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Villes, pratiques urbaines et construction nationale en Jordanie

 | 
Myriam Ababsa
, 
Rami Farouk Daher

Troisième partie. Néolibéralisme et transformations urbaines / Third Part. Neoliberalism and Urban Tranformations

Discourses of Neoliberalism1 and Disparities in the City Landscape « Cranes, Craters, and an Exclusive Urbanity »

Discours néolibéraux et disparités au sein du paysage urbain : « grues, cratères et une urbanité excluante »

Rami Farouk Daher

Résumé

Cet article porte sur la restructuration néolibérale des centre-villes du Moyen-Orient inondés par les flots de capitaux des pays du Golfe, soient 3 000 milliards de dollars pour la période 2005-2020 (El Sheshtawi 2008). L’auteur étudie la transformation des réalités urbaines au Moyen-Orient qui en découlent, tant en termes de morphologie qu’en termes de pratiques sociales. Les panneaux publicitaires pour les grands chantiers de communautés fermées (gated communities) ou de nouveaux centre-villes, comme Abdali à Amman et Solidere à Beyrouth, appellent la société à devenir plus consumériste, célébrant comme bien absolu la propriété immobilière. Le néolibéralisme qui se traduit par la privatisation et le retrait de l’État de ses programmes sociaux, entraîne dans le secteur immobilier la compétition entre les capitales arabes et la surenchère dans le luxe et la taille des bâtiments afin d’attirer plus d’investisseurs internationaux (Roseman 2009). Rami Daher décrit les nouveaux seigneurs de l’urbain que sont les groupes multinationaux liés aux dirigeants arabes. En Jordanie, ils ont l’habileté de consacrer une partie de leurs investissements à la construction de logements collectifs pour les catégories les moins aisées de la population, comme à Jizeh et à Zarqa. Ce qui est cynique car ces catégories peu aisées sont précisément chassées par les grands projets des centres-villes du fait de la spéculation immobilière.

L’auteur regrette que les nouveaux espaces publics prisés par les Ammanis soient les grands shopping malls, construits sur le modèle du Golfe et dont la clientèle est sélectionnée par un service d’ordre qui exclut les jeunes garçons en groupes s’ils ne présentent pas des signes de richesse. Le développement de ces «  espaces publics privatisés  » renforce ainsi l’exclusion d’une partie des membres de la société (Crawford 1995). Ces projets immobiliers «  insulaires  » tournent leur dos au reste de la ville… quand ils ne la détruisent pas tout bonnement, comme cela a été le cas en 2010 à Aqaba pour le quartier de Shallaleh situé sur le littoral. Les projets immobiliers néolibéraux bénéficient d’un montage institutionnel très particulier (zone économique spéciale ou franche) qui leur permet d’échapper au contrôle des municipalités et des gouvernorats. Rami Daher conclut que «  nos relations à l’urbain sont devenues superficielles et éphémères, et alors que nous pensons vivre en ville, nous sommes en fait «  au-dessus  » des villes, dans des réalités cloisonnées  » (Daher 2010).

Texte intégral

Neoliberal Urban Restructuring

  • 1 The eminent Marxist geographer David Harvey, author of A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Havey, 200 (...)

1If the first Oil boom of the 60s and 70s in the Gulf facilitated the flow of Petro-dollars to banks in places like Beirut and Amman contributing to a more divided city along socio-economic lines of division; more recently, towards the 1990s, and with the flow of a new wave of surplus capital from the Gulf, urban dwellers of the City have been noticing the proliferation of a new visual urban landscape manifested in numerous humongous billboards promoting exclusive urban environments in the form of gated communities and high-end business towers in different places of the City leading to more divisions not only between East and West Amman but within different parts of Western Amman as well. A stretch of billboard about the Abdali investment Project is the only source of information between the community at large and this major neoliberal urban restructuring project in the City. The slogans on these billboard (e.g., Let us start the pleasure of shopping) thrive to transform the society into a consumerist one where “property” is the new consumer good par-excellence nowadays.

2It is interesting to understand the effect of the circulation of global capital (surplus oil revenues) and huge reserves of money in search of high yielding and secure investments, excessive privatization, and circulating urban flagship projects in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, all over the Arab Gulf States, and through out the Arab Region on the transforming of urban reality, property values and speculation, and nature of public life in these cities. It has been estimated that over the period 2005 to 2020 the Arabian Gulf States are likely to have a US $ 3000 billion or so spent on investment within the Middle East and North Africa (El‑Sheshtawi 2008).

3Citizens all over the Middle East are bombarded and overwhelmed daily by the boom in real-estate development. Local newspapers, new emerging property magazines, TV advertisements, and billboards all promote real-estate development in the form of exclusive business towers and high-end gated residential communities. It is very obvious that “property” is the new consumer good par-excellence in the Middle East and “real-estate development” is its new religion. Middle Eastern cities are competing in order to attract international investments, businesses and tourism developments. Currently, developments in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates such as the World’s two largest man-made islands (Palm Jumeirah and Palm Jabal Ali), and major skyscrapers and luxurious resorts on Sheikh Zayed Street are becoming the precedents and models to follow in other cities of the region. This reality stands in sheer contrast when compared to a previous time around the 1960s where cities like Cairo or Beirut presented cutting edge urbanism for the rest of the Arab World. 

  • 2 During a recent visit to Rabbat (October 2009), the author was astonished by the similarities in te (...)
  • 3 www.jabalomar.com (checked on April 23, 2005).

