bourj Hammoud has again become a place where people regroup and reimagine home, advocate for their families and wonder whether they might ever be able to return home.

In fall 1978, Abadan’s oil refinery workers played a decisive role in the Iranian Revolution by joining the national mass strikes. Just two years later, Abadan and the adjoining port city of Khorramshahr were shelled by the invading Iraqi army and effectively destroyed during the Iran–Iraq war (1980–88), which scattered their population of over 600,000 as refugees across Iran and abroad.

The Gezi Park protests were the first time that the AKP faced significant public resistance from below to their urban transformation project. The term “below” is important because the AKP’s legitimacy rests on the claim that it enjoys widespread support from below. The protests, however, revealed an alternative “below,” one that shared nothing with the AKP. Furthermore, the site of the protests—Taksim Square, Gezi Park and the surrounding streets and buildings—was the very place from which many of the pro–AKP religious upper-middle-class families of Başakşehir were fleeing to protect their morality. Encountering this forgotten “below” in Taksim Square held tremendous meaning for the AKP, as that encounter resulted from Erdoğan’s plan to destroy the place’s symbolism and replace it with new symbolism.

Alexandria, City of Dispossession

“In Egypt, provincial cities do not exist.” This statement by French geographer Eric Denis eloquently summarizes the relationship between Cairo—the capital city—and the rest of the country. Little seems to exist beyond Cairo, except perhaps Alexandria. In the late...

Amman has absorbed influxes of refugees for decades, each perpetuating political and cultural tensions in a country already fragmented by tribal allegiances. While these divisions provide an easy scapegoat as to why the country continues to struggle financially, politically and developmentally, state policies and practices are at least as responsible as external pressures for exacerbating Jordan’s domestic troubles. Most significantly, the state’s deregulated planning practices and its haste in undertaking neoliberal policies to attract transnational capital investment have resulted in numerous failed development projects. Instead of fast-tracking projects that might bring economic growth, deregulated planning practices have produced a series of incomplete and poorly planned projects, among them the Jordan Gate Towers and the Limitless Towers.

“The Dubai of…”

Over the last several decades, and particularly after upheavals in Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, much of the urban center of gravity of the Middle East has shifted to the Gulf. To understand this trend and its consequences, MERIP editorial committee member Jillian Schwedler interviewed Yasser Elsheshtawy in Philadelphia on June 4, 2018.

The transformation of the Moroccan city tells a broader story about the transformation of the state and the economy through neoliberal reform. Economic liberalization promised to undermine the power structures of authoritarian states, but in fact authoritarianism has persisted in new globalized forms.

The Urbanization of Power and the Struggle for the City

The Middle East is one of the most urbanized and urbanizing regions in the world. The proliferation of urban megaprojects, skyscrapers, gated communities, retail malls, airports, ports and highways continues unabated. From 2006 to 2016, cement production almost...

Editorial (Summer 2018)

The articles in this issue of Middle East Report illuminate some of the sources of displacement, dispossession and loss found throughout urban areas in the contemporary Middle East, which often produce the very population outflows that militarized border zones seek to...

Municipal Matters

Although the 1997 election of Mohammad Khatami as president of Iran is widely considered a political watershed, an intriguing question remains unanswered: Why did such a grassroots intervention not occur earlier? What had changed to unite Iran’s heterogeneous interests and constituencies at this particular historic moment? [1]

Relocation and the Use of Urban Space in Cairo

Sahar was only ten years old when her family, along with almost 5,000 Egyptian working-class families, was relocated from her neighborhood in the center of Cairo to a public housing project in al-Zawiya al-Hamra, in northern Cairo. The relocation project was part of Sadat’s open-door policy (infitah), which strived to “modernize” the country by accelerating economic growth, promoting private investment, attracting foreign and Arab capital, and enhancing social development. [1] Sadat’s new policy brought about many changes in the urban environment aimed at creating a “modern” city to meet the emerging demands of investors and tourists.

Giza Spaces

Itfaddalu ma‘ana,” Umm Ibrahim shouts across the alley to the next roof, “please eat with us.” “Shukran, Allah yikhalliki,” promptly comes the answer from Abu Samia and his wife, “thank you, may God keep you.” It is a sunny Friday afternoon in December, and both families have decided to eat lunch on their rooftops where Umm Ibrahim and Umm Samia keep their chickens. [1] Behind Umm Ibrahim’s house, two palm trees sway in the breeze, many neighbors are napping and the children, who often fill the alley with their games, are quiet. As the afternoon progresses, the sun sets behind one of the upscale 25-story apartment blocks further down the street.

Urban Planning and Growth in Cairo

Descriptions of Cairo are dominated typically by the stark imagery of an extremely concentrated population mass near asphyxiation. From this perspective, one need look no further than its inhabited rooftops, its streets choked with traffic and pollution and its crowded cemeteries, where the living reside with the dead — all confirm the most obvious symbols of overpopulation. Indeed, Cairo has a population concentration that makes it, along with Bombay, one of the densest metropolitan areas in the world. Despite the rapid modernization of urban infrastructure (subway, elevated highways, sewer and telephone systems), Cairo appears to be stricken by disorder and incoherence. To many, Cairo evokes all the dangers of urban excess, inextricable chaos and spiraling poverty.

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