Claire Beaugrand, Amélie Le Renard, and Roman Stadnicki (eds.), "Villes et dynamiques urbaines en péninsule Arabique / Cities and Urban Dynamics in the Arabian Peninsula." Special issue of Arabian Humanities 2 (2013).
Jadaliyya (J): Can you first tell us about Arabian Humanities, and why you chose to publish this collection of essays in this particular journal?
Claire Beaugrand, Amélie Le Renard, and Roman Stadnicki (CB, ALR, and RS): Arabian Humanities is a newly launched, peer-reviewed online journal covering academic research on the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula, in all disciplines of the social sciences (ranging from archaeology to contemporary studies). It builds on the legacy of the Yemeni Chronicles, the journal of the French Center for Archaeology and Social Sciences in Sanaa (CEFAS). However, Arabian Humanities seeks to widen its readership to an international audience. Published in English, French, and Arabic, the journal releases two thematic issues per year and is available through open access. The launching of Arabian Humanities created a new dynamic in the publishing world, as it added a French-based journal dedicated to analyzing this fast-changing region. We wanted to both take part in this momentum and to support it.
(J): Why did you decide to put this special thematic issue together? How did you select the contributing authors?
(CB, ALR, and RS): This special issue resulted from an intellectually fruitful encounter between the three of us at a crucial moment in our research, with each of us coming from a different academic background (i.e., geography, sociology, and political science) and training in France and the United Kingdom. Roman Stadnicki comes from urban studies, with in-depth experience in Yemen. Amélie Le Renard worked on the transformation of hierarchies of gender, class, and nationality in Riyadh through women`s access to public spaces. Claire Beaugrand looked at political dynamics of inclusion and exclusion in Kuwait through the lens of the bidun [stateless persons]. Noting that special issues investigating cities have been scarce during the past years, we decided to share our perspectives and open bridges between French and Anglo-Saxon scholars as well as between various disciplines. We sought to do so through publishing a multi-disciplinary and diverse speical issue on cities.
The process of selecting authors was a rigorous one. We first issued a call for papers, and then selected the most promising abstracts based on their original contribution and anchoring in the field. In addition to the three editors, two external reviewers also participating in assessing the quality of the final papers. “Boom Cities,” a conference that the editors organized in December 2012 along with NYU-Abu Dhabi`s Pascal Ménoret, was crucial to the selection process. Some of the contributors to Arabian Humanities presented their draft papers at the conference, sharing their findings with other scholars in the field as well as getting feedback from the audience. Another collection of articles, drawn from presentations at the conference, will be published in a forthcoming special (2014) issue of City, edited by Pascal Ménoret.
(J): What particular topics, issues, and literatures does the special issue address?
(CB, ALR, and RS): The issue, titled "Cities and Urban Dynamics in the Arabian Peninsula," aims at comprehensively approaching urban dynamics such as town hierarchy, inter-city relations, changing urban policies, and spatial appropriation. It seeks to show the diversity and complexity of these phenomena. The issue distances itself from binary conceptions, such as modernity versus tradition, and/or wealthy nationals versus poor immigrants, in order to concentrate on processes that blur and challenge the boundaries of these simple analytical categories. The purpose is to give a more dynamic and nuanced picture of the urban landscape. We thus prominenatly highlight three processes. First, the demiurgic notion of a boundless urban sprawl in an uninhabited desert environment does not hold true in the region. On the contrary, cities in the Arabian Peninsula are affected by global slowdowns, economic changes, and relocations. As a result, over the past half-century or so, one sees the hierarchy between cities in this region fluctuating and evolving, with previously prominent cities declining and new regional centers developing rapidly. Moving beyond the booming Gulf cities of international standing that are too often in the academic spotlight, the special issue also underscores the so‐called “declining” cities, like Unayza in the heartland of Saudi Arabia (al-Qasim), and emerging middle‐sized cities, like Salalah in Oman and Ras al-Khayma in the United Arab Emirates. Second, urban policies have also shifted away from mega-projects toward environment, heritage, and culture-driven projects, albeit without drastically changing the ways in which regimes in the peninsula differentiate among the population based on class and nationality. Finally, the different categories of city dwellers all contribute to shaping these cities in ways that elude urban policies through their complex belongings, experiences, and social relations.
