Page 1

STORIES AND CRITICAL WRITING ABOUT THE CITY

P O RTA L 9 Grammars of nationhood in Algiers ∙ Bidonvilles and Moroccan fiction ∙ Abdulrahman Makhlouf: 55 years of planning in the Arab Gulf ∙ Walls around Sanaa ∙ The first public square in Japan Gibraltar futures ∙ The late Niemeyer’s modernist capital

Issue #2

THE SQUARE SPRING 2013


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:35 PM Page 2

P O R TA L 9 : S T O R I E S A N D C R I T I C A L W R I T I N G A B O U T T H E C I T Y

ISSUE #2, SPRING 2013, THE SQUARE

Issue #2

CONTENTS Spring 2013

EDITORIAL

THE SQUARE Fadi Tofeili

5

NARRATIVES

CULTURE VERSUS KITSCH: THE BATTLE FOR BELGRADE’S STREETS Gorana Vucˇ i´c -Shepherd MARTYRS SQUARE IN ALGIERS Bachir Mefti

PHOTO

11

25

ESSAY

ARCHITECTURAL EXPANSES Ziyah Gafi´c

39

NUMEROLOGY

EUROPEAN EXCLAVES IN THE MAGHREB: CEUTA AND MELILLA Aziza Chaouni Projects: Aziza Chaouni with Adem O'Byrne and Mani Tabrizi

53

URBANOGRAPHY

CASABLANCA CHASMS: THE BIDONVILLE IN MUHAMMAD ZAFZAF’S MUHAWALAT AYSH Gretchen Head The cover drawing is a detail from Disco, a Portal 9 sketchbook by Saba Innab.

SPECTACLES OF POWER: LOCATING RESISTANCE IN BEN ALI’S TUNISIA Laryssa Chomiak BACKWATERS, EDGES, CENTER: TAHRIR SHAPED Khaled Adham

55

71

85

CONVERSATIONS

PLANS THE EARTH SWALLOWS: AN INTERVIEW WITH ABDULRAHMAN MAKHLOUF Todd Reisz

99

FLANEUR

SANAA’S WALLS AND THE MYTH OF SECURITY Jamal Jubran

2

3

115


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:35 PM Page 2

P O R TA L 9 : S T O R I E S A N D C R I T I C A L W R I T I N G A B O U T T H E C I T Y

ISSUE #2, SPRING 2013, THE SQUARE

Issue #2

CONTENTS Spring 2013

EDITORIAL

THE SQUARE Fadi Tofeili

5

NARRATIVES

CULTURE VERSUS KITSCH: THE BATTLE FOR BELGRADE’S STREETS Gorana Vucˇ i´c -Shepherd MARTYRS SQUARE IN ALGIERS Bachir Mefti

PHOTO

11

25

ESSAY

ARCHITECTURAL EXPANSES Ziyah Gafi´c

39

NUMEROLOGY

EUROPEAN EXCLAVES IN THE MAGHREB: CEUTA AND MELILLA Aziza Chaouni Projects: Aziza Chaouni with Adem O'Byrne and Mani Tabrizi

53

URBANOGRAPHY

CASABLANCA CHASMS: THE BIDONVILLE IN MUHAMMAD ZAFZAF’S MUHAWALAT AYSH Gretchen Head The cover drawing is a detail from Disco, a Portal 9 sketchbook by Saba Innab.

SPECTACLES OF POWER: LOCATING RESISTANCE IN BEN ALI’S TUNISIA Laryssa Chomiak BACKWATERS, EDGES, CENTER: TAHRIR SHAPED Khaled Adham

55

71

85

CONVERSATIONS

PLANS THE EARTH SWALLOWS: AN INTERVIEW WITH ABDULRAHMAN MAKHLOUF Todd Reisz

99

FLANEUR

SANAA’S WALLS AND THE MYTH OF SECURITY Jamal Jubran

2

3

115


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:35 PM Page 4

P O R TA L 9 : S T O R I E S A N D C R I T I C A L W R I T I N G A B O U T T H E C I T Y

EDITORIAL

T H E S QUA R E Fadi Tofeili 5 ‫ صفحة‬،‫ البّوابة التّاسعة‬،‫الساحة‬ C R E AT I V E

W R I T I N G

P L AC E D U PA L A I S B O U R B O N Mario Sabino

I N S E A RC H O F A TA H R I R S QUA R E Khaled Khalifa B O N E S S QUA R E Fadi Tofeili

125 131 139

S K E TC H B O O K

DISCO Saba Innab

R E V I E W S

A N D

151

C R I T I QU E

G AT E WAY TO T H E P E R I LO U S F U T U R E : H I RO S H I M A P E AC E PA R K Yuki Sumner

153

T I M E S H AV E N ’ T R E A L LY C H A N G E D Malu Halasa

157

AC C O M M O DAT I N G E G Y P T ’ S E M E RG I N G A RT S C E N E Daniella Rose King

H A S S A N K H A N : H A L F A L I F E I N A RT R E V I E W E D HG Masters

N E W A RT O RG A N I Z AT I O N S O C C U P Y L E BA N O N ’ S E N DA N G E R E D BU I L D I N G S Rayya Badran A R A B I C

163

167 173

I N S E RT S

W H E N L I O N D E F E AT E D A L M A A N D A N TA R George Arbid PUBLIC DIVERSIONS Liane Al-Ghusain

178 179

4

The Arabic language links the square – the site, area, and space surrounded by the built environment – with flowing liquid and with movement across the face of the earth. The etymology of one term for “square,” sahat, stems from the concept of running water over a level terrain; and from this, as described by the thirteenth-century encyclopedic Arabic dictionary Lissan Al Arab, comes the idea of traveling by land for worship and spirituality. Water pouring forth, streaming across a surface, resembles how masses of people once roved the earth and its topography. The roots of midan, the other widely used Arabic term for “square,” emanates from two separate notions: first, the swaying motion of an object; second, an act that combines generosity and utility. To undulate and to give, to oscillate and to tilt back and forth – these meanings also merge in the Arabic heteronym midan, a word that explains how the earth trembles in disorder to a stampede of horses. This permutation, with the vowels slightly tightened, historically denoted the wide, open space for racing, riding, and trading horses, which ultimately became the public stage we know today. The location of the midan, at the heart of the built environment, particularly in the archetypal “Arab” and “Islamic” city – an urban paradigm as multifaceted as the present-day world of Islam – was determined by where the ruling nobility and military aristocracy lived. During the Mamlouk era in Egypt and Syria, for instance, the empire granted the political elite residences with adjoining pastures and mayadeen (plural of midan) for their equestrian pursuits. These sites neighbored and linked up with the city’s central religious edifices and adjacent flat areas as well as the plazas next to the overlord’s post of central command. These meanings, spanning from linguistics to urbanism and sociopolitical realities, range from the flow of water and travel to liquid pouring forth and worship. They extend from movement and midan to disorder and the performance of power. All of these ideas intersect in implicit and explicit ways with what has occurred in the squares of the cities and towns across the Arab region since December 2010. From Tunisia to Egypt, from Libya to Yemen to Bahrain, to Syria and other countries, people stepped outside their homes and workplaces and headed toward the squares. Their rhythms, brisk and unrelenting, varied in cycles of days, weeks, or months. Their numbers ranged from a few dozen to hundreds of thousands. The sizes of the squares differed, depending on the size of the city, town, or

5


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:35 PM Page 4

P O R TA L 9 : S T O R I E S A N D C R I T I C A L W R I T I N G A B O U T T H E C I T Y

EDITORIAL

T H E S QUA R E Fadi Tofeili 5 ‫ صفحة‬،‫ البّوابة التّاسعة‬،‫الساحة‬ C R E AT I V E

W R I T I N G

P L AC E D U PA L A I S B O U R B O N Mario Sabino

I N S E A RC H O F A TA H R I R S QUA R E Khaled Khalifa B O N E S S QUA R E Fadi Tofeili

125 131 139

S K E TC H B O O K

DISCO Saba Innab

R E V I E W S

A N D

151

C R I T I QU E

G AT E WAY TO T H E P E R I LO U S F U T U R E : H I RO S H I M A P E AC E PA R K Yuki Sumner

153

T I M E S H AV E N ’ T R E A L LY C H A N G E D Malu Halasa

157

AC C O M M O DAT I N G E G Y P T ’ S E M E RG I N G A RT S C E N E Daniella Rose King

H A S S A N K H A N : H A L F A L I F E I N A RT R E V I E W E D HG Masters

N E W A RT O RG A N I Z AT I O N S O C C U P Y L E BA N O N ’ S E N DA N G E R E D BU I L D I N G S Rayya Badran A R A B I C

