Luna Khirfan, ed. Order and Disorder: Urban Governance and the Making of Middle Eastern Cities (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2017).
Jadaliyya (J): What made you write this book?
Luna Khirfan (LK): I was frustrated by the lack of resources on the contemporary urban governance of cities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Apart from Seteney Shami’s edited volume published in 2001, there was an obvious dearth of theoretical and empirical research on urban governance in MENA cities. Upon receiving a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) to investigate the “Middle East New Urban Landscape,” and in collaboration with Columbia Global Centres, Amman, I held a book workshop in Amman. I invited several scholars whose work underscored issues related to governance in Middle Eastern cities, and in particular, I was interested in involving scholars and researchers at local universities and institutions in the Middle East. As with any project, the group evolved over the years, and unfortunately for an array of reasons, the work of several of the local scholars who were initially invited to the book workshop eventually did not appear in the final edited volume.
J: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does the book address?
LK: In simple terms, the book investigates the interactions among the state, the market, and civil society—the three constituents of social order in the urban governance scheme. In more elaborate terms, the book identifies an “urban governance conundrum” that ensues from the interactions among these three actors in the context of MENA cities, and specifically from: the tension between the authoritarian state’s technologies of power against the push back by civil society’s technologies of citizenship; the accordance between the regional market’s economic push and pull factors and the state’s neoliberal policies; and the conflict between the exclusionary market approaches and civil society’s agency. The book is accordingly divided into three parts, each of which tackles one aspect of this governance conundrum between: the state and civil society; the state and the market; and the market and civil society.
J: How does this book connect to and/or depart from your previous research?
LK: I have always been intrigued by Middle Eastern cities, whether it is their architecture and urban form, their complex socio-economic and cultural landscapes, or the nuances of their urban politics. This work came as a natural progression. In fact, I recall that as a Visiting Fellow at Columbia Global Centers in Amman during a sabbatical in 2010, I was conducting research on the mobility of planning knowledge between Middle Eastern cities like Amman and Abu Dhabi and Canadian cities like Toronto and Vancouver when the Arab Spring Uprisings started. In Amman at the time, several of the demonstrations and activism were geared toward issues directly related to urban planning. That’s when I started asking the questions that triggered this research project. I wanted to understand the web of relationships that constitutes urban politics in MENA cities. I was, and still am particularly interested in civil society’s multi-layered, nuanced, and often not-so-nuanced agency and its impacts on the urban landscapes of cities in the MENA region. For example, Jabal el-Natheef in Amman, Jordan seems to have become a hotbed of civil activism, including Ruwwad and Arini’s mapping of the area. Simultaneously, there were other activisms that really intrigued me, such as the citywide protest against a proposed public service like the Bus Rapid Transit.
J: Who do you hope will read this book, and what sort of impact would you like it to have?
LK: I strove to make this book accessible to a larger audience than merely an academic one. For researchers, academics, and students interested in MENA cities, the book continues and expands upon the dialogue started in Shami’s 2001 edited volume. It is my hope that it will stimulate further dialogue and debate that tackles urban politics in MENA. There is definitely more room for this kind of research. In particular, I hope this book prompts local academics and researchers to delve more into urban politics. Moreover, the critical analysis of case studies, particularly from Amman and Cairo, makes the book relevant for planning professionals and policy makers whose reflections on the book’s analyses of Amman and Cairo might impact their practices, whether by gleaning insights from these two cities, or by empowering these professionals to critically reflect on their own practices. Lastly, it is my hope that anyone who is interested in urban development and urban politics in MENA cities would both benefit from and enjoy the book’s contents.
J: What other projects are you working on now?
LK: I am currently working on two projects, both of which underscore Amman’s urban landscape.
