Urban citizenship in the Middle East is a virtual space bringing together research focusing on life and politics in the city in the middle east and on ways in which urban citizenship is enacted in them. Initial posts focus on İstanbul, Damascus, Beirut and Kuwait City – cities characterised by their internal diversity, yet markedly different from each other.
Urban subjectivity and the question of political agency: where does ‘the People’ live?
The Arabic terms Al-Sha‘b (the people) and al-Quwwa al-Sha‘biyya (popular forces) have been used in particular political contexts since the era of anticolonial struggle, and more recently during the Arab Spring, which have made them central to the political and urban topographies of most Arab societies. The terms Al-Sha‘b and al-Sha‘biyya have been, in different instances, used to distinguish parts of the population from the colonial establishment and its local representatives during the anti-colonial or national liberation struggles, and, more recently, from the (usually corrupt) dominant elites.
the notion of urban subjectivity
The city is a complex organism drawing its energy and vitality on a multitude of intricate interrelations, synergies, solidarities, frictions. It is these diverse and multiple layers and personalities that make the city complicated and difficult to study. Resorting to ‘objective’ means in order to study the city, from identifying quantifiable patterns and analyzing datasets of numbers and values has for long been a dominant mode of engaging with the city and trying to decipher its secrets. In their Blackwell City Reader essay “Writing the City”, Preston and Simpson-Housely discuss the hitherto underestimated importance of the human metropolitan experience as a means of capturing the elusive complexities of the urban setting.
Kuwait City and its fragments
Originally a small fishing and pearl diving settlement, Kuwait City became a key point in the East India Company sea routes to India and the east coast of Africa in the 18th century. The affluence brought about by the discovery of oil in the 20th century set in motion a dramatic transformation of the Persian Gulf emirate and Kuwait City whose population rose from 62,627 in 1950 to a staggering 3,115,000 in 2021. Kuwait’s gas and oil extraction industry and the service economy that emerged, relied on the import of foreign workers whose number increased dramatically over the years from nearly 31 percent of the population in 1957, to 70 percent in 2022.
Urban Kuwait: Revisioning and Rewriting the City from Below
The development of Kuwait City’s urban agglomeration – home to 3 million inhabitants – 71.2 percent of the country’s population – has been impacted by the discovery of oil in 1938. The move towards a hydrocarbon-extraction and export economy prompted the rewriting of Kuwait’s social contract. As citizenship became the key to benefiting from Kuwait’s wealth, a complex system of differential inclusion and exclusion was devised to identify those entitled and the type and extent of entitlement. Tiered citizenship, gender inequalities, class differentials, a large stateless population (Bidūn) and the precarity of low-skilled expatriate workers are features of Kuwait’s socio-political, and, we argue in our Ecologies of Belonging and Exclusion in Kuwait City project, urban ecology. Urban Kuwait is the outcome of a drive to push aside the old and redesign the city from above without limitations posed by antecedent urban geographies. Here we provide an outline of key findings on how the city is envisioned and designed from above, and how city-dwellers revision and rewrite it.