163

167 173

I N S E RT S

W H E N L I O N D E F E AT E D A L M A A N D A N TA R George Arbid PUBLIC DIVERSIONS Liane Al-Ghusain

178 179

4

The Arabic language links the square – the site, area, and space surrounded by the built environment – with flowing liquid and with movement across the face of the earth. The etymology of one term for “square,” sahat, stems from the concept of running water over a level terrain; and from this, as described by the thirteenth-century encyclopedic Arabic dictionary Lissan Al Arab, comes the idea of traveling by land for worship and spirituality. Water pouring forth, streaming across a surface, resembles how masses of people once roved the earth and its topography. The roots of midan, the other widely used Arabic term for “square,” emanates from two separate notions: first, the swaying motion of an object; second, an act that combines generosity and utility. To undulate and to give, to oscillate and to tilt back and forth – these meanings also merge in the Arabic heteronym midan, a word that explains how the earth trembles in disorder to a stampede of horses. This permutation, with the vowels slightly tightened, historically denoted the wide, open space for racing, riding, and trading horses, which ultimately became the public stage we know today. The location of the midan, at the heart of the built environment, particularly in the archetypal “Arab” and “Islamic” city – an urban paradigm as multifaceted as the present-day world of Islam – was determined by where the ruling nobility and military aristocracy lived. During the Mamlouk era in Egypt and Syria, for instance, the empire granted the political elite residences with adjoining pastures and mayadeen (plural of midan) for their equestrian pursuits. These sites neighbored and linked up with the city’s central religious edifices and adjacent flat areas as well as the plazas next to the overlord’s post of central command. These meanings, spanning from linguistics to urbanism and sociopolitical realities, range from the flow of water and travel to liquid pouring forth and worship. They extend from movement and midan to disorder and the performance of power. All of these ideas intersect in implicit and explicit ways with what has occurred in the squares of the cities and towns across the Arab region since December 2010. From Tunisia to Egypt, from Libya to Yemen to Bahrain, to Syria and other countries, people stepped outside their homes and workplaces and headed toward the squares. Their rhythms, brisk and unrelenting, varied in cycles of days, weeks, or months. Their numbers ranged from a few dozen to hundreds of thousands. The sizes of the squares differed, depending on the size of the city, town, or

5


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:35 PM Page 6

P O R TA L 9 : S T O R I E S A N D C R I T I C A L W R I T I N G A B O U T T H E C I T Y

EDITORIAL

village. People expressed their criticisms, loud and clear, in various ways. They were protesting the political order, its future, and their status as supposed citizens of nations in crisis. At stake were issues that ran the gamut from the basic rights of survival – food, shelter, health care – to civil and national rights, which form the pillars upon which a state relies. Moreover, people have been trying to affirm their deep-rooted ties to the square and their fundamental claim to it. In many cases, they have furnished the site and set up tents, or vandalized its statues, tumors of the ruling regime. When the names of the squares were linked to these regimes, they have renamed them. In many other cases, they have cleaned the squares after their gatherings and improvised residencies, trying to reclaim the area’s intrinsic role as a collective, democratic, and symbolic space. Above all, they have risen up against the regimes that confined power to a group of individuals who seized authority and passed it down through kinship and tight circles of dominance. Sometimes, the crowds attempted to utilize sites such as roundabouts, for instance, as if they were squares, indicating the necessity for such spaces in the built environment. Without a doubt, these moving scenes raise a number of questions that will continue to emerge as long as the events in the square unfold. What is certain, at least for our purposes today and since the end of 2010, is that the diverse movements unsettled a long period of stagnation. The crowds of activists, like water over the earth, gravitated toward the squares and open spaces and breathed new life into the original meanings of sahat and midan. By salvaging the purpose of the square, they found it to be the natural and only location to head to in order to dispel a languishing status quo, stiff as stone, and replace it with an alternative way of life. We find ourselves before a physical place that encompasses these layers of interpretations and history. Thus, the public space has long represented a fusion of meanings entangled in metaphors – of open landscapes, of discipline and its complexities – which all converge at the peak of public power. As these factors coalesce in one site, the square evokes dynamism and a sense of collective will. This intertwining of meanings bespeaks the history of imagined Arab communities – or that is to say of the people who rallied behind what came to be known as the “Arab Spring.” They were scattered across countries each with the same political structure – one long-standing regime. These factors and meanings spurred the unprecedented movement toward the squares, or the sites that came to be like squares, since December 2010. Before people

filled the squares only for funerals of rulers, for welcoming visiting heads of state, for swearing allegiance to demagogues, or for gatherings that fired up nationalistic rivalries. Thus, for centuries, Arab communities have endured the contradiction between their natural dynamism and the rigidity of the political order. Now people march to the public squares and open spaces in an effort to address this schizophrenia head on and demand change. Before Arab communities determined once and for all to march to the squares, telecommunications and, of course, the internet gave them a taste of gathering en masse in public and of the transformative possibilities of such encounters. The people parlayed their experiences from these explorations and their newly honed communicative skills into the mass movements calling for change. More than two years after these movements began, how will this redefinition affect other sites of the city? Further, how does this process of redefinition imply the resurgence of the square as a public place, a physical reality, for effective communication, shared expression, and political reconfiguration? Do these movements affirm the traditional function of the city square, long defunct, or have they changed its function? Does the way in which the movements repurposed other spaces as sites of congregation indicate the urgent need for city squares and their revival? Other questions about time and history are also pressing: How, and why now? What new factors have influenced the timing of these movements? What is the logic and historical context of these factors? What do we make of the violence and high likelihood that squares transform into arenas of bloodshed? In our second issue, which revolves around “The Square,” Portal 9 sheds light on the trajectories of these open spaces, pregnant with meaning, images, and possibilities. Perhaps, from this critical examination of various squares in cities and towns across the Middle East and the rest of the world, we can extract a sense of what these places signify and have become today. Through the nuances of stories, research, and culture, we illuminate the worlds of “The Square.”

6

7

Translated by Eyad Houssami


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:35 PM Page 6

P O R TA L 9 : S T O R I E S A N D C R I T I C A L W R I T I N G A B O U T T H E C I T Y

EDITORIAL

village. People expressed their criticisms, loud and clear, in various ways. They were protesting the political order, its future, and their status as supposed citizens of nations in crisis. At stake were issues that ran the gamut from the basic rights of survival – food, shelter, health care – to civil and national rights, which form the pillars upon which a state relies. Moreover, people have been trying to affirm their deep-rooted ties to the square and their fundamental claim to it. In many cases, they have furnished the site and set up tents, or vandalized its statues, tumors of the ruling regime. When the names of the squares were linked to these regimes, they have renamed them. In many other cases, they have cleaned the squares after their gatherings and improvised residencies, trying to reclaim the area’s intrinsic role as a collective, democratic, and symbolic space. Above all, they have risen up against the regimes that confined power to a group of individuals who seized authority and passed it down through kinship and tight circles of dominance. Sometimes, the crowds attempted to utilize sites such as roundabouts, for instance, as if they were squares, indicating the necessity for such spaces in the built environment. Without a doubt, these moving scenes raise a number of questions that will continue to emerge as long as the events in the square unfold. What is certain, at least for our purposes today and since the end of 2010, is that the diverse movements unsettled a long period of stagnation. The crowds of activists, like water over the earth, gravitated toward the squares and open spaces and breathed new life into the original meanings of sahat and midan. By salvaging the purpose of the square, they found it to be the natural and only location to head to in order to dispel a languishing status quo, stiff as stone, and replace it with an alternative way of life. We find ourselves before a physical place that encompasses these layers of interpretations and history. Thus, the public space has long represented a fusion of meanings entangled in metaphors – of open landscapes, of discipline and its complexities – which all converge at the peak of public power. As these factors coalesce in one site, the square evokes dynamism and a sense of collective will. This intertwining of meanings bespeaks the history of imagined Arab communities – or that is to say of the people who rallied behind what came to be known as the “Arab Spring.” They were scattered across countries each with the same political structure – one long-standing regime. These factors and meanings spurred the unprecedented movement toward the squares, or the sites that came to be like squares, since December 2010. Before people

filled the squares only for funerals of rulers, for welcoming visiting heads of state, for swearing allegiance to demagogues, or for gatherings that fired up nationalistic rivalries. Thus, for centuries, Arab communities have endured the contradiction between their natural dynamism and the rigidity of the political order. Now people march to the public squares and open spaces in an effort to address this schizophrenia head on and demand change. Before Arab communities determined once and for all to march to the squares, telecommunications and, of course, the internet gave them a taste of gathering en masse in public and of the transformative possibilities of such encounters. The people parlayed their experiences from these explorations and their newly honed communicative skills into the mass movements calling for change. More than two years after these movements began, how will this redefinition affect other sites of the city? Further, how does this process of redefinition imply the resurgence of the square as a public place, a physical reality, for effective communication, shared expression, and political reconfiguration? Do these movements affirm the traditional function of the city square, long defunct, or have they changed its function? Does the way in which the movements repurposed other spaces as sites of congregation indicate the urgent need for city squares and their revival? Other questions about time and history are also pressing: How, and why now? What new factors have influenced the timing of these movements? What is the logic and historical context of these factors? What do we make of the violence and high likelihood that squares transform into arenas of bloodshed? In our second issue, which revolves around “The Square,” Portal 9 sheds light on the trajectories of these open spaces, pregnant with meaning, images, and possibilities. Perhaps, from this critical examination of various squares in cities and towns across the Middle East and the rest of the world, we can extract a sense of what these places signify and have become today. Through the nuances of stories, research, and culture, we illuminate the worlds of “The Square.”

