Competition Between Middle Eastern Cities: The Evolving Arab city by Elsheshtawy

Competition Between Middle Eastern Cities: The Evolving Arab city by Elsheshtawy

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‘Middle East’- a term coined by the British referring to the area between Britain and India. Elsheshtawy in his book - ‘The Evolving Arab city’ states that the Arab world has always been seen through the eyes of a foreigner – a land of mosques, slum like developments and terrorists; a land of skyscrapers, malls and excessive consumerism. Elsheshtawy points out that the whole of the Arab world cannot be categorized as such-there are the traditional cities and the modern cities. Cities such as Amman and Beirut have a rich traditional history and cannot be expected to develop detached from its traditional roots. Dubai and Doha on the other hand are unburdened by history and free to create a new identity. Unfortunately the latter cities have become the model cities and other cities must aspire to become like them. This created a competition between the cities.
The book ‘The Evolving Arab city’ comprises of a set of articles written by eight contributors. These authors are mainly professors who teach at Universities or are practicing planning professionals who have written about the cities they are affiliated to i.e. either born and continued to reside for a long time or have been living in these cities for a considerable duration of time. The book is divided into two parts grouped based on the socio-cultural and geographic marker- the struggling cities and the emerging cities. Contributors to the struggling cities have followed a political approach talking about governments and citizens that overlooked the importance of historical sites leading to its negligence and destruction. Contributors in the second section have adopted a different tone. Even though there seems to evoke a positive response to the modernization there also seems to be an ironic ring to it.
In the first chapter, Elsheshtawy introduces the Arab world to its readers – he talks about a great ‘rift’ that exists between the Arab countries which only seems to have widened by the creation of the Gulf Cooperation Council (1981) or the GCC. These countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, oman and UAE- basically the oil rich countries) have made a unified economic agreement for rapid development and high quality governance thus ensuring a sharp increase in foreign investment inflow. He then goes on to talk about how these developments are catered only to the rich and wealthy both foreign and national and how such rapid developments have led to many issues such as illegal immigrants within these countries.

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Hence, in light of these issues Elsheshtawy has asks his contributors to address the individual cities. Each chapter that follows have a structured format with an introduction to the city followed by its history (traditional cities) or past (before modernity -modern cities) , misconceptions and ideologies , current and future planning strategies and concluded with the effect of the city on its people ,the region and the world. The authors talk about the migration patterns (Dubai and Doha), price of petrol and natural gas, effects of recent wars (Beirut and Kuwait) and the power of the real estate developers - how these developers make all the profit while the government municipalities are busy acquiring private land. The authors also talk about the incomplete information that are fed to the people, for example – the only form of information about the Abdali Project in Amman are the bill boards with caption such as “ Let the Shopping begin” and a beautiful view of the plaza.

Part 1: The struggling Arab city – Amman (Jordan)Ch. 3, Beirut (Lebanon) Ch. 4 and Rabat (Morocco) Ch.5 - talks about the traditional cities of the gulf countries. The chapter starts off introducing Amman as a city developed from numerous waves of displacement and migration of merchants since the 1870s. Hence the local residents do not acknowledge it as a city and would not claim it as their origin. Due to this outlook many of the traditional settlements, mosques and tea houses were destroyed. The chapter further continues to talk about the efforts that are being made by the local government to bring about a change in the outlook and develop the existing dwellings and alleyways by converting it to public place of interest.

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