4New emerging urban islands of excessive consumption for the chosen elite together with the internationalization of commercial real estate companies and construction consultancies capable of providing high-quality services signify this neo-liberal urban restructuring in places such as downtown Beirut, Abdali in Amman (Summer 2005, Daher 2007a), Dreamland in Cairo (Adham 2005), Financial District in Manama, the Development of Abu Ruqraiq River in Rabbat2, Pearl Island reclamation Project in Doha and even in the heart of the Holy City of Mecca through the Jabal Omar Project3. Cities are obliged to create the right milieu, competitive business climate, and first-class tourism attractions in order to lure people to come live, invest, and entertain. Developments in Dubai and the current urban reconstruction for the Beirut Downtown (know as the Solidere Project) are becoming the models to follow in such developments. Adham (2005) had noted that circulating images of such neo-liberal urban restructuring mimic developments in the West and represent as such an “Oriental vision of the Occident.”

  • 4 Abdali is the major neoliberal real-estate development project undergoing in Amman at the moment. T (...)
  • 5 Green Land is a gated community development outside of the City of Amman in an area called Marj al (...)
  • 6 Andalusia is another high-end gated community development outside of the City of Amman, located nea (...)
  • 7 Jizza is the name of an area that had recently been added and incorporated into the Greater Amman M (...)
  • 8 Zarqa is a Jordanian City located north east of Jordan. Zarqa is the second largest city in the Cou (...)

5There is a crucial need to understand contemporary urban transformations in cities of the Middle East and elsewhere in the World. El-Sheshtawy (2004, 6) had elaborated how the literature is filled with work examining the colonial impact on the urban spatial structure of Middle Eastern cities, yet, there exists a gap when it comes to studying the influence of contemporary global trends – namely globalization. Amman represents a clear example of neoliberal urban restructuring and emerging forms of spatial ordering and engineering such as high-end and isolated urban development and regeneration (Abdali)4, upper-end residential “gated” communities all over the City (Green Land5, Andalusia6), business towers that offer an exclusive concept of refuge and of consumption, and even low-income residential cities (in Jizza7 and al Zarqa8) that work to push the poorer segments of society to the outskirts of the City in new zoned heterotopias. One prominent objective of this discursive mapping in Amman is to unpack and expose the rhetoric and deconstruct the emancipatory discourse of these emerging landscapes of neoliberalism (Daher 2008).

  • 9 Mawared is the state-owned National Resources Investment and Development Cooperation (MAWARED). Est (...)

6These endeavors all reflect dominant political and ideological practices of power regulated by neoliberal tropes, camouflaged in the legitimacy of the local (through out promises of “job provision,” “new promised lifestyles, and other emancipatory rhetoric), and manifested through spatially-engineered realities. In reality several of these emerging neoliberal projects on the City are anticipated to lead to urban geographies of inequality and exclusion and to spatial/social displacement. These “projects” are operating in the midst of new emerging governing bodies on the city (MAWARED9) that are replacing, manipulating, or silencing traditional governing bodies such as municipalities and governorates.

7The paper draws on previous research and publications by Daher which were conducted and authored between 2005-9 on neoliberalism and urban transformations in Jordan and the region. Many of these publications are referenced in the text. Therefore, this paper presents a synthesis of former works and studies on the topic with an attempt to update the discussion on the current urban condition in the age of neoliberalism, especially in the aftermath of the recent financial crises at the end of this decade.

Global Economic Restructuring : Introducing Neo-liberalism :

8Prior to embarking on understanding this major urban restructuring in Jordanian cities, it is only worth while to attempt to introduce this moment of neoliberalism which we are all part of and affected by today. Over the past century the First and Third World countries alike had witnessed major discursive and structural shifts from Modernity, to Postmodernity to Globalization. Under the rationales of economic liberalization and privatization of the State’s enterprises and investments, the world is now part of a neoliberal moment anchored by more conservative politics (Daher 2007b, 270). The central tenet of neoliberalism is the notion of competition (competition between nations, regions, firms, multi-national corporations, and even cities). Ley (2004, 151) sketches the consequences of this moment on the states of the developing world.

The unexpected collapse of the Soviet empire at the end of the decade seemed to many to consolidate and legitimate these innovations and propelled them with fresh momentum into the 1990s, even as the guard changed at the White House and Downing Street. Privatization, deregulation, partnerships with the private sector, cutbacks to the welfare state, a disciplinary relationship with labor, and promises to downsize government were all part of a new lexicon that seemingly liberated the spirit of free enterprise. This ideology was exported through American political and economic power and punitive action of the World Bank and the International Monitory Fund to debtor nations in the developing world.

  • 10  The boundary between the “State” and “public” is becoming very blur with major consequences where (...)

9Neoliberalism led to excessive privatization, the withdrawal of the State from welfare programs10, the dominance of multi-national corporation politics, and as far as the Third world is concerned, the restructuring of international aid to the third world in the form of structural adjustments and policy instead of project oriented aid. This was coupled by the surfacing of several discursive tactics for such a neo-liberal transformation such as dominance of the World Trade Organization (WTO), international gatherings such as the World Economic Forum (WEF), the Free Trade Agreement with the US, NAFTA, and several similar other economic restructuring at the global level (Daher 2007b, 270).

10Needless to say, this transformation has a substantial impact not only on cities as a whole, but also on how and for whom urban investment projects are developed. In many cases, the outcome had intensified issues of social equity, inclusion-exclusion, and accountability. Furthermore, they are gradually becoming places of play and commodities themselves. Fainstein and Judd (1999a, 261) illustrate how urban culture is gradually becoming a commodity within such cultural changes from modernity to postmodernity, and from internationalism to globalism with considerable effects on urban reality and cities today.