6

7

Translated by Eyad Houssami


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:35 PM Page 8

E X C L U S I V E T O P O R TA L 9 J O U R N A L . O R G

ISSUE #2, SPRING 2013, THE SQUARE

COLOPHON

Stories: Reporting from Lebanon, short-story writer Tarek Abi Samra narrates how Cola, an area blanketed by sand dunes until the 1920s, became the bustling transit hub, organic square, and the chaotic, contested microcosm of Beirut that it is today. In addition, the Portal 9 website features two commissioned videos, conceived as audio-visual extensions of the articles published in the Flaneur section of the print edition. In a labyrinthine video by Ziryab Al Ghaberi, a camera seeps into the walled pathways of Sanaa, a city at once fortified and dangerously permeable. In the second video, filmed in and around Connaught Place in New Delhi, Ziyah Gafi´c constructs a fluid montage of moving images that navigate spaces of contemplation, action, and protest. Critical Writing: Deen Sharp assesses how the new book Contemporary Architecture and Urbanism in the Middle East by Mohamad al-Asad catalogues but does little to criticize the work of local architects and planners, and Omar Kholeif reviews the exhibition Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear by the Contemporary Image Collective in Cairo at Tate Modern. VISIT OUR WEBSITE

portal9journal.org

L I K E U S O N FA C E B O O K

Portal 9 is a journal of stories and critical writing about urbanism and the city. Published twice yearly in English and Arabic, it addresses the need for a conscientious debate about architecture, planning, culture, and society in urban contexts across the Middle East and throughout the rest of the world. Each issue focuses on a unique theme and blends creative writing, photography, and personal essays with academic scholarship, perceptive journalism, and cultural critique. Portal 9 is an exploration of the nexus between urbanism and culture by people who care about cities and think about them rigorously. Portal 9 (ISSN 2305-5197) is published twice yearly in Beirut, Lebanon by Solidere Management Services s.a.l.

F O L LOW @ P O RTA L 9 J O U R NA L O N T W I T T E R

twitter.com/portal9journal

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

Fadi Tofeili

Beirut Central District, Building 149 Saad Zaghloul Street PO Box 11 9493, Beirut 2012 7305 Lebanon T +961 1 980 650/60 Unsolicited materials cannot be returned.

Copyright © 2013 Solidere Management Services s.a.l. All rights reserved.

8

Malu Halasa

URBANOGRAPHY EDITOR

Todd Reisz

REVIEWS AND CRITIQUE EDITOR

MANAGING EDITOR

CONTRIBUTING EDITOR

DESIGN

PHOTO EDITOR

Nathalie El-Mir Eyad Houssami

Zeina Naccache Antoine Ghanem

Omar Kholeif

Hisham Awad Ziyah Gafi´c

ASSISTANT PHOTO EDITOR

P RO D U C T I O N

Mario Razzouk

Dina Boustany

P RO J E C T M A NAG E M E N T

Limassol Zok

A D M I N I S T R AT I O N

DISTRIBUTION AND C O M M U N I C AT I O N

Alhan Charara

LOCAL AND REGIONAL DISTRIBUTION

Compagnie libanaise de distribution de la presse et des imprimés S.A.L. - Lebanon

I N T E R NAT I O NA L D I S T R I B U T I O N

Idea Books

No part of this publication may be reproduced, used, stored in a website or other form of electronic retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including but not limited to electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the express prior written permission of the publisher. The opinions expressed in Portal 9 are the sole views of the author or authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the editors and publisher. Portal 9 does not guarantee the truthfulness, originality, accuracy, completeness, or reliability of any information or opinion presented in Portal 9, nor does it make any representation concerning the same.

E D I T O R - AT - L A RG E

C R E AT I V E D I R E C T O R

Sumaya Baroody Mohamad Rhaymi

Permit Number: 465 Director of the Publication: George Allam

facebook.com/portal9journal

S O L I D E R E M U LT I D I S C I P L I NA RY D E S I G N D E PA R T M E N T

Printed and bound in Lebanon

9

COPY EDITORS

Tracey Dando Edward Hallet Mohammad Hamdan Special Thanks Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard Garine Aivazian Deema Al-Ghunaim Yousef Al-Ghusain Dalal Al-Hashash Majida Mohamad Al-Jamal Abdul Aziz Al-Kandari Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi Aseel Al-Yagoub Zahra Ali Baba Aziz Alqatami Barrak Alzaid Arch of Kuwait Hala Bizri Anthony Downey Alia Farid Nelida Fuccaro Lawrence Joffe Elias Kateb Carolyn Matsumoto Nasser Rabbat Laura Susjin Takako Tajima Sam Thorne


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:35 PM Page 8

E X C L U S I V E T O P O R TA L 9 J O U R N A L . O R G

ISSUE #2, SPRING 2013, THE SQUARE

COLOPHON

Stories: Reporting from Lebanon, short-story writer Tarek Abi Samra narrates how Cola, an area blanketed by sand dunes until the 1920s, became the bustling transit hub, organic square, and the chaotic, contested microcosm of Beirut that it is today. In addition, the Portal 9 website features two commissioned videos, conceived as audio-visual extensions of the articles published in the Flaneur section of the print edition. In a labyrinthine video by Ziryab Al Ghaberi, a camera seeps into the walled pathways of Sanaa, a city at once fortified and dangerously permeable. In the second video, filmed in and around Connaught Place in New Delhi, Ziyah Gafi´c constructs a fluid montage of moving images that navigate spaces of contemplation, action, and protest. Critical Writing: Deen Sharp assesses how the new book Contemporary Architecture and Urbanism in the Middle East by Mohamad al-Asad catalogues but does little to criticize the work of local architects and planners, and Omar Kholeif reviews the exhibition Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear by the Contemporary Image Collective in Cairo at Tate Modern. VISIT OUR WEBSITE

portal9journal.org

L I K E U S O N FA C E B O O K

Portal 9 is a journal of stories and critical writing about urbanism and the city. Published twice yearly in English and Arabic, it addresses the need for a conscientious debate about architecture, planning, culture, and society in urban contexts across the Middle East and throughout the rest of the world. Each issue focuses on a unique theme and blends creative writing, photography, and personal essays with academic scholarship, perceptive journalism, and cultural critique. Portal 9 is an exploration of the nexus between urbanism and culture by people who care about cities and think about them rigorously. Portal 9 (ISSN 2305-5197) is published twice yearly in Beirut, Lebanon by Solidere Management Services s.a.l.

F O L LOW @ P O RTA L 9 J O U R NA L O N T W I T T E R

twitter.com/portal9journal

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

Fadi Tofeili

Beirut Central District, Building 149 Saad Zaghloul Street PO Box 11 9493, Beirut 2012 7305 Lebanon T +961 1 980 650/60 Unsolicited materials cannot be returned.

Copyright © 2013 Solidere Management Services s.a.l. All rights reserved.