The first is a new book that expands on my work on urban governance in Amman. It explores Amman’s unique state of flux, in which the regional political upheavals since the 1920s have continued to generate an influx of (mostly) political refugees (hence, triggering uncertainties with regards to planning and policy-making). To put things into perspective, according to the Jordanian Department of Statistics, of Jordan’s total population of 9.5 million, there are 2.9 million individuals (i.e., 30.6 percent) who are actually not Jordanian citizens (they are labeled in the official statistics as “guests” rather than “refugees”). More importantly, almost half of these “guests” (or 1.44 million non-Jordanians) live in Amman, compared to 2.54 million Jordanian citizens who live in Amman. These large numbers of newcomers to Amman are combined with: uncertainties from regional upheavals, a dearth of resources (natural resources like water, technological resources like transit, and economic resources, since Jordan's primary and secondary economic sectors are non-existent), weak urban governance structures (in-line with the semi-authoritarianism of Jordan's regime), and lastly, a shift toward neoliberal policies in urban planning. Nevertheless, Amman continues to attract incoming refugees and even thrives—often at the expense of other major urban centers in Jordan, like Irbid and Zarqa (Irbid, for example, is closer to the border with Syria, and its inhabitants have strong social, cultural, and economic ties with Syria). Accordingly, this research project explores the causes behind Amman’s resilience, and its ability to continuously transform with the objective of exploring the lessons that Amman may offer for the benefit of other cities around the world that are struggling with the uncertainty of absorbing and integrating refugees.
My other research project is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and focuses on the adaptation of cities to climate change. Titled “The Potential of Daylighting (Deculverting) Urban Streams for Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation and for Place-Making,” this project explores the connections between, on the one hand, urban resilience, climate change mitigation (i.e., strategies that seek to reduce Green House Gas emissions) and climate change adaptation (i.e., interventions in the natural or built environments in response to climate change effects), and on the other hand, ecosystem services (i.e., the benefits of blue and green infrastructure), and ecological design (e.g., the social values of ecosystems, their performance dimensions, and their adaptability). The daylighting (or de-culverting) of the Cheonggyecheon in Seoul, Korea in 2004 brought the practice of daylighting urban streams into the limelight. Yet, there is a dearth of empirical studies with regards to this practice’s potential to provide ecosystem services, to enhance urban resilience, and to improve the public realm.
The dialogue on climate adaptation and mitigation seems lacking thus far from the urban debates in MENA—a region that is particularly susceptible to the impacts of climate change. Indeed, few, if any researchers are exploring the links between climate change and place-making in MENA. This research project will focus on Amman’s Seil neighborhood along with other international case studies like the Cheonggyecheon in Seoul, Korea, and the nearly 160km of de-culverted brooks and streams in Zürich, Switzerland. I investigate the various scales, from the watershed to the detailed urban design, and I connect interventions at these scales to climate change mitigation and adaptation. Throughout, I am interested in how the involvement of the local communities especially with regards to the value they attribute to urban ecosystems including streams.
Excerpt(s) from the Introduction:
Urban governance interactions in MENA
This edited volume investigates the complex interactions that ensue between the state, the market, and civil society in urban governance in MENA. Specifically, it presents urban governance in MENA cities as the conundrum between a triad of interconnected dynamics among these three constituents, as mapped in figure 0.2, which builds on figure 0.1. Figure 0.2 reveals how the political rationality of the authoritarian state, starting with the state, trickles down to the urban governance realm through its technologies of power toward its subjects and its pull strategies toward the market under the neoliberal economic agenda. Civil society ripostes by exercising its technologies of citizenship and by its inclination to participate in urban politics. In turn, market actors deploy their push tactics to establish a footing in the burgeoning economic opportunities under neoliberalism, including real estate, urban services, and urban development. Prompted by self-interest, market actors seek to exclude civil society not only from these economic opportunities, but also from decision–making processes by striking an authoritarian bar-gain with the state – yet again excluding civil society.