11Rosemann (2009, 3) elaborated how one major shift in globalization is the “increasing competition between cities and regions on both national and international levels. To facilitate economic development, cities are more or less forced to make themselves attractive for investors and enterprises by investing in infrastructure, facilities, and the development of attractive sites for new business development.” He also elaborated how an important role in this framework is taken by the so-called Large Urban Projects (LUP) – Grands Projets- “that are often located on central sites in the city and in particular those suitable for the development of new business activities. Several of these flagship grand projects occurred in Europe and the States such as London Docklands, Potsdamer Platz in Berlin and Battery Park of New York City. He added that :

Although projects such as these play an important role for the economic development of cities they also have reserve side-effects in regard to urban sustainability. These projects demand substantial portions of public resources, concentrated on only a few areas – islands within the city – and in this way support fragmentation and segregation, and in many cases result in an unbalanced over-all development of the city at large. Moreover, the dominance of commercial interests means that there is little space for funds available for social and/or environmental aims. The majority of the projects remain socially exclusive, while focusing on the solvent demand, and reinforcing the idea that environmental issues can only play a role if they contribute to the image forming and branding of the site. Rosemann (2009, 3).

The “Abdali Project” and the SOLIDERE Phenomenon: Conspicuous State Subsidies and the Privatization of Planning in Amman

12One significant example of such grand flagship urban restructuring projects in Amman is the Abdali Project, but with lesser levels of accountability and transparency when compared to similar grand flagship projects in the first world such as in London, Paris, or in other cities of Europe. Here, we attempt to focus on the State’s formal shifts in the creation of “public” urban space in Amman which is orchestrated by partnerships between multi-national corporations and the State through the establishment of newly regulating bodies (such as MAWARED in Amman) within the last ten years.

13The Beirut Downtown reconstruction project fashioned by SOLIDERE was presented to the public as the main post-war reconstruction effort. Urban critics and university professors presented an interesting critique of the Project. Even though they adhered to the fact that the Project is considered a symbol of Lebanon reconstruction efforts after a 15-year long civil war which ended around the early 1990s, the same critics still consider the Project as simply being a real-estate development endeavor where the history and heritage are simply but themes incorporated through disneyfied pastiche representations. It is true that the Project also includes the preservation of older buildings and urban spaces from the traditional Lebanese and French Mandate periods (Summer 2005), but it is important to mention that the final outcome had resulted in a very exclusive urban setting where the whole notion of urban memory and property ownership had been disintegrated.

14This reconstruction is creating a collaged urban morphology that is designed for consumption by the financially enabled tourists and the Lebanese people alike. The SOLIDERE Model of neoliberal urban restructuring became the adopted approach within the region. Not only that it was copied in Amman through the Abdali Project, but this model of neoliberal development had been transformed to other places within the region as well. This neo-liberalization in the creation of public urban space circulates urban images, spectacles, and models and is leading to the dilution of local differences and the circulation of “corporate” urban realities & images.

15In Jordan, State policies are gradually moving away from “regional politics (e.g., emphasis on Arab Nationalism and unity) and elaborate social agendas (e.g., agriculture, health case, education) into adopting neoliberal agendas of privatization and a state where most vital assets and sectors had been rented or sold to the outside (e.g., water, telecommunication, power). It is very important to situate the SOLIDERE Phenomenon (represented in Amman by the Abdali Project) as but one of the realizations of formal State’s shifts in the Kingdom (represented mainly by the socio-economic transformation program) which centers on creating job opportunities, and partnerships with private sector. The current vision of King Abdullah II is one of competitiveness where Amman has continuously to compete for outward investment and business. It is a vision of opening up Jordanian markets to the World and vise versa.

16Amman had dramatically changed during this era with the introduction of many neoliberal urban restructuring investments (e.g., Abdali, Jordan Gate, and several gated communities along the Airport Highway). According to Bank and Schlumberger (2004), this new formal State’s shift is also made possible by the new “Economic Team” around the King and the regime’s recent discourse : economic and technological development. A Shift in Jordan’s policy priorities had been more than obvious since the first days of King Abdallah’s reign : from regional politics and effects of the peace process to far reaching reform of Jordan’s economy, excessive privatization, and economic competitiveness and activism. The emergence of the new guard : The King’s Economic Team (the new politically relevant elite entitled the Economic Consultative Council (ECC), facilitated the structural adjustment program, Jordan’s accession to the World Trade Organization, the Free Trade Agreement with the US, and paying lip service to privatization (e.g., telecommunication, power, water, and tourism, and planning).

17Analysing the details of the investments (e.g., Abdali), one realizes that the “State” is subsidizing large scale investment for the business elite of the region to create such flagship or mega projects of urban restructuring. Contrary to formal State’s declarations and propaganda which advocates an absent state in such neoliberal privatization efforts, it is very clear that the “state” is not absent, but is “there” heavily involved and there to stay (Daher, 2008). The financial contribution of the state is considerable; prime urban land made available for investment forms a greater part of the subsidy, but other forms of the subsidy also include taxes exemption, infrastructure provision, and elimination of all barriers and red tape in addition to special building regulations made possible for this particular development.

  • 11  SAUDI OGER (OGER JORDAN), is an international developer. Saudi Oger entered the partnership as mai (...)
  • 12  In Beirut, for example, Solidere’s capital initially valued at $ 1.82 billion when first issued co (...)

18It is also important to shed light on the nature and details of the shareholding setup of this neoliberal investment. The privately owned (private shareholder) Abdali Investment Company (AIC) has been created in 2004 to develop and manage this mixed-use urban development and is composed of the main investors : MAWARED and Saudi Oger11 only. As a private real-estate developer, it is responsible to implement the Project, and is in charge of the management and the master planning of the Project (similar to Solidere in Beirut). But the share-holder set-up in Abdali is very different than in Beirut12. Originally the two main stakeholders in the company are MAWARED and Saudi Oger (Summer 2005). Initially, AIC was formed with a capital JD 39 million out of a 50/50 partnership between MAWARED and OGER JORDAN (the Jordanian subsidiary of Real Estate giant Saudi Oger Ltd). The Saudi based Oger group is owned by the family of late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al Hariri. This joint venture was altered in 2005, however, when the United Real Estate Company, under the group of Kuwait Projects Company (KIPCO), joined as partners. KIPCI bought 12.5 % of Abdali Psc shares which left MAWARED and Saudi Oger with 43.75 % each (al-Hindi, 2007, 20).