(J): How do the contributions to this special issue connect to and/or depart from the existing literature on Gulf and Arabian Peninsula cities?
(CB, ALR, and RS): The special issue builds on—much more than in departs—from the fast-growing and fascinating field of urban studies on the Arabian Peninsula. It is indebted to the field’s pioneers, whether in the discipline of history (namely Nelida Fuccaro and Ulrike Freitag), contemporary studies, or those who have used innovative methodologies focusing on the puzzling case of Dubai (like Yasser Elsheshtawy, who mixed architecture with social sciences, and Ahmed Kanna). It also owes a great deal to the recent anthropological works that have contributed to highlighting social hierarchies and differentiated appropriations of fragmented spaces. It thus clearly connects to the works of Andrew Gardner on Manama and Doha, as well as Neha Vora and Pardis Mahdavi on Dubai, to mention only a few. While most of the literature tends to focus on a single case study, our special issue brings together a plurality of contexts. Moreover, it discusses urban issues in capital cities as well as less-known urban issues relevant to so-called peripheral cities. This juxtaposition of several case studies gives a unique regional perspective.
(J): Who do you hope will read this special issue, and what sort of impact would you like it to have?
(CB, ALR, and RS): We are aiming to achieve two objectives. First, within the field of Middle Eastern studies, the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula are only recently emerging as places of interest. So we wanted to fully integrate this region within the broader, better-researched areas. We found that the dynamics at work in this cash-rich part of the world has a lot to offer in terms of renewing the study of cities in the Middle East, particularly as their urban models, but also their short- or long-term inhabitants, travel in the region. Moreover, the largely diverse population of these cities and the way this demographic variety is conceived, regulated, and experienced seems to be of particular interest to a wide audience concerned with global cities.
Second, we hope that providing open access to all articles will help reach a broader academic and professional audience interested in the cities of the Arabian Peninsula. It is a great opportunity for us to highlight the special issue on Jadaliyya, as the portal hosting Arabian Humanities, revues.org, is mostly known in French-speaking academic contexts. We hope that translating the introduction in both languages and combining articles in both English and French will facilitate greater accessibility for many readers.
(J): How do you see this special issue contributing to the field of urban studies in the Arab world and beyond?
(CB, ALR, and RS): Until recently, scholars have often studied the cities of the Arabian Peninsula as exceptional cases in the Arab and wider world. They have emphasized their eccentricity and, in polemic fashion, they have portrayed them as evil centres of unbridled capitalism and speculation, doomed to fail. In reality, many of the phenomena at work in the region—whether land speculation, increasing inequality within and between cities, social marginalization, and urban fragmentation—are rather comparable to what is happening in other global cities, cities that, by virtue of international competition and mimicry, they end up resembling. Our intention was to reinsert the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf in particular into the wider field of urban studies and to avoid falling into the trap of an idiosyncratic analysis, partially constructed by national governments for marketing purposes. However big the hype, the uniqueness of Gulf cities needs to be qualified.
(J): The articles are either in French or in English, and the authors stem from various nationalities. Do you see different “national” schools of thinking and studying Gulf and Arab cities, and if so, how do they complement each other?
(CB, ALR, and RS): Though it is expanding, the field of urban studies in the Arabian Peninsula is not yet large enough to discuss emerging “schools of thought.” Yet, what interested us was the pooling together of various resources, ranging from the heirs of Paul Bonnenfant in French academia, to the well-established German scholarship led by Fred Scholz, to a new generation of promising researchers working not only in European and North American universities but also in the region itself. The latter are united in their ability and will to experience these cities` transformations, and to stay very close to their subjects of study.
(J): What other projects are you working on now?
ALR: I have begun a new research project on multinational professional worlds in Riyadh, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi. I am mainly interested in hierarchies of gender, class, and nationality in private firms there, interviewing many expatriates self-defined as "Westerners." I have an article that will be published in French on competing masculinities in a multinational firm in Riyadh. At the same time, I am currently finishing working on my monograph (Femmes et espaces publics en Arabie Saoudite, Paris: Dalloz, 2011) in English, focused on gender and urban transformations in Riyadh and entitled, A Society of Young Women: Opportunities of Place, Power, and Reform in Saudi Arabia (Stanford University Press, forthcoming).