The chapters in this volume highlight the dissonance between the authoritarian state’s technologies of power and civil society’s technologies of citizenship under the umbrella of crony capitalism that ensues from colloguing between the state and corrupt market elites. The contradictions underlying these dynamics stem primarily from the authoritarian state’s speciousness – where the state appears to be advancing urban governance, it is in fact generating dissonance between the included disparate select and the excluded majority. Throughout MENA, under neoliberal economic agendas, urban political dynamics bear witness to the associations between authoritarian regimes and market actors. By deploying their technologies of power to support major urban entrepreneurs, authoritarian regimes guarantee not only their own financial gain, but also lend credence to their image as economically progressive and urbanistically avant-garde. Whether in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, or elsewhere in MENA where resources are scarce and production is virtually nonexistent, urban development (especially in the last two decades) has become not only an indicator of modernization and development, but the de facto catalyst for economic development, thus asserting the influence of major urban entrepreneurs. By excluding civil society from the urban governance scheme, and by striking their own bargains with the authoritarian state, market actors further exacerbate the state’s authoritarianism while simultaneously advancing their own self-interest. Examples from MENA abound through initiatives like the Jordan Gate Towers in Amman, the Solidere in Beirut, and, more recently, the Capital Cairo Project. While the authoritarian regimes have been deploying their pre-emptive power and technologies of power to collude with market forces, civil society actors have been deploying their generative power and technologies of citizenship to effect change. Indeed, contrary to assumptions that civil society is apathetic to and lacks awareness of urban politics, public demonstrations in Amman, Beirut, and Cairo against the large-scale development initiatives, inequitable distribution of resources, corruption, and inept urban services, indicate otherwise.
Figure 0.2 The urban governance conundrum in MENA cities
Furthermore, these dynamics shown in figure 0.2 highlight, first, the extent of the autonomy of civil society actors and the nature of their social contract; and, second, the mistrust that civil society actors harbour toward the establishment and the consequences of this mistrust. To begin with, political regimes face the threat of public reactions against urban affairs (whether policies, development, or services). If any lesson has been learned from recent events (e.g., the Arab Spring uprisings) it is that while individual actors might trigger moments of shock, the more politically organized movements are adept at co-opting these moments to their advantage. Tensions over urban political dynamics become particularly precarious in light of the current regional political instability, especially the upsurge of radical extremist factions, who, as their rise and brutality in Iraq and Syria has proven, possess the means to exploit instability effectively. Events in Jordan and Egypt have already demonstrated the increasing influence and reach of Salafi Islam – ultra-conservative puritanical Islamist movements that uphold the implementation of Shari‘a law. Egypt’s al-Nour Party, although only created after Egypt’s 2011 revolution, nonetheless gained nearly a quarter of the parliamentary seats in the 2011–12 elections. Meanwhile, Jordan’s Salafi movement has been rapidly gaining momentum, as evidenced in the violence constantly racking the city of Ma‘an in southern Jordan, which is considered its stronghold, and also in the ascendancy of Jordanian Salafis in the upper echelons of extremist movements like al-Qa‘ida and Da‘esh, also known as the Islamic State (IS). After all, al-Qa‘ida’s founder in Iraq was Jordanian while Da‘esh (IS) was supposedly founded in a jail cell in Jordan. Not only are these ultra-conservative factions capable of co-opting urban political tensions in MENA, their social networks are also proving effective at recruiting to their ranks urban youth who are distrustful of, and disenfranchised by, the establishment due to the high unemployment rates, especially among the educated. Accounts of hundreds of Jordanian youth, often highly educated and from the upper-middle class, who have been recruited to fight with extremist groups in Syria and Iraq, provide cautionary tales.