19It is interesting to notice that regardless of the similarities between the different neoliberal urban restructuring projects in diverse contexts in the Arab World such as in Amman and Beirut ; each of the Projects takes shape within a completely different local context and is consequently reshaped by it. El-Sheshtawy (2004, 18-19) confirms that while certain processes in globalization may seem to come from outside (e.g., multinational corporations and the setting up of regional headquarters), yet, these are processes which are activated from the inside by local actors. Furthermore, Swyngedouw et al (2002, 545) elaborate how such neoliberal urban restructuring projects are incorporated in localized settings, hence the term ‘Glocalization.’

20In the case of Amman, underneath the rhetoric of MAWARED lies a public (State) subsidy for private real-estate development for very selective urban business regional elites from Lebanon, Jordan, and the Gulf. Robertson (2007, 46) had added that :

Unsurprisingly, investors (mainly from the region), have been scrambling to get a piece of the pie. As a state-owned, financially independent company, MAWARED is able to offer them unique advantages that other corporations cannot: access to huge tracks of land in prime locations with the infrastructure in place. Being state-owned also makes MAWARED an attractive partner for the private sector, offering fast and smooth processing of official dealings with relevant authorities.”

21This conservative liberalism, according to Swyngedouw et al (2002, 547):

seeks to reorient state interventions away from monopoly market regulation and towards marshaling state resources into the social, physical, and geographical infra-and superstructures that support, finance, subsidize, or otherwise promote new forms of capital accumulation by providing the relatively fixed territorial structures that permit the accelerated circulation of capital and the relatively unhindered operation of market forces. At the same time, the state withdraws to a greater or lesser extent from socially inclusive blanket distribution-based policies and from Keynesian demand-led interventions and replaces them with spatially targeted social policies and indirect promotion of entrepreneurship, particularly via selective deregulation, stripping away red tape, and investment ‘partnership’ (Swyngedouw et al. 2002, 547).

22Amman’s Abdali, modeled after SOLIDERE, in fact enjoys some of the same investors and is promoted by MAWARED’s brochures, website, short video, and other promotional materials as the “New Downtown for Amman”. New introduced functions include the American University of Amman (which was cancelled at a later stage into the development), an IT Park, and different high-end mainly offices but also residential space, in addition to a newly created civic “secular” plaza bounded by the State Mosque, the Parliament, and the Law Courts. This represents a symbolic replacement of the existing historic downtown and the current civic/urban symbols (e.g., The Historic Husseini Mosque and specialty Ammani Markets). This will intensify the socio-economic and spatial polarization not only between East and West Amman, but also between this new ‘elitist urban island’ and the rest of the city.

23The Abdali Project will culminate in the displacement of the near-by existing Abdali transportation terminal, together with its drivers, informal venders and occupants, to the outskirts of Amman away from the Center of the City. The Project will also definitely present fierce competition to the existing downtown which is gradually disintegrating and is already suffering from a lack of economic vitality. This is reinforced through a combination of physical, social, and cultural boundary formation processes. Hall (1996, 159) elaborated how “the “creation of a ‘bourgeois playground’ in the name of economic progress may create considerable tension in the urban policy-making environment.” Shami (1996, 45) had elaborated how “relocation frequently accompanies urban modernization and is linked in many ways with the idea of mobility as a valued characteristic of urbaneness. However, while mobility may mean freedom and new opportunities for some, for others it may mean the very opposite.”

The Transnational Capitalist Class : the New Cities’ Landlords

24In order to understand the interplay and politics of these emerging models of urban governance, one should focus more on the human agent behind global capital flow orchestrated by the City’s new landlords : the transnational capitalist class represented through major shareholders of real-estate companies, general managers/directors, corporate executives, and globalizing bureaucrats. They tend to play a crucial and significant role in the politics and dynamics of these investments and also in the direction of capital flow within the region ; let alone the promoted lifestyles prevailing within these projects (Ley 2004 ; Sklair 2001).

25Between 2005 and 2009 I researched the current real-estate ventures by visiting different project locations, sales centres of main real-estate companies and exhibitions, interviewing the CEOs and deputy mangers of such companies, and consulting a huge variety of literature published in magazines such as Jordan Business, Jordan Property, and Jordan Land. The analysis addressed the nature of the real-estate company involved in a particular project; origin of capital and the translational capitalist class; project type and associated lifestyle; marketing slogans; and targeted clientele and cost. I suggested that the real-estate projects could be divided into two main categories: Type 1: Gated communities in the form of residential compounds; and Type 2: Exclusive office space in the form of high-rise towers (Daher 2008). The following is a discussion of these two types of neoliberal investment in Amman.

26Type 1 such as Andalusia, Greenland, Hummar Hills, and the Royal Village represent gated communities and housing enclaves for the very rich targeting mostly high-end clientele which the author dubs “selling of paradise on the ground,” because a quick glance across the different marketing slogans and discourses of the developers (e.g., “The Joy of Living,” “Provide distinctive homes that will redefine everyday life”) will infer one to suggest that all projects are promising a utopian existence and a completely transformed individual once one becomes part of this exclusive community. The architecture attempts to offer a traditional envelope to these housing villas and apartments through the use of traditional materials and colors, and the use of certain historicized elements (e.g., wooden pergolas, mashrabiahs, and so on). The architectural style represents, in most of the cases, a poor and unsophisticated understanding of a mythical rigid Orient. But once one attempts to reveal and peel off this Disney-like and superficial layer, it is very obvious that these projects represent an oriental vision of the occident, where the occident here is the American-style of living in the suburbs with its single family house, front yard, garage, and basketball ring.