CB: I am in the process of publishing my research on the bidun in Kuwait titled, Stateless in the Gulf: Migration, Nationality, and Society in Kuwait (I. B. Tauris, forthcoming). This initial work is substantially complemented with a reflection on new “acts of citizenship,” understood as a mode of belonging to alternative forms of making politics that transcend top-down political rights. These acts contributed to redefining relations between nationals and stateless in the aftermath of the 2011 political turmoil in Kuwait. I will be publishing those findings in an article in the Middle East Law and Governance journal. Finally I am embarking on a new research project, very much in its infancy, looking at the role of Gulf investments and policies in the perpetuation of the political landscape in Palestine.
RS: I am currently looking at the overhaul of urban policy incorporating bottom-up urban planning proposals emanating from civil society organizations, in the context of revolutionary Egypt. I am also editing two journals’ special issues on urban studies: one with Built Environment, co-edited with Leïla Vignal and Pierre-Arnaud Barthel, entitled “Arab Cities after the ‘Spring’.” The second, in Egypte-Monde Arabe, is dedicated to “Urbanism and Revolution in Egypt: Decision-Makers, Urban Planners, and City-Dwellers after January 25th.”
Excerpts from Cities and Urban Dynamics in the Arabian Peninsula
From “Beyond the Skyline: Cities in Transformation in the Arabian Peninsula,” by Claire Beaugrand, Amélie Le Renard, and Roman Stadnicki.
Slowdowns, decline, loss of status and reclassification are thus also part of urban dynamics in the Peninsula which are too often seen only through the only prism of "growth." Sebastian Maisel’s contribution highlights the case of a medium sized town in Central Arabia, ‛Unayza, which is struggling for survival in this era of global cities. Despite the plethora of state services, the city exhibits a profound urban monotony and looks to its past to maintain its identity; the case of ‛Unayza is certainly not an isolated one: the same conclusions could apply to other cities of the Saudi Interior marginalised by new trade routes, such as Abhā or other cities in Oman, like Nizwā or Jahrā in Kuwait. Maisel points out that “although the population has grown, the city [of ‛Unayza] has remained on the sidelines of economic growth and failed to become a strategic location in the country’s development.” Thus, what seemed to be unbridled urban growth instead follows different trajectories
[. . .]
The limits of urban development go beyond hierarchies and the shifting relationships between cities. They also appear in the details of the neighbourhoods, the urban fabric and in the daytoday experience of their inhabitants. Thus, in ‛Unayza, just as in Bahrain and Kuwait, inhabitants complain about the delay in accessing statesubsidised housing. Sebastian Maisel notes that according to the Saudi “National Housing Strategy Plan,” the central region of Qāsim would require 50,000 housing units. This is in line with the work of ‛Umar al-Shihābī in his analysis of the social tensions between nationals and nonnationals seen through the specific prism of the development of housing projects intended for foreigners who, in addition to having access to real estate, obtain longterm resident permits. Aside from housing capacity, the infrastructure and services of cities are being put to the test by demographic pressure, such as the water supply to Riyadh, the electricity supply in Kuwait and issues of traffic jams in Medina. In Bahrain, where population density is amongst the highest in the world, with urban settlement concentrated on the north coast even though it requires land reclamation, awareness of limited resources, such as the lack of public access to the seafront, contributes to political tension centred on issues of redistribution. Indeed, in the fastgrowing suburbs of sprawling conurbations, some neighbourhoods give the impression of relative or even deliberate neglect: the areas of buyūt sha‘biyya (popular housing) housing the bidūns ("paperless") in Jahrâ in Kuwait, or the Shiite "villages" in northeastern Bahrain, which, in spite of the name, form part of the continuous urban fabric, are thus also prey to urban degradation. It is in these marginalized zones that the bidūns rose up in February 2011 and continue to do so. It is also in such areas that, in Bahrain, the youth, claiming an affiliation to the "villages" where they are from (shabāb Bilād al-Qadīm, taḥāluf shabāb Sitra, Ḥarakat shabāb Sanābīs—“the Youth of Bilād al-Qadīm,” “the Alliance of the Youth of Sitra,” “Youth Movement of Sanābīs”), have been clashing with police forces almost daily since the clearing of the Pearl Roundabout in the city center pushed the protest movement into the "suburbs."