8

Malu Halasa

URBANOGRAPHY EDITOR

Todd Reisz

REVIEWS AND CRITIQUE EDITOR

MANAGING EDITOR

CONTRIBUTING EDITOR

DESIGN

PHOTO EDITOR

Nathalie El-Mir Eyad Houssami

Zeina Naccache Antoine Ghanem

Omar Kholeif

Hisham Awad Ziyah Gafi´c

ASSISTANT PHOTO EDITOR

P RO D U C T I O N

Mario Razzouk

Dina Boustany

P RO J E C T M A NAG E M E N T

Limassol Zok

A D M I N I S T R AT I O N

DISTRIBUTION AND C O M M U N I C AT I O N

Alhan Charara

LOCAL AND REGIONAL DISTRIBUTION

Compagnie libanaise de distribution de la presse et des imprimés S.A.L. - Lebanon

I N T E R NAT I O NA L D I S T R I B U T I O N

Idea Books

No part of this publication may be reproduced, used, stored in a website or other form of electronic retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including but not limited to electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the express prior written permission of the publisher. The opinions expressed in Portal 9 are the sole views of the author or authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the editors and publisher. Portal 9 does not guarantee the truthfulness, originality, accuracy, completeness, or reliability of any information or opinion presented in Portal 9, nor does it make any representation concerning the same.

E D I T O R - AT - L A RG E

C R E AT I V E D I R E C T O R

Sumaya Baroody Mohamad Rhaymi

Permit Number: 465 Director of the Publication: George Allam

facebook.com/portal9journal

S O L I D E R E M U LT I D I S C I P L I NA RY D E S I G N D E PA R T M E N T

Printed and bound in Lebanon

9

COPY EDITORS

Tracey Dando Edward Hallet Mohammad Hamdan Special Thanks Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard Garine Aivazian Deema Al-Ghunaim Yousef Al-Ghusain Dalal Al-Hashash Majida Mohamad Al-Jamal Abdul Aziz Al-Kandari Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi Aseel Al-Yagoub Zahra Ali Baba Aziz Alqatami Barrak Alzaid Arch of Kuwait Hala Bizri Anthony Downey Alia Farid Nelida Fuccaro Lawrence Joffe Elias Kateb Carolyn Matsumoto Nasser Rabbat Laura Susjin Takako Tajima Sam Thorne


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:35 PM Page 10

ˇ C´ - S H E P H E R D C U LT U R E V E R S U S K I T S C H : T H E B A T T L E F O R B E L G R A D E ’ S S T R E E T S b y G O R A N A V U CI

N A R R AT I V E S

C U LT U R E V E R S U S K I T S C H : T H E B AT T L E F O R B E L G R A D E ’ S S T R E E T S In the 1990s, when Miloševi´c’s seemingly absent dictatorship transformed Belgrade from a city of Mitteleuropean sensibilities into the capital of Turbo trash, tens of thousands of Serbians reclaimed the streets by walking. Gorana Vuˇci´c -Shepherd ١١ ‫ صفحة‬،‫ البّوابة التّاسعة‬،‫الحضارة ﰲ مواجهة اﻻبتذال‬

Serbia as the chief instigator of regional aggression and therefore subjected the country to a decade-long regime of international trade sanctions, which resulted in a scarcity of basic goods. People lost their jobs as the black market blossomed. The average salary shrunk to approximately $5 per month, and people were desperate and understandably terrified of this sudden drop in living standards and security. Serbians responded to these disasters in a variety of ways: Some turned nationalist and participated in the wars. Some fled the country and sought fortune in any other, more peaceful parts of the world. Others sung opposition songs and took to the streets. The capital, Belgrade, always opposed Miloševi´c and the prevailing nationalism. However, the very loud voice of opposition was ignored not only by Miloševi´c but also by the international press. The ancient city of Belgrade (translated literally as “white city”) is situated on the hilly confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers. Prior to World War II, it had never grown beyond these banks. After the end of the war, the previously greenfield land across the Sava became the focus of development. Known as the “New Belgrade,” this area of the city almost doubled in size. This brand new city boasted large boulevards and imposing government edifices. Post-war Yugoslavian architects followed the modernist principles set out by CIAM (Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne, established 1928), perhaps even too religiously. They were keen to distance themselves from

Well, fuck you, Nineties. Your story is now over. And I wish to God no one ever remembers these punks and bastards; When law finally grabs a broom; or we let them destroy each other … Which has its own advantages.

– “Devedesete” by Djordje Balaševi´c

Trg Republike was one of many squares in Belgrade through which the first mass walking demonstrations of the 1990s took place. In the center stands a monument to Prince Mihailo, who expelled the Turks from Belgrade in 1867. Plates on the monument’s plinth commemorate the liberation of seven Serbian cities. Urban myth has it that the sculptor killed himself after he forgot to include a hat on the bronze head of the prince. The monument, now largely forgotten, is simply known as kod konja, or “at the horse” in Serbian. Photograph by Ziyah Gafi´c

10

These lyrics were written in the year 2000 by Balaševi´c, a famous Serbian singer and activist. The song “Devedesete” (“The Nineties” in Serbian) ushered in a new era and somewhat prophetically foreshadowed the demise of Serbia’s nationalist president, Slobodan Miloševi´c, during the revolution of October 5, 2000. His official resignation the next day put an end to what many in Belgrade considered to be a decade-long “black hole” in their lives. It was a time people would rather forget. When asked, their responses ranged from, “I blocked those damned and miserable 1990s from my mind,” to the more positive, “I always feel about ten years younger. My life stopped in spring 1991, and I started living again in 2000, when Miloševi´c went to The Hague.” Ten years earlier, Yugoslavia had begun a process of disintegration that led to a series of wars on many fronts: Slovenia (1991), Croatia (1991–1995), Bosnia (1992–1995), and finally the debacle of Kosovo (1998–1999). Serbia was never, as then-president Miloševi´c insisted, “officially” at war, and none of the conflicts took place on its territory. However, the international community did not agree. They saw

11


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:35 PM Page 10

ˇ C´ - S H E P H E R D C U LT U R E V E R S U S K I T S C H : T H E B A T T L E F O R B E L G R A D E ’ S S T R E E T S b y G O R A N A V U CI

N A R R AT I V E S

C U LT U R E V E R S U S K I T S C H : T H E B AT T L E F O R B E L G R A D E ’ S S T R E E T S In the 1990s, when Miloševi´c’s seemingly absent dictatorship transformed Belgrade from a city of Mitteleuropean sensibilities into the capital of Turbo trash, tens of thousands of Serbians reclaimed the streets by walking. Gorana Vuˇci´c -Shepherd ١١ ‫ صفحة‬،‫ البّوابة التّاسعة‬،‫الحضارة ﰲ مواجهة اﻻبتذال‬

Serbia as the chief instigator of regional aggression and therefore subjected the country to a decade-long regime of international trade sanctions, which resulted in a scarcity of basic goods. People lost their jobs as the black market blossomed. The average salary shrunk to approximately $5 per month, and people were desperate and understandably terrified of this sudden drop in living standards and security. Serbians responded to these disasters in a variety of ways: Some turned nationalist and participated in the wars. Some fled the country and sought fortune in any other, more peaceful parts of the world. Others sung opposition songs and took to the streets. The capital, Belgrade, always opposed Miloševi´c and the prevailing nationalism. However, the very loud voice of opposition was ignored not only by Miloševi´c but also by the international press. The ancient city of Belgrade (translated literally as “white city”) is situated on the hilly confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers. Prior to World War II, it had never grown beyond these banks. After the end of the war, the previously greenfield land across the Sava became the focus of development. Known as the “New Belgrade,” this area of the city almost doubled in size. This brand new city boasted large boulevards and imposing government edifices. Post-war Yugoslavian architects followed the modernist principles set out by CIAM (Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne, established 1928), perhaps even too religiously. They were keen to distance themselves from

Well, fuck you, Nineties. Your story is now over. And I wish to God no one ever remembers these punks and bastards; When law finally grabs a broom; or we let them destroy each other … Which has its own advantages.