27Type 2 of these projects like the towers sector of the Abdali Project (including the Vertex, the Heights, and the Lofts), Jordan Gate, and many others constitute exclusive office space and luxury apartments which the author dubs “Living above the City in the Clouds.” The high end residents thrive to be part of the city, but in reality they are living in a privileged position above the city. These projects promise a distinctively luxurious lifestyle and a protected and safe environment throughout their marketing slogans (e.g., “Lofty views, open terraces, and deluxe living in the city center,” “Luxury Life Style Providers,” “A Comprehensive Security System”). Sklair (2001, p. 6) elaborated how:

global capitalism thrives by persuading us that the meaning and value of our lives are to be found principally in what we posses, that we can never be totally satisfied with our positions (the imperative of ever changing fashion style), and that the goods and services we consume are best provided by the free market, the generator of private profit that lies at the heart of capitalism.”

28I suggest that further research on neoliberal urban restructuring should focus more on the human agent behind global capital flow, and the field is in need of more search and ethnographies that target these transnational capitalist individuals in order to arrive closely to a better understanding of the nature and future of these investments. Ley (2004, 152) attempts to pin point the importance of studying the different discourses of these transnational capitalists while attempting to bring the issue of human agency to a globalizing discourse which “has frequently been satisfied with speaking of a space of networks and flows devoid of knowledgeable human agents.” In order to understand the interplay and politics of these emerging models of urban governance, one should focus more on the human agent behind global capital flow orchestrated by the City’s new landlords. Sklair (2001, 4) attempts to understand who are these actors and agents influential within this transnational capitalist class and adds that this “new class is the transnational capitalist class, composed of corporate executives, globalizing bureaucrats and politicians, globalizing professionals, and consumerist elites.” One always has to remember that neoliberalism is always ‘place’ specific and especially in the way it is practiced in a particular locale and is promoted by local and regional actors and agents such as the transnational capitalist class.

Towards a More Exclusive Urbanity in the City: The Quartering of Urban Space “Amman’s Emerging Spaces of Inclusion and Exclusion”

29The Abdali Project represents a clear realization of such neoliberal urban restructuring efforts and is facilitated by the State’s Socio-Economic Transformation Program. Blessed by the ‘State’s’ public discursive shift concentrating on economic prosperity and encouraging international investment in the country, the Abdali Project, and by turning its back to Amman’s original downtown which is only about 1.5 kilometer away from the Abdali site, is anticipated to lead to urban geographies of inequality and exclusion and spatial & social displacement. The remodeled area, previously the site of the General Jordan Armed Forces Headquarters, consists of 350000 m2 in the heart of Amman and will contain a built up area of approximately 1,000,000 m2.

30In an exclusive interview for Jordan Property Magazine, Baha Hariri (son of the late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al‑Hariri, chairman and CEO of Saudi Oger, and chairman of the Abdali Investment and Development PSC) elaborated how the Project would “endeavor to create out of Amman’s new downtown, Abdali, which will redefine urban living in the city” (al-Hindi, 2007, 19). Al-Hindi (2007, 20) had also interviewed Jamal Itani who holds the position of CEO of the private shareholder company Abdali Investment and Development, where he had explained that

the Project is a plan to create a new center for the City by coordinating between investors in order to execute around 45 unique development designs resulting in a number of harmonious buildings which maintain a high level of quality for both developers and investors.” (Ibid., p. 20)

31The Abdali Project is not a unique phenomenon in Amman, even through it forces a major urban and territorial transformation on the City; yet, there are several projects either being built or proposed in the very near future. Some of these are high-rises of exclusive office spaces, others are residential compounds catering for high and upper middle class in the form of well-protected gated communities along the Airport highway. Several of these newly emerging spaces of inclusion and exclusion are causing severe cases of gentrification and social and physical displacement in the City. In addition to the displacement of the Abdali Transportation Hub to the outskirts of the City in Tabarbour and the displacement of the Za’amta Neighborhood both due to the Abdali Project; several other neoliberal projects that caused major displacement in the City included Limitless High Rise Towers that are causing the displacement of the Wadi Abdoun Village. Others include the displacement of another transportation hub (Raghdan) in the downtown area to the outskirts of the City due to tourism development projects in its place. The new displaced location in Mahatta, further away from the buzzing city center, is causing difficulties and financial burdens not only to the users of the transportation hub but also to the various merchants downtown who used to benefit from the vibrant pedestrian activity.

32Furthermore, the City had been recently (late 1990s) plagued with a series of shopping malls accentuating more a growing consumer society class with adverse effects on smaller businesses, corner neighborhood shops and grocery stores in different parts of the City. Malls have also been created in the Eastern less affluent part of the City as well. One of these shopping malls is Mecca Mall located in the western part of the City; it has been dumped as the “most popular public Ammani space par excellence by different Jordanian critics in local newspapers. These different Malls are also very selective in the way they choose their clientele. Not only that they are heavily secured with multiple sensors and security check points and devices, but they also exercise a no entry policy for what they claim to be a non-welcomed participant in the mall space which is predominantly young Ammani males who most of the times feel excluded from this gated consumerist community. Other emerging spaces of exclusion are Amman’s affluent hotels, and especially after the intensification of security systems as a response to Amman’s latest bombings.

33In Amman, the effect of such socio-economic transformation on the creation of new public urban space produces “a privatized public space” based on a highly selective definition of the public, thus triggering a new critical investigation of the meaning of public/private and inclusion/exclusion. It is very important to understand local/global relationships vis-à-vis latent processes of urban inclusion/exclusion and power mechanisms embedded in such ‘urban restructuring’ projects and corporate visions in Middle Eastern cities and locales such as in Amman producing, primarily, ‘a privatized public space’ based on a highly selective definition of the public (Crawford 1995).