[. . .]
Three main strategies emerged from the urban policies currently advocated in the region: the development of an environmental approach to urbanism (Masdar City in Abu Dhabi) as Gulf cities are often singled out because of their high energy consumption; the invention of an urban heritage based on a reconstruction, often ex nihilo, of parts of the ‘traditional’ Arab-Islamic city (creation of the "Heritage Villages" in Doha, Dubai etc.); and finally, the multiplication of urban projects with significant cultural emphasis, like the “Saadiyat island museum” project in Abu Dhabi. Elizabeth Harrington shows that the search for growth opportunities through sophisticated activities has guided the Emir of Abu Dhabi towards choosing culture. But more than a simple architectural challenge, the author reveals that the government is looking to create swiftly a new urban identity, as well as a reputation aimed at foreigners, based on a cosmopolitan outlook and access to international culture.
[. . .]
Governments thus demonstrate the need to fashion a new urban model for the region. Nonetheless, this change of direction in urbanism in no way hinders the mechanisms of social and spatial division that are at work in the towns of the Arabian Peninsula, contrary to what would suggest the urban marketing developed by the municipalities and chambers of commerce and industry, in charge of the international promotion of each city at the local level. In other words, although new urban concepts are appearing, the ways in which urban spaces are treated seem unchanged. Thus, the regeneration of the center of Doha, Nadine Scharfenort tells us, is happening through the expropriation and relocation without compensation of its nonnational inhabitants who had been living in this cosmopolitan neighbourhood for two generations. Similarly, Elizabeth Harrington explains that apart from the principle of select access to the island of Sa‛diyāt excluding lower social classes, its development introduces another principle of segregation between various categories of visitors whose paths are not meant to cross. Steffen Wippel shows that the realisation of the first stages of the new development plan for Ṣalālah (new neighbourhoods and extensive transport infrastructure) contributed to the fragmentation of the second town of the Sultanate of Oman. It created new sociospatial differentiations at the heart of a territory, characterised by its relative homogeneity in the Dhofar regional setting and by the fact that the city has not been at the centre of modernisation policies.
[. . .]
Going beyond centralised approaches to urban policies, some studies show how the different categories of inhabitants contribute to shaping these cities, through their lifestyles, their experiences and their social relations. Whether through anthropology, sociology or geography, these studies demolish the idea that the Peninsula cities are mirages or tricks. Several important pointers emerge from these studies.
Firstly, the ideology of transience does not prevent the emergence of forms of belonging. Although the Gulf States are founded on the exclusion of the majority of immigrants, to ignore all the forms of attachment and anchoring that have emerged over the decades would be to reproduce and reinforce their discourse. In this regard, the work of Neha Vora, devoted to the Indian diaspora in Dubai, opens some interesting avenues by describing types of "urban citizenship" (consumerist, or in terms of belonging to a diaspora group, amongst others) despite the impossibility of obtaining citizenship. Laure Assaf’s analysis, in her article on the corniche of Abu Dhabi, would seem to concur. She describes families of Palestinian, Syrian, Lebanese and Jordanian origin who, by picnicking on the corniche, recreate their own intimate space within the public space, thereby appropriating it. In this way, these families, whose presence in the Emirates often dates back twenty or thirty years, demonstrate their belonging both to the city—to an urban community much larger than that of the nationals—and to a particular group of its inhabitants, the ahl al-Shām (people from Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian territories). The article also addresses the stimulating but littlestudied question of the memory of places that are in a state of constant transformation. The article by Amin Moghadam looks at another dimension in terms of living in these cities, by describing the transnational spaces through which the "Iranians of Dubai" reinvent an imaginary Iran. The history of migrations and exchanges between the two shores of the Gulf predates by far the beginning of the petrol boom, contrary to a widespread idea that the "cosmopolitanism" of these towns is something recent.