– “Devedesete” by Djordje Balaševi´c

Trg Republike was one of many squares in Belgrade through which the first mass walking demonstrations of the 1990s took place. In the center stands a monument to Prince Mihailo, who expelled the Turks from Belgrade in 1867. Plates on the monument’s plinth commemorate the liberation of seven Serbian cities. Urban myth has it that the sculptor killed himself after he forgot to include a hat on the bronze head of the prince. The monument, now largely forgotten, is simply known as kod konja, or “at the horse” in Serbian. Photograph by Ziyah Gafi´c

10

These lyrics were written in the year 2000 by Balaševi´c, a famous Serbian singer and activist. The song “Devedesete” (“The Nineties” in Serbian) ushered in a new era and somewhat prophetically foreshadowed the demise of Serbia’s nationalist president, Slobodan Miloševi´c, during the revolution of October 5, 2000. His official resignation the next day put an end to what many in Belgrade considered to be a decade-long “black hole” in their lives. It was a time people would rather forget. When asked, their responses ranged from, “I blocked those damned and miserable 1990s from my mind,” to the more positive, “I always feel about ten years younger. My life stopped in spring 1991, and I started living again in 2000, when Miloševi´c went to The Hague.” Ten years earlier, Yugoslavia had begun a process of disintegration that led to a series of wars on many fronts: Slovenia (1991), Croatia (1991–1995), Bosnia (1992–1995), and finally the debacle of Kosovo (1998–1999). Serbia was never, as then-president Miloševi´c insisted, “officially” at war, and none of the conflicts took place on its territory. However, the international community did not agree. They saw

11


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:35 PM Page 12

ˇ C´ - S H E P H E R D C U LT U R E V E R S U S K I T S C H : T H E B A T T L E F O R B E L G R A D E ’ S S T R E E T S b y G O R A N A V U CI

where Belgrade’s ladies donned evening attire and mingled with the diverse groups of young and old that could only be brought together by Balaševi´c’s eclectic music and lyrics. However, after the concerts, as Balaševi´c himself often pointed out, the audience disappeared into darkness, only to gather again one year later. The darkness, space, and time in Belgrade between these unofficial opposition gatherings reveal a unique response to Miloševi´c and his particular brand of dictatorial rule. He was not interested in public space, city squares, or even architecture in general because his ambitions were ultimately territorial. There were no Stalinesque statues in the city nor Saddam-like posters of Miloševi´c in the fields on horseback or looking pensively into the distance, surrounded by children. What Miloševi´c allowed and tacitly supported through the absence of policy was an invasion. An atmosphere of chaos and noise pervaded urban spaces; street sellers from the countryside and ethnically Serbian immigrants fleeing the wars in the surrounding republics were everywhere. Serbia itself was under international trade sanctions, and consequently the squares and streets overflowed with black economy goods. At Belgrade University, the plateau in front of the Student Cultural Center was awash with shacks selling pirated software and music CDs. These were mostly staffed by students, which might help partially explain Serbia’s currently blossoming software industry. The Boulevard of the Revolution was more diverse and sold basic household products such as shampoo, socks, chocolates, and, without fail, cigarettes. Gasoline was sold usually two or three liters at a time on various street corners – emulating the spatial typology of gas stations, placed in areas easily accessible for cars. Yet expensive vehicles were ubiquitous among the old East German Trabants, a clear sign of power in a city almost devoid of petrol. In London in 2008, Serbian writer Vladimir Arsenijevi´c described the strategy behind the chaos of Miloševi´c’s 1990s Belgrade. Contrary

the Soviet socialist realism, since Yugoslavia had broken away from Stalinist Russia in 1948. Due to Marshal Tito’s political maneuvers, Yugoslavia managed to stay politically neutral until its demise. The one thing that never changed in Belgrade even under communism was that its center was considered desirable as a residential area and mark of social status, following the model of Paris, Vienna, and other continental European cities. Property prices remained astronomical after Miloševi´c took power in 1989, and no truly middle-class Belgradians would allow themselves to live outside the center. The most sought-after “true” part of Belgrade is often alluded to as “In the Circle of Two.” This is the area circumscribed by tramline number two. Miloševi´c never won local elections in this part of town. Most of Belgrade’s local government institutions, including those outside the “Circle of Two,” were never in Miloševi´c’s hands, despite his seat of power being there. He was an invisible man in the city. The NATO bombing of Serbia, from March 24 to June 10, 1999, brought about the eventual demise of Miloševi´c and the lifting of international sanctions. The singer Balaševi´c is now mostly retired and a grandfather. During the 1990s, he held his infamous New Year concerts in New Belgrade in a 1970s modernist masterpiece, the Sava Centar, across the river from the old city. Designed by the architect Stojan Maksimovi´c, it was the largest audience hall in the former Yugoslavia. It was constructed just in time to host an International Monetary Fund conference together with the nearby Intercontinental Hotel (another example of architecture that signaled opening up to the West and global capitalism). Eventually the Sava Centar would house the 2008 Eurovision song contest. In the 1990s, tickets for Balaševi´c’s concerts were always hard to come by, and performances invariably had a covert political message. Balaševi´c and his audience clearly opposed the rule of Miloševi´c, yet these performances were not covert or illegal. They were held in public, in a glamorous setting,

12

N A R R AT I V E S

to impressions from abroad, Arsenijevi´c claimed that Miloševi´c’s regime was not, by definition, a dictatorship. There was freedom of the press as well as artistic expression, and because he didn’t censor anything and nothing was forbidden, there was not a clear target to fight against. There was just a lot of “deafening noise” that bred confusion and prevented the rebellion from developing a coherent response. This same level of chaos stifled the development of architecture and urbanism in Belgrade. The houses belonging to nouveau riche war profiteers epitomized outlandish bad taste. Pride of place went to the home of the war criminal Arkan, which is a mixture of pseudo-classical Grecian temple, missile silo, and ersatz Miami Beach hotel. On the outskirts of the city, the entire district of Padina rose illegally. Just like Balaševi´c’s concerts, everything was permitted, from illicit trading to unlicensed construction. In his book Almost Architecture (2006), the architect, theorist, and academic Srdjan Jovanovi´c Weiss states that Miloševi´c’s “power was wielded not by public reappearance, but by a steady absence. The less Miloševi´c spoke in public, the more he maintained control over the public. In fact the less Miloševi´c built, the wider the gap opened for uncontrolled construction. The result is a dearth of urban planning in the public realm. Aspirations of the city are nowhere to be found, but its space is thickening like an oversized village.” This was a terrible indictment of the Serbian capital which, despite being located in the Balkans, saw itself imbued with Austro-Hungarian Empire sophistication and Mitteleuropean sensibilities. With an eye fixed on Vienna, the capital was convinced that it had overtaken Prague or Budapest while hibernating behind the Iron Curtain.

What they are referring to is the way in which most of the city’s squares are mainly used as public thoroughfares rather than as places of gathering. In fact, all are located at the junctions or intersections of large roads. Even the best conceived Trg Republike (Republic Square), which hosts the National Museum and the National Theatre, lies at one end of Belgrade’s main pedestrian street. Built on the road to Constantinople in 1866, after the destruction of the eighteenth-century Stambol Gate, it too was largely deserted throughout the 1990s. During the demonstrations that began in 1991, which were known in popular parlance as “walks,” squares found a new role. At the outbreak of the Bosnian War on March 9, 1991, six thousand students participated in a protest march that started from the area of Belgrade known as “Student City” and ended in the city center. This “walking revolution” was largely ignored by the Western media, which concentrated on the more overt conflict taking place

“After Miloševic´ took power in 1989, everything was permitted, from illicit trading to unlicensed construction.” and therefore misleadingly gave the impression that the citizens of Belgrade were uniformly behind Miloševi´c’s imperial fantasies. Nebojša Spremo, one Belgrade-based architect, recalled with sadness these first general strikes in the city, which lasted one month: “When the state takes the tanks out onto the streets with the intention of dispersing demonstrators, then every citizen is the enemy of the state—in their own home city, where their ancient roots are.” Another participant in the protests remembered: “The 1990s started for me when the police beat me on the head with a baton … I remember

I Think, Therefore I Walk

Belgrade is a city of streets and boulevards rather than squares. Inhabitants of the city always insist that Belgrade has no properly constituted squares.