Furthermore, when individual civil society actors, mistrusting the establishment, channel their generative power to self-organize and contest large-scale urban development projects, they do not always necessarily act in the best interests of the public. At best, they are misled by the dearth of information that is a direct consequence of their exclusion in the first place, while at worst they are motivated by short-term self-interest. For example, as an indication of their lack of knowledge of the BRT project, civil society activists and popular media outlets contesting it wrongly interpreted the term “Rapid” in Bus Rapid Transit as referring to the speed of the bus instead of the frequency of its service. While Amman has – literally – reached a state of gridlock due to the absence of an adequate transit system combined with the proliferation of the private automobile as a status symbol, the BRT project was eventually halted under public pressure. Therein lies the dilemma: the victims of civil society’s mistrust are often the truly public projects like Amman’s BRT that would have provided equitable access to a crucial resource and provided the regime and its corrupt elites with fewer benefits than the glitzy, yet truly controversial, Abdali and Jordan Gate Towers projects. Thus, while citizen action can surely serve to effect change, it is also essential to question the nature of the ensuing change and its consequences.
To delve into these dynamics, the chapters in this book offer a thick description of their respective case studies in Cairo and Amman. The specificity of each context’s nuances has prompted this volume to adopt a cross-national comparative analytical framework that is capable of capturing these multi-layered complexities. Thus far, most research on the manifestations of neoliberal governance forms on an urban scale focuses on western contexts, leaving cross-national comparative research largely uncharted territory (Harding, Wilks-Heeg, and Hutchins 2000). Indeed, with the exception of Beirut, there is a dearth of urban governance studies on MENA cities. Moreover, the coexistence of various actors and their interactions within the same urban political space lends further complexity to the study of urban governance. Hence, the case studies presented in this volume adopt Jon Coaffee and Patsy Healey’s (2003) redefinition of urban governance through a sociological institutionalist perspective. That is, instead of perceiving governance institutions through the lens of structure and policy formation and implementation, this perspective perceives them through the lens of “values, norms and ways of acting which shape the realm of collective action – the relations between citizens, the regulation of individual behaviour in relation to wider social norms and the organisation of projects of collective endeavour” (Healey 2004, 92). This redefinition parallels this volume’s focus on the locality so as to underscore inter-actions as opposed to decisions. Hence, it emphasizes the assemblages that form, and the norms that dictate, how various factions of society interact. The methods deployed in the various chapters also parallel this focus on interactions within the locality. They are there-fore in line with Seteney Shami’s (2003, 61) “ethnography of governance,” which deploys bottom-up research approaches that do not balk at exploring the struggles and conflicts in urban governance or preclude players who are external to the locality (60). The socio-logical institutionalist perspective also warrants investigations that emphasize the “actors, interactive practices, arenas and networks” through an analysis of “the formation and dissemination of dis-courses and practices, the relation between deeper cultural values and specific episodes of governance, and the interaction of the activities of specific actors and wider structuring forces” (Healey 2004, 92). As a result, the thick description adopted in presenting these case studies delves into the local planning cultures in reference to “the collective ethos and dominant attitude of professional planners in different nations toward the appropriate roles of the state, market forces, and civil society in urban, regional, and national development” (Sanyal 2005, 3).
Accordingly, and in reference to figure 0.2, part 1 of this volume delves into the state–civil society interactions that highlight the dynamics between the technologies of power and the technologies of citizenship. Part 1 includes the chapters by Christopher Harker (chapter 1), Elena Piffero (chapter 2), and Luna Khirfan and Bessma Momani (chapter 3).
Christopher Harker’s “Governing Majorities in the Arab World: Urban Life Beyond Neoliberalism” (chapter 1) begins the discussion with civil society. In defining our understanding of “the urban” in MENA, Harker highlights the need for a profound understanding of civil society by advocating “historically and geographically specific” notions that address “majorities” such as religious and tribal net-works. Harker therefore advocates for a paradigm shift away from the neoliberal discourse to depart from a myopic view of “a political imaginary” that limits “the actors and processes (i.e., neoliberalism)” and that leads to “a very limited set of countervailing responses, labelled ‘resistance’” where “[t]he only response possible to the power of ‘neoliberal elites’ is a rejection of such power – to a greater or less extent, or co-option by it” (46) Instead, Harker introduces “three possibilities” that he dubs “majorities,” which serve as “conceptual avenues through which we might begin to engage the practices.” Harker highlights three urban majorities ….