Secondly, urban society in the Gulf and in some cities of the Arabian Peninsula cannot be described simply in terms of conflicts between ultra-rich nationals and extremely poor immigrants, contrary to the caricature. The articles in this issue explore in detail some of the models of interaction between class and nationality based on the use of different types of space. On the one hand, within each national group there are diverse and complex situations, as Andrew Gardner has shown in the case of the Indian community in Bahrain, which is divided between the proletariat and entrepreneurs. Thus the status of "Iranian from Dubai" can apply equally to someone who is a national of one of the Emirates or who has European or American nationality, as to someone who has arrived directly from Iran (Amin Moghadam). Recent studies have highlighted the emergence of middle classes composed of nonnational residents, on the one hand, and shown that class relationships also structure the urban society of the "nationals", be they passport holders or stateless, on the other hand. The people who enjoy privileged access to urban space, such as being able to drive around or enter leisure areas, are not only "nationals" but also the "Western" expatriates (Laure Assaf). Studying urban spaces through the uses that shape them makes it possible to determine the way in which large projects are recomposing hierarchies. Thus, whilst being part of urban transformations in terms of privatisation and security, the shopping malls of Riyadh are some of the few spaces accessible to women in the city, all the while continuing to accentuate consumerist norms and contributing to the reinforcement of class hierarchy. The corniche of Abu Dhabi, a public space frequented by very varied categories of inhabitants, is marked by the contrast between its two ends, the Mīnā (port) where labourers from the Indian subcontinent live, and the Marina, with its luxury hotels and shopping malls. These groups cross each others’ ways, but do not develop the same activities and do not socialise together; the poorest are, implicitly or explicitly, excluded from certain spaces: migrant workers, for example are forbidden to enter public beaches in Abu Dhabi (Laure Assaf).
 See, for instance and among others, Yasser Elsheshatwy, Dubai: Behind an Urban Spectacle (London: Routledge, 2010).
 Al-Shihābī, Iqtilā‘ al-Juzūr: al-Mashārī‘ al-‘Aqāriyyah wa Tafāqum al-Khallal al-Sakānī fī Majlis al-Ta‘āwun li-Duwal al-Khalīj al-‘Arabiyyah [Pulling Up the Roots: Real Estate Projects and Understanding the Population Anomaly in the GCC] (Beirut: Markaz Dirāsāt al-Waḥda al-‘Arabiyyah, 2012).
 John Burt, "The Environmental Costs of Coastal Urbanization in the Gulf," paper presented at the Boom Cities Conference, New York University Abu Dhabi, December 2012; Fuad Al Ansar, Public Open Space on the Transforming Urban Waterfronts of Bahrain: The Case of Manama City, (PhD Thesis: Newcastle University, 2008).
 Neha Vora, Impossible Citizens: Dubai`s Indian Diaspora, Durham (Durham: Duke University Press, 2013).
 Andrew Gadner, City of Strangers: Gulf Migration and the Indian Community in Bahrain, (Ithaca: Cornell/ILR Press, 2010).
 Hélène Thiollet, « Nationalisme d`État et nationalisme ordinaire en Arabie Saoudite: la nation saoudienne et ses immigrés», Raisons politiques 37 (2010), 89-101; Neha Vora, Impossible Citizens: Dubai`s Indian Diaspora (Durham: Duke University Press, 2013); Brigitte Dumortier (ed.), «Changement démographique et changement social dans les États du golfe Arabo-persique», special issue of Espaces, populations, sociétés 2 (2012).
 Pascal Ménoret, Racailles et dévots: la politisation de la jeunesse saoudienne 1965-2007, (PhD Thesis in History: Université Paris 1 Pathéon-Sorbonne, 2008); Pascal Ménoret, Joyriding in Riyadh: Oil, Urbanism, and Road Revolt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014); Amélie Le Renard, Femmes et espaces publics en Arabie Saoudite (Paris: Dalloz, 2011); Amélie Le Renard, A Society of Young Women: Opportunities of Place, Power and Reform in Saudi Arabia (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2014).
 Claire Beaugrand., Statelessness and Transnationalism in Northern Arabia: Biduns and State Building in Kuwait, 1959-2009 (PhD Thesis: London School of Economics and Political Science, 2011); Claire Beaugrand, Stateless in the Gulf: Migration, Nationality and Society in Kuwait (London: I. B. Tauris, 2014).
 Amélie Le Renard, Femmes et espaces publics en Arabie Saoudite (Paris: Dalloz, 2011).