13


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:35 PM Page 12

ˇ C´ - S H E P H E R D C U LT U R E V E R S U S K I T S C H : T H E B A T T L E F O R B E L G R A D E ’ S S T R E E T S b y G O R A N A V U CI

where Belgrade’s ladies donned evening attire and mingled with the diverse groups of young and old that could only be brought together by Balaševi´c’s eclectic music and lyrics. However, after the concerts, as Balaševi´c himself often pointed out, the audience disappeared into darkness, only to gather again one year later. The darkness, space, and time in Belgrade between these unofficial opposition gatherings reveal a unique response to Miloševi´c and his particular brand of dictatorial rule. He was not interested in public space, city squares, or even architecture in general because his ambitions were ultimately territorial. There were no Stalinesque statues in the city nor Saddam-like posters of Miloševi´c in the fields on horseback or looking pensively into the distance, surrounded by children. What Miloševi´c allowed and tacitly supported through the absence of policy was an invasion. An atmosphere of chaos and noise pervaded urban spaces; street sellers from the countryside and ethnically Serbian immigrants fleeing the wars in the surrounding republics were everywhere. Serbia itself was under international trade sanctions, and consequently the squares and streets overflowed with black economy goods. At Belgrade University, the plateau in front of the Student Cultural Center was awash with shacks selling pirated software and music CDs. These were mostly staffed by students, which might help partially explain Serbia’s currently blossoming software industry. The Boulevard of the Revolution was more diverse and sold basic household products such as shampoo, socks, chocolates, and, without fail, cigarettes. Gasoline was sold usually two or three liters at a time on various street corners – emulating the spatial typology of gas stations, placed in areas easily accessible for cars. Yet expensive vehicles were ubiquitous among the old East German Trabants, a clear sign of power in a city almost devoid of petrol. In London in 2008, Serbian writer Vladimir Arsenijevi´c described the strategy behind the chaos of Miloševi´c’s 1990s Belgrade. Contrary

the Soviet socialist realism, since Yugoslavia had broken away from Stalinist Russia in 1948. Due to Marshal Tito’s political maneuvers, Yugoslavia managed to stay politically neutral until its demise. The one thing that never changed in Belgrade even under communism was that its center was considered desirable as a residential area and mark of social status, following the model of Paris, Vienna, and other continental European cities. Property prices remained astronomical after Miloševi´c took power in 1989, and no truly middle-class Belgradians would allow themselves to live outside the center. The most sought-after “true” part of Belgrade is often alluded to as “In the Circle of Two.” This is the area circumscribed by tramline number two. Miloševi´c never won local elections in this part of town. Most of Belgrade’s local government institutions, including those outside the “Circle of Two,” were never in Miloševi´c’s hands, despite his seat of power being there. He was an invisible man in the city. The NATO bombing of Serbia, from March 24 to June 10, 1999, brought about the eventual demise of Miloševi´c and the lifting of international sanctions. The singer Balaševi´c is now mostly retired and a grandfather. During the 1990s, he held his infamous New Year concerts in New Belgrade in a 1970s modernist masterpiece, the Sava Centar, across the river from the old city. Designed by the architect Stojan Maksimovi´c, it was the largest audience hall in the former Yugoslavia. It was constructed just in time to host an International Monetary Fund conference together with the nearby Intercontinental Hotel (another example of architecture that signaled opening up to the West and global capitalism). Eventually the Sava Centar would house the 2008 Eurovision song contest. In the 1990s, tickets for Balaševi´c’s concerts were always hard to come by, and performances invariably had a covert political message. Balaševi´c and his audience clearly opposed the rule of Miloševi´c, yet these performances were not covert or illegal. They were held in public, in a glamorous setting,

12

N A R R AT I V E S

to impressions from abroad, Arsenijevi´c claimed that Miloševi´c’s regime was not, by definition, a dictatorship. There was freedom of the press as well as artistic expression, and because he didn’t censor anything and nothing was forbidden, there was not a clear target to fight against. There was just a lot of “deafening noise” that bred confusion and prevented the rebellion from developing a coherent response. This same level of chaos stifled the development of architecture and urbanism in Belgrade. The houses belonging to nouveau riche war profiteers epitomized outlandish bad taste. Pride of place went to the home of the war criminal Arkan, which is a mixture of pseudo-classical Grecian temple, missile silo, and ersatz Miami Beach hotel. On the outskirts of the city, the entire district of Padina rose illegally. Just like Balaševi´c’s concerts, everything was permitted, from illicit trading to unlicensed construction. In his book Almost Architecture (2006), the architect, theorist, and academic Srdjan Jovanovi´c Weiss states that Miloševi´c’s “power was wielded not by public reappearance, but by a steady absence. The less Miloševi´c spoke in public, the more he maintained control over the public. In fact the less Miloševi´c built, the wider the gap opened for uncontrolled construction. The result is a dearth of urban planning in the public realm. Aspirations of the city are nowhere to be found, but its space is thickening like an oversized village.” This was a terrible indictment of the Serbian capital which, despite being located in the Balkans, saw itself imbued with Austro-Hungarian Empire sophistication and Mitteleuropean sensibilities. With an eye fixed on Vienna, the capital was convinced that it had overtaken Prague or Budapest while hibernating behind the Iron Curtain.

What they are referring to is the way in which most of the city’s squares are mainly used as public thoroughfares rather than as places of gathering. In fact, all are located at the junctions or intersections of large roads. Even the best conceived Trg Republike (Republic Square), which hosts the National Museum and the National Theatre, lies at one end of Belgrade’s main pedestrian street. Built on the road to Constantinople in 1866, after the destruction of the eighteenth-century Stambol Gate, it too was largely deserted throughout the 1990s. During the demonstrations that began in 1991, which were known in popular parlance as “walks,” squares found a new role. At the outbreak of the Bosnian War on March 9, 1991, six thousand students participated in a protest march that started from the area of Belgrade known as “Student City” and ended in the city center. This “walking revolution” was largely ignored by the Western media, which concentrated on the more overt conflict taking place

“After Miloševic´ took power in 1989, everything was permitted, from illicit trading to unlicensed construction.” and therefore misleadingly gave the impression that the citizens of Belgrade were uniformly behind Miloševi´c’s imperial fantasies. Nebojša Spremo, one Belgrade-based architect, recalled with sadness these first general strikes in the city, which lasted one month: “When the state takes the tanks out onto the streets with the intention of dispersing demonstrators, then every citizen is the enemy of the state—in their own home city, where their ancient roots are.” Another participant in the protests remembered: “The 1990s started for me when the police beat me on the head with a baton … I remember

I Think, Therefore I Walk

Belgrade is a city of streets and boulevards rather than squares. Inhabitants of the city always insist that Belgrade has no properly constituted squares.

13


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:35 PM Page 22

ˇ C´ - S H E P H E R D C U LT U R E V E R S U S K I T S C H : T H E B A T T L E F O R B E L G R A D E ’ S S T R E E T S b y G O R A N A V U CI

N A R R AT I V E S

A woman exits an underground passage in downtown Belgrade. Photograph by Ziyah Gafi´c

Roses and bouquets around the corner from Trg Republike, the symbolic heart of the Serbian capital. Photograph by Ziyah Gafi´c

22

23


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:35 PM Page 22

ˇ C´ - S H E P H E R D C U LT U R E V E R S U S K I T S C H : T H E B A T T L E F O R B E L G R A D E ’ S S T R E E T S b y G O R A N A V U CI

N A R R AT I V E S

A woman exits an underground passage in downtown Belgrade. Photograph by Ziyah Gafi´c

Roses and bouquets around the corner from Trg Republike, the symbolic heart of the Serbian capital. Photograph by Ziyah Gafi´c

22

23


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:35 PM Page 24

MARTYRS SQUARE IN ALGIERS by BACHIR MEFTI

N A R R AT I V E S

M A RT Y R S S Q U A R E IN ALGIERS Nothing quite reflects the history and spirit of Algeria in as concentrated a form as its most prominent city square. For one writer, it is where he came of age and learned to read the grammar of nationhood, from culture and commerce to protest and disillusionment. Bachir Mefti portal9journal.org ،‫ﰲ ساحة الشهداء الجزائرّية‬

Bereft of the large statue of Duc d’Orlean, as well as its former name, Place du Gouvernement, Martyrs Square or Sahat ech-Chouhada commemorates the brave dead from the civil war of 1954 to 1962. Yet it remains one of the liveliest places in Algiers. Photograph by Hocine Zaourar

24

statue of the Duc was excised immediately following independence in 1962. The place, henceforth named Martyrs Square, became open in all directions except to the south. There lies the Casbah, with its alleyways, popular souks, and older traditional buildings. I entered the square, filled with amazement and joy. My father began naming all the neighborhoods and streets we passed. It felt like an exhilarating privilege for me to be in a place so full of pictures and fantasies. All of a sudden, I found myself in a bigger and wider space, extending over the horizon, and packed with people walking in all directions. It was a sprawling area. From the south, one could watch the entire upper section. It is the location of the Casbah, where Algerians lived under colonialism. There is also the old mosque of Ketchaoua, which was turned into a church in 1830 when Algiers fell into French hands. In 1831, the inhabitants began fighting to halt the transformation of the mosque into a church, but without success. Many died – some say four thousand – at the hands of the French General Duc de Rovigo. But revenge would come following independence, more than a hundred years later. In the peculiar manner of Algerians, they began converting most of Algeria’s churches into mosques, replacing crosses with crescents in what they considered a reclamation of a symbolic identity that was missing during a century and a half of French occupation of their coutry. My father went to Ketchaoua Mosque to pray as I sat waiting on the broad steps nearby,