34This notion of ‘Island Planning’ where certain urban development projects (UDP) turn their pack to adjoining districts and areas or even create a privatized, controlled, and protected environment, becomes a contested reality that deserves further attention and contemplation. Referred to by Sassen (cited in El-Sheshtawy, 2004, 18) as the ‘Quartering of Urban Space’; the same problem is expected to appear in Abdali, the result will be a ‘fragmented City’, a “patchwork of discrete spaces with increasingly sharp boundaries (gated business centers, leisure, tourism, or community spaces)”. As stated by El-Sheshtawy (2004 8), these “protected enclaves of the rich” will also increase the gap between the rich and the poor within the same city. Fainstein & Judd (1999b, 9) have added that:

carefully bounded districts have been set aside as “tourist bubbles” isolated from surrounding areas of decay. Within these districts, historic and architecturally significant structures are integrated with new generation of tourist facilities that, instead of evoking images of an urban golden age, are quite contemporary.”

35Gated communities and privileged shopping malls are invading the urban landscape of several Middle Eastern cities today, and unfortunately:

many places are being put into play due to the increasingly global character of these contemporary mobilities. The 1990s have seen remarkable ‘time-space compression’, as people across the globe have been brought ‘closer’ through various technologies. There is an apparent ‘death of distance’ in what is sometimes described as a fluid and speeded-up ‘liquid modernity’.” (Sheller and Urry, 2004, p. 3)

36Sheller and Urry elaborate on the concepts and lifestyles associated with these ‘places to play’. They believe that tourism is not only transforming the materiality of many ‘real’ places, but is also having a deep impact on the creation of virtual realities and fantasized places.

These are enormously powerful and ubiquitous global brands or logos that increasingly feature tourist sites/sights as key components of the global culture that their brand speaks to and enhances” (Ibid.).

37These brand companies include many in “travel and in leisure: Disney, Hilton, Nike, Gap, Easyjet, Body Shop, Virgin, Club Med, Starbucks, Coca Cola, and so on. These brands produce ‘concepts’ or ‘life-styles:’ liberated from the real-world burdens of stores and products manufacturing, and these life style concepts revolve around generic types of places to play: the hotel pool, the waterside café/restaurant, the cosmopolitan city, the hotel buffet, the theme park, the club, the airport lounge, and the shopping mall.

38An important question emerges to the surface: within these places of play of intense mobility, who gets the opportunity to be mobile? And what is the relationship between the local and global within this mobility? It is only global money and a chosen few who are granted this privilege to these exclusive places. The rest of the world cannot join ‘the play,’ entry to these global places of play is restricted to the majority of people and is only permitted through their involvement in the provision of services and infrastructure (e.g., Indian and Pakistani workers in Dubai hotels and resorts, domestic workers from Indonesia and the Philippines in Beirut and Amman) (Daher 2007a). Junemo’s (2004, 181) work on Dubai is informative as it describes the socio-economic, spatial and demographic transformation taking place in this extraordinary place of constant ‘play.’ The city had begun recently the construction of the World’s two largest man-made islands to boost and enhance the city’s image and reputation. “They are both shaped like palm trees and are called the Palm Jumeirah and the Palm Jabal Ali respectively. Even though they are separate islands, the whole project is referred to as ‘the Palm’.”

39Yet these ‘playscapes’ whether in Dubai, Amman, Cairo, or Beirut are simply gated communities with practices of inclusion and exclusion. These spaces are usually guarded and are closed off for many to ensure the type of nature of individuals allowed to participate in these places of leisure and consumption. Junemo (2004, 190), illustrates how these places maintain and enforce a symbolic distinction between those with access to the networks and those without. This distinction which centers on the ability to consume such places and participate in these ‘places of play’ is crucial for the formation of a distinct social identity for the upper middle class where monetary capital is turned into some accepted form of social capital in order to gain access to such posh social networks.

40Neoliberal landscapes in Amman are not only restricted to business towers, exclusive hotels, and new gated communities. Neoliberal urban restructuring takes on other forms such as ‘regeneration’ of historic districts, for example. One example that is worth mentioning is the Company Amman Downtown Development’s attempts for neoliberal urban restructuring in the historic neighborhood of Jabal al-Qal’a which is camouflaged with claims of historic preservation of the area’s monuments and historic buildings. Exposing the emancipatory rhetoric of neoliberal urban policies adopted by this neoliberal company is crucial. It centers on exposing the fact that neoliberal ideological-discursive rhetoric (preserving the urban heritage and historic place) presented by the transnational capitalist class, conceals fundamentally exclusionary and exploitative social relation (out migration of stable low-income families and tenants) (Addie 2008).

Neoliberal Urban Management in Amman & Aqaba

41In order for the Abdali Project to succeed, the investors together with the ‘State’ had realized that it could not be facilitated through regular governmental bodies, therefore, a new organization had to be established, thus MAWARED was created by the King similar to other neoliberal institutions in the region such as SOLIDERE in Beirut and ASEZA (Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority). These are in general replacing older governmental bodies such as municipalities and governorates which had either been disintegrated entirely or had taken over a more technical role such as service and infrastructure provision, permits and land appropriation, and traffic and transportation management.

42Current neoliberal transformations and urban restructuring is not affecting the capital Amman, but other Jordanian cities as well such as Aqaba. In Aqaba, and after the Peace Process with Israel and the establishment of several Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZ) in the Country coupled with declaring Aqaba as a ‘free economic zone’, the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA) was created. ASEZA was granted the responsibility of neo-liberal socio-economic transformations in the City and held a position of urban projects, tourism, and infrastructure developer; thus gradually replacing former regulating public bodies such as the Municipality of Aqaba, Aqaba Regional Authority, and Aqaba Governorate which were either dissolved or regressed to a voyeur’s position.

43In Aqaba, Jordan, the whole city is going through intense socio-economic and territorial transformations as it is being declared a ‘Special Economic Zone.’ Talking to taxi drivers and shop owners, many have reiterated that “the city is no longer theirs.” ASEZA, equipped with the tropes and slogans of modernity, efficiency, liberalism, and lack of government bureaucracy, is superimposing ‘First Class Tourism Developments’ as termed by one of ASEZA’s officials. It is very obvious that the whole city is being taken over by multi-national big money investments in the form of 5-star hotels and large-scale development projects (e.g., Tala Bay, Saraya).