I do not recall exactly when or what day of which year it was, but I do remember it was the first time I ventured into Martyrs Square with my father. He was busy with something in the Directorate of Religious Affairs, where he worked. I do not know either why he took me along with him, of all my brothers and sisters. It could have been because I was his youngest and the trip would delight someone my age. It meant taking the Urban Transportation Department of Algiers bus service, from Hay Al Saadah, high above the city, down to Audin Square, whose most famous landmark is the national university. We would pass by the central post office building, known for its Islamic architecture, which contrasted with the surrounding structures, built in colonial style like most of the rest of Algiers. It was a journey replete with sights and images – and remains so today. Past the central post office – which Algerians prefer to call by its French name, La Grande Poste, as that foreign language still somehow remains stuck to their tongues – we go through the long street of Rue Larbi Ben M’hidi, which also kept its French name, Rue d’Isly. Reaching Jardin El Djenina, known as Le Square, across from the Grand National Theatre, you find yourself under the arches of Bab Azoun Street. At the end of those arches, you reach the plaza that used to be called Place du Gouvernement by the French, with a large statue of the Duc d’Orleans in the middle. But contrary to Rue Larbi Ben M’hidi or Djenina gardens, the French name and influence did not remain here. The large

25


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:35 PM Page 24

MARTYRS SQUARE IN ALGIERS by BACHIR MEFTI

N A R R AT I V E S

M A RT Y R S S Q U A R E IN ALGIERS Nothing quite reflects the history and spirit of Algeria in as concentrated a form as its most prominent city square. For one writer, it is where he came of age and learned to read the grammar of nationhood, from culture and commerce to protest and disillusionment. Bachir Mefti portal9journal.org ،‫ﰲ ساحة الشهداء الجزائرّية‬

Bereft of the large statue of Duc d’Orlean, as well as its former name, Place du Gouvernement, Martyrs Square or Sahat ech-Chouhada commemorates the brave dead from the civil war of 1954 to 1962. Yet it remains one of the liveliest places in Algiers. Photograph by Hocine Zaourar

24

statue of the Duc was excised immediately following independence in 1962. The place, henceforth named Martyrs Square, became open in all directions except to the south. There lies the Casbah, with its alleyways, popular souks, and older traditional buildings. I entered the square, filled with amazement and joy. My father began naming all the neighborhoods and streets we passed. It felt like an exhilarating privilege for me to be in a place so full of pictures and fantasies. All of a sudden, I found myself in a bigger and wider space, extending over the horizon, and packed with people walking in all directions. It was a sprawling area. From the south, one could watch the entire upper section. It is the location of the Casbah, where Algerians lived under colonialism. There is also the old mosque of Ketchaoua, which was turned into a church in 1830 when Algiers fell into French hands. In 1831, the inhabitants began fighting to halt the transformation of the mosque into a church, but without success. Many died – some say four thousand – at the hands of the French General Duc de Rovigo. But revenge would come following independence, more than a hundred years later. In the peculiar manner of Algerians, they began converting most of Algeria’s churches into mosques, replacing crosses with crescents in what they considered a reclamation of a symbolic identity that was missing during a century and a half of French occupation of their coutry. My father went to Ketchaoua Mosque to pray as I sat waiting on the broad steps nearby,

I do not recall exactly when or what day of which year it was, but I do remember it was the first time I ventured into Martyrs Square with my father. He was busy with something in the Directorate of Religious Affairs, where he worked. I do not know either why he took me along with him, of all my brothers and sisters. It could have been because I was his youngest and the trip would delight someone my age. It meant taking the Urban Transportation Department of Algiers bus service, from Hay Al Saadah, high above the city, down to Audin Square, whose most famous landmark is the national university. We would pass by the central post office building, known for its Islamic architecture, which contrasted with the surrounding structures, built in colonial style like most of the rest of Algiers. It was a journey replete with sights and images – and remains so today. Past the central post office – which Algerians prefer to call by its French name, La Grande Poste, as that foreign language still somehow remains stuck to their tongues – we go through the long street of Rue Larbi Ben M’hidi, which also kept its French name, Rue d’Isly. Reaching Jardin El Djenina, known as Le Square, across from the Grand National Theatre, you find yourself under the arches of Bab Azoun Street. At the end of those arches, you reach the plaza that used to be called Place du Gouvernement by the French, with a large statue of the Duc d’Orleans in the middle. But contrary to Rue Larbi Ben M’hidi or Djenina gardens, the French name and influence did not remain here. The large

25


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:35 PM Page 30

MARTYRS SQUARE IN ALGIERS by BACHIR MEFTI

N A R R AT I V E S

Reflecting all the faded glory of 1840s French colonial architecture, Boulevard Ernesto Che Guevara – formerly Boulevard République or Grand Boulevard – is reminiscent of the many layers of Algiers’s history. Photograph by Hocine Zaourar

Islamic and Moorish architectural motifs typify the central post office of Algiers, in contrast to the French styles of the surrounding seafront area. Numerous large and fashionable streets branch off from the building. Built in 1910 and still known affectionately by its French name, “La Grande Poste,” it is located to the east of the Casbah and downhill from Audin Square, the site of the university. Photograph by Hocine Zaourar

30

31


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:35 PM Page 30

MARTYRS SQUARE IN ALGIERS by BACHIR MEFTI

N A R R AT I V E S

Reflecting all the faded glory of 1840s French colonial architecture, Boulevard Ernesto Che Guevara – formerly Boulevard République or Grand Boulevard – is reminiscent of the many layers of Algiers’s history. Photograph by Hocine Zaourar

Islamic and Moorish architectural motifs typify the central post office of Algiers, in contrast to the French styles of the surrounding seafront area. Numerous large and fashionable streets branch off from the building. Built in 1910 and still known affectionately by its French name, “La Grande Poste,” it is located to the east of the Casbah and downhill from Audin Square, the site of the university. Photograph by Hocine Zaourar

30

31


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:35 PM Page 32

MARTYRS SQUARE IN ALGIERS by BACHIR MEFTI

N A R R AT I V E S

Near the cinemas Bachir Mefti used to frequent in his youth, a view of Algiers’s ferry terminus, the city’s primary link to the outside world. Photograph by Hocine Zaourar

Close to the harbor and a former fish market, the Mosque of the Fishermen in Martyrs Square is dated to 1660 by an inscription that appears over its main entrance. A mixture of styles and forms, the dome and building reveal its Ottoman origins, while the minaret is considered North African. Inside, there is a marble minbar decorated with Italianate carvings and a mihrab with a horseshoe arch typical of Andalusia. Photograph by Hocine Zaourar

32

33


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:35 PM Page 32

MARTYRS SQUARE IN ALGIERS by BACHIR MEFTI

N A R R AT I V E S

Near the cinemas Bachir Mefti used to frequent in his youth, a view of Algiers’s ferry terminus, the city’s primary link to the outside world. Photograph by Hocine Zaourar

Close to the harbor and a former fish market, the Mosque of the Fishermen in Martyrs Square is dated to 1660 by an inscription that appears over its main entrance. A mixture of styles and forms, the dome and building reveal its Ottoman origins, while the minaret is considered North African. Inside, there is a marble minbar decorated with Italianate carvings and a mihrab with a horseshoe arch typical of Andalusia. Photograph by Hocine Zaourar

32

33


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:36 PM Page 38

P H O T O E S S AY

A RC H I T E C T U R A L E X PA N S E S by Ziyah Gafi´c

portal9journal.org ،‫عامئر اﳌساحات‬

The architecture of the late Oscar Niemeyer (1907–2012) stands as a hallmark of modernist design. Drawing inspiration from the voluptuous landscapes and sinuous rivers of Brazil, as well as the career of Le Corbusier, he worked on projects around the world – from Tripoli, Lebanon to Caracas, Venezuela – especially during his twenty-year exile. Nowhere is his aesthetic, in all its geometrical utopianism, ingenuity, and failure, more pronounced than in Brasília, where he served as principal architect. The new capital was planned by his collaborator Lucio Costa (1902–1998) and built from scratch in the center of the country over just four years in the late 1950s. There, Niemeyer’s ambitions for his discipline and socialist visions for his country coalesced to form an entire city.

The ravages of time show in the surroundings of the Cathedral of Brasília, or Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady Aparecida (Catedral Metropolitana Nossa Senhora Aparecida in Portuguese), in Brasília. Yet Oscar Niemeyer’s design, with its 90-ton curved parabolic columns representing hands raised up to heaven, is as startling as it was when he built it in 1958, more than half a century ago.