44The ‘hot’ and most desired places on the shore such as popular old beach coffee houses, public beaches, fish restaurants on the beach, or even significant low rise hotels from the mid 20th century are all being taken over by such “first class tourism investments”. Another type of ‘hot’ spots that are also subject to severe processes of displacement are even existing slums in very strategic locations of the City overlooking the Bay of Aqaba (e.g. al-Shallalah). Such developments are causing severe cases of urban cleansing, spatial and social displacement, and exclusion of a certain part of Aqaba’s history, heritage, and urban poor and residents. There are plans that are already in action to relocate the residents of this poor slum area into the middle of the desert near the City. Aqaba’s distinctive, yet not so recognized heritage of the 1930s and 40s represented in the Old Town with its residential houses, coffee shops and open air cinema, will be completely disguised and submerged by this sweeping ‘grand planning’ and ‘new vision’ for the city. The Everybody is aware of ‘the change’ including the ordinary citizen, yet, people like the taxi driver and the shop owner do not posses the right tools to contest or even mitigate such visions and investments.

45These endeavors in Amman and Aqaba all reflect dominant political and ideological practices of power regulated by neoliberal tropes, camouflaged in the legitimacy of the local (through out promises of ‘job provision’, ‘new promised lifestyles’, and other emancipatory rhetoric), and manifested through spatially-engineered realities. In reality several of these emerging neoliberal projects on the City are anticipated to lead to urban geographies of inequality and exclusion and to spatial/social displacement. These ‘projects’ are operating in the midst of new emerging governing bodies on the city (e.g., MAWARED in Amman) that are replacing, manipulating, or silencing traditional governing bodies such as municipalities and governorates.

46In order to understand the interplay and politics of these emerging models of urban governance, one should focus more on the human agent behind global capital flow orchestrated by the City’s new landlords: the transnational capitalist class represented through major shareholders of real-estate companies, general managers/directors, corporate executives, and globalizing bureaucrats. They tend to play a crucial and significant role in the politics and dynamics of these investments and also in the direction of capital flow within the region let alone the promoted lifestyles prevailing within these projects.

In Conclusion: Cranes and Craters in the Urban Landscape

The Financial Crises and the Urban Condition beyond Neoliberalism

47In 1984, the famous novelist, born in Jordan, Abdelrahman Munif published one of his most inspiring novels (Mudun al-milh : Cities of Salt) ; the novel is set in an unnamed Arabian gulf country in the 1930s and attempts to describe the transformations that affected this desert Bedouin community when oil is discovered by foreign Americans who end up directly and indirectly colonizing the country and the radical impact of that discovery on the physical and human landscape. The epic unfolds over a large span of years and sketches in details the rise of this fake urban civilization and specially with the abundance of surplus capital from the oil revenues which is mostly spent on real-estate development and lavish banquettes. This novel is actually banned in several Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia. The novel ends in its fifth volume by a detailed description of the fall and demise of this petro-dollar/American colony culture and the author skillfully depicts (and specially in the fifth volume of the novel entitled: Badiyat al Thulmat, Desert of Darkness) the destruction and downfall of this oil-based economy and civilization.

48The significance of this novel is not only in its sketching the details of the transformation of this desert-bound Bedouin community when confronted with the discovery of oil and its impacts on the physical landscapes and socio-cultural and human conditions, but also in its prediction, as early as the mid-1980s, of the fragility and unaccountability of this oil-based economy and its related neoliberal real-estate boom that had circulated to other places in the Middle East (such as Amman, Beirut, and Cairo to mention a few). The most recent financial crises of 2009-10 in cities like Dubai and in other places in the Middle East testified to the vulnerability and unreliability of such an economy with the ceasing of many real-estate projects, termination of hundred of thousands of jobs, and the lack of socio-economic stability.

49Amman was very much affected by the latest economic crises and especially that many of the real-estate projects were actually financed by major neoliberal trans-national capitalist companies in places like Dubai and other cities in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Touring the city of Amman today, one cannot but notice the ceasing of several of these neoliberal real-estate projects whose legacy had left the city’s urban landscape with unfinished projects with static cranes, rotted reinforcement, and huge craters in the ground with potential severe environmental problems. One can mention several cases such as several projects and business towers in Abdali, the Wall, Jordan Gate, and Limitless Towers in Abdoun.

50It is clear, according to Rosemann (3-4, 2009), that public planning of cities had decreased in the framework of governmental decentralization leading to what Ulrich Beck (quoted by Rosemann) labels a deprivation of governmental power while “international political institutions still remain week. However, the recent economic crisis has shown the limits of growth under the conditions of neo-liberalism.” The new urban debate is in desperate need to rethink and generate new models for urban development that are “able to guide the processes of expansion and transformation of cities and regions, to bridge social contradictions, to combat segregation and fragmentation, and to face the ecological challenges (Rosemman 3, 2009).

51Neoliberal policies (despite an emancipatory rhetoric within a neoliberal discourse) conceal exclusionary and exploitative social relations and spatial ordering, disperse concentrations of poverty form the inner city and cause major social and physical displacement of marginalized social groups, remove local states authorities and replace by newly emerging neoliberal bodies of urban governance, create a disparity between rhetoric and reality of urban policies, and also have a engineered and specific representation of the urban poor, low income tenants and owners, and their respective historic places within the inner city in the media that negates the fact that these societies represent “socio-spatial entities produced through distinct historical-geographic social relations” (Addie 2008).

52The issue of resistance at the level of the individual becomes maybe one of very few solutions to counteract the current neoliberal condition where the self is considered an active particle of resistance capable of networking and contestation in an age of neoliberalism, state and monopoly organized late capitalism, media and the dominance of the image, and increasingly powerful positions of large scale transnational corporations and big businesses in public life in Jordan and elsewhere in the region. Sklair (2001, 297) believes that

capitalism can only be successfully challenged through social movements that target global capitalism through its three main institutional supports, the TNCs (trans-national cooperations), the transnational capitalists class, and the culture-ideology of consumerism.”

53In different parts of the Arab World, there is a need for more genuine research that goes beyond the classical analysis of the traditional Arab City, into instead researching current urban transformations, flow of global capital and its effect on the realities of cities, urban structures and polity, metropolitization processes from below addressing issues of migration, slums formation, and the details of social life vis-à-vis lines of inclusion and exclusion. Our relationship with the city has always been and will always be a contestation between social classes, different groups, and mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion. More recently, this relationship is becoming ephemeral and superficial, and our sense of belonging to place is very transient in nature. We think that we live in the City as our grave for urbanity increases, but rather, we live ‘above’ the city in gated realities.

Bibliographie

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Notes

1 The eminent Marxist geographer David Harvey, author of A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Havey, 2005, 1-5), elaborates on the theory of Neoliberalism and adds that the neoliberal economic thought emerged out of a critique of and backlash against the welfare state pushing for a new political economic order in the 1970s that gave rise to the political implementation of neoliberal thought. Politicians of the late 1970s (e.g., M. Thatcher) formed the basis of a new doctrine that went under the name of ‘neoliberalism’ and transformed it into the central guiding principle of economic thought and management. According to Harvey, “Neoliberalism is in the first instance a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and stems within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free market, and free trade. The role of the state is to create and preserve an institutional framework appropriate to such practices.” (Harvey 2005, 2). As a consequence of neoliberal socio-economics, and in a countries like Jordan or Lebanon, the ‘State’ finds itself gradually pulling out of its responsibilities towards more fragile sectors such as education, healthcare, social security, social housing, and instead become more involved in real-estate development as a facilitator, regulator, and provider of indirect subsidies for multi-national corporations.

2 During a recent visit to Rabbat (October 2009), the author was astonished by the similarities in terms of investors, developers, and even rhetoric and discourses of development between neoliberal investors in Beirut, Amman and elsewhere in the Marshreq and the ones in Rabbat. This global capital is definitely circulating not only surplus capital from the oil, but also images and models of neoliberal development.

3 www.jabalomar.com (checked on April 23, 2005).

4 Abdali is the major neoliberal real-estate development project undergoing in Amman at the moment. The Project is promoted as “the new downtown” for Amman and is anticipated to include high-end office and residential space in addition to retail, commercial and other tourist activities. The remodeled area, previously the site of the General Jordan Armed Forces Headquarters, consist of 350000 m2 in the heart of Amman and will contain a built up area of approximately 1,000,000 m2.

5 Green Land is a gated community development outside of the City of Amman in an area called Marj al Hamam near the Airport Highway. The main investors for the Project are the Kurdi Group of Jordan, and the project includes mostly villas, but also apartment are also included, the cost per meter square reaches around 800 JDs for apartments and about 750 JDs for the villas.

6 Andalusia is another high-end gated community development outside of the City of Amman, located near the Airport Highway on the way to the City of Madaba. The main developers are called TAAMEER Jordan / Jordan Company for Real-Estate Development (PLC), and the source of funding is primarily from the United Arab Emirates. The cost per meter square reaches around 700 JDs for for the villas that include centralized under-floor heating, maid room with laundry, interior customization, 24 hour security & maintenance, indoor and outdoor swimming pool, spas & heath clubs.

7 Jizza is the name of an area that had recently been added and incorporated into the Greater Amman Municipality. In general, there are plans for low-income housing projects to be planned there. Criticts assume that several of these low-income housing projects, that are sometimes financed by the same developers and investors who are also responsible for the high-end gated communities, are meant to cater for the poor and for lower middle class residents who are sometimes forced out of inner-City Amman’s neighborhoods.

8 Zarqa is a Jordanian City located north east of Jordan. Zarqa is the second largest city in the Country and is generally considered an industrial city that lacks proper open and green spaces, in comparison to Amman, the Capital. Several areas of land that used to belong to the army are now incorporated into new housing projects all around the City.

9 Mawared is the state-owned National Resources Investment and Development Cooperation (MAWARED). Established in 2000, the company’s original mandate was to redevelop several inner-city military plots and turn them into income-generating mix-use sites as well as to relocate the military out of densely populated areas with investment potentials to new facilities. Just 5 years after its inception, MAWARED has become Jordan’s leading urban regeneration entity and its largest real-estate developer, it is the agency responsible for Abdali Project but many others as well. It has several affiliates, including the Development and Investment Projects (DIP) Fund, essentially the investment arm to the military. The Urban Workshop, a non-profit independent urban studies center ; and the newly-established Amman Real-Estate Management & Services (AREMS), specializing in real-estate consultancy and management.”

10  The boundary between the “State” and “public” is becoming very blur with major consequences where the State is pulling out support of vital sectors (e.g., education, agriculture, health, other) and is becoming simply just like another corporation or institution amongst many making issues such as accountability very problematic.

11  SAUDI OGER (OGER JORDAN), is an international developer. Saudi Oger entered the partnership as main investor and also brought the expertise of its alienated master planners (Millennium Development & Laceco).

12  In Beirut, for example, Solidere’s capital initially valued at $ 1.82 billion when first issued consisted of two different types of shares: Type A shares issued to holders of expropriated property in down town relative to the value of the expropriated property; and, Type B shares (with an initial stock offer o US$ 100 per share) issued to external investors. Solidere’s own rhetoric sugarcoats the type A shares and rationalizes their facilitation by stating that “most lots in the Beirut Central District are owned by tens, hundreds and in some instances (the Sūq areas) thousands of people.” Therefore, the Type A shares are being presented as the only “just” solution for such a dilemma.

© Presses de l’Ifpo, 2011

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