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:36 PM Page 38

P H O T O E S S AY

A RC H I T E C T U R A L E X PA N S E S by Ziyah Gafi´c

portal9journal.org ،‫عامئر اﳌساحات‬

The architecture of the late Oscar Niemeyer (1907–2012) stands as a hallmark of modernist design. Drawing inspiration from the voluptuous landscapes and sinuous rivers of Brazil, as well as the career of Le Corbusier, he worked on projects around the world – from Tripoli, Lebanon to Caracas, Venezuela – especially during his twenty-year exile. Nowhere is his aesthetic, in all its geometrical utopianism, ingenuity, and failure, more pronounced than in Brasília, where he served as principal architect. The new capital was planned by his collaborator Lucio Costa (1902–1998) and built from scratch in the center of the country over just four years in the late 1950s. There, Niemeyer’s ambitions for his discipline and socialist visions for his country coalesced to form an entire city.

The ravages of time show in the surroundings of the Cathedral of Brasília, or Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady Aparecida (Catedral Metropolitana Nossa Senhora Aparecida in Portuguese), in Brasília. Yet Oscar Niemeyer’s design, with its 90-ton curved parabolic columns representing hands raised up to heaven, is as startling as it was when he built it in 1958, more than half a century ago.


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:36 PM Page 40

(Above) A security guard stands in front of Itamaraty Palace, Brasília, which was built between 1960 and 1970. The construction houses Brazil’s Ministry of External Relations and is located just east of the National Congress building, along the Ministries Esplanade, near the Square of the Three Powers, or Praça dos Três Poderes. (Right) Another view of Niemeyer’s Itamaraty Palace shows its arches and generous glass façade. These symbolize Brazil’s desire to project both solidity and openness in its foreign policy.

40

41


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:36 PM Page 40

(Above) A security guard stands in front of Itamaraty Palace, Brasília, which was built between 1960 and 1970. The construction houses Brazil’s Ministry of External Relations and is located just east of the National Congress building, along the Ministries Esplanade, near the Square of the Three Powers, or Praça dos Três Poderes. (Right) Another view of Niemeyer’s Itamaraty Palace shows its arches and generous glass façade. These symbolize Brazil’s desire to project both solidity and openness in its foreign policy.

40

41


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:36 PM Page 48

(Above) A security guard stands in front of a statue by Alfredo Ceschiatti embodying Themis, the Greek Goddess of divine law, in front of the Ministry of Justice in the Square of Three Powers. (Right) A maintenance crew on lunch break in the Square of Three Powers.

48

49


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:36 PM Page 48

(Above) A security guard stands in front of a statue by Alfredo Ceschiatti embodying Themis, the Greek Goddess of divine law, in front of the Ministry of Justice in the Square of Three Powers. (Right) A maintenance crew on lunch break in the Square of Three Powers.

48

49


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:36 PM Page 52

E U R O P E A N E X C L AV E S I N T H E M A G H R E B : C E U TA A N D M E L I L L A b y A Z I Z A C H A O U N I P R O J E C T S

NUMEROLOGY

The heavily fortified borders of Ceuta and Melilla, Spain's two autonomous cities bordering Morocco, are remnants of a bygone colonial era. But socio-economic disparities, shifting demographics, and immigration trends suggest that the future should bridge, rather than barricade, the Strait of Gibraltar. ١26 ‫ صفحة‬،‫ البّوابة التّاسعة‬،‫سبتة ومليلية‬

52

53


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:36 PM Page 52

E U R O P E A N E X C L AV E S I N T H E M A G H R E B : C E U TA A N D M E L I L L A b y A Z I Z A C H A O U N I P R O J E C T S

NUMEROLOGY

The heavily fortified borders of Ceuta and Melilla, Spain's two autonomous cities bordering Morocco, are remnants of a bygone colonial era. But socio-economic disparities, shifting demographics, and immigration trends suggest that the future should bridge, rather than barricade, the Strait of Gibraltar. ١26 ‫ صفحة‬،‫ البّوابة التّاسعة‬،‫سبتة ومليلية‬

52

53


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:38 PM Page 54

C A S A B L A N C A C H A S M S : T H E B I D O N V I L L E I N M U H A M M A D Z A F Z A F ’ S M U H AW A L AT AY S H b y G R E T C H E N H E A D

URBANOGRAPHY

M E D I T E R R A N E A N

S E A

Rabat

Casablanca

Marrakech

AT L A N T I C

O C E A N

CASABLANCA CHASMS: THE BIDONVILLE IN MUHAMMAD Z A F Z A F ’ S M U H A W A L A T AY S H One of Morocco’s most important novels is also a window into the unaddressed tension between Casablanca’s center and its marginal bidonvilles. The city’s public spaces and streets remain prescribed with an ordering of belonging and not belonging. Gretchen Head portal9journal.org ،‫ُدْور الصفيح ﰲ ”محاولة عيش“ ﳌحّمد زفزاف‬

Alongside the article about an unnamed bidonville in a novel by Muhamad Zafzaf and the accompanying historical images are photographs illustrating life in Casablanca’s bidonvilles today. (Above) A teenage boy holds his brother outside their home in the Sidi Moumen district of northeastern Casablanca. Photograph by Ziyah Gafi´c

been acknowledged as part of the public imagination, either as a source of unrest or as a social reality. Likewise, they remain a blindspot in the tradition of the Moroccan novel. Characterized since the 1940s by autobiographical accounts, historical fiction, and narratives concerned with the nationalist struggle for independence, the Moroccan novel in Arabic has focused on the interests and lifestyles of the bourgeoisie since its inception.2 The works of Muhammad Zafzaf (1945–2001) stand as an exception. Muhammad Zafzaf began his literary career in the early 1960s and ultimately gained recognition as one of

Casablanca’s long-neglected bidonvilles have been sites of renewed interest since 2003, when five simultaneous explosions killed forty-five people in targets in the city’s center. The twelve young men responsible for the attacks came not only from the same shantytown, Sidi Moumen, but also from the same neighborhood within it, Douar Toma.1 To many, the bombings were a direct result of socio-economic deprivation and tangible proof of the danger latent in the city’s glaring inequalities, making it clear that Casablanca’s underserved areas have never been more important. Yet the bidonvilles have rarely

1 Zakia Salime, Between Feminism and Islam: Human Rights and Sharia Law in Morocco (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), 110. 2 Morocco’s first Arabic-language novel was published in 1942. For a brief history of the Moroccan Arabic novel, see Abd Al Rahim Allam, Al Riwayah Al Maghribiyah Al Maktubah Bi Al Arabiyah: Al Hasilah Wa Al Masar, 1942–2003 (Al Rabat: Wizarat Al Thaqafah, 2003).

54

55


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:38 PM Page 54

C A S A B L A N C A C H A S M S : T H E B I D O N V I L L E I N M U H A M M A D Z A F Z A F ’ S M U H AW A L AT AY S H b y G R E T C H E N H E A D

URBANOGRAPHY

M E D I T E R R A N E A N

S E A

Rabat

Casablanca

Marrakech

AT L A N T I C

O C E A N

CASABLANCA CHASMS: THE BIDONVILLE IN MUHAMMAD Z A F Z A F ’ S M U H A W A L A T AY S H One of Morocco’s most important novels is also a window into the unaddressed tension between Casablanca’s center and its marginal bidonvilles. The city’s public spaces and streets remain prescribed with an ordering of belonging and not belonging. Gretchen Head portal9journal.org ،‫ُدْور الصفيح ﰲ ”محاولة عيش“ ﳌحّمد زفزاف‬

Alongside the article about an unnamed bidonville in a novel by Muhamad Zafzaf and the accompanying historical images are photographs illustrating life in Casablanca’s bidonvilles today. (Above) A teenage boy holds his brother outside their home in the Sidi Moumen district of northeastern Casablanca. Photograph by Ziyah Gafi´c

been acknowledged as part of the public imagination, either as a source of unrest or as a social reality. Likewise, they remain a blindspot in the tradition of the Moroccan novel. Characterized since the 1940s by autobiographical accounts, historical fiction, and narratives concerned with the nationalist struggle for independence, the Moroccan novel in Arabic has focused on the interests and lifestyles of the bourgeoisie since its inception.2 The works of Muhammad Zafzaf (1945–2001) stand as an exception. Muhammad Zafzaf began his literary career in the early 1960s and ultimately gained recognition as one of

Casablanca’s long-neglected bidonvilles have been sites of renewed interest since 2003, when five simultaneous explosions killed forty-five people in targets in the city’s center. The twelve young men responsible for the attacks came not only from the same shantytown, Sidi Moumen, but also from the same neighborhood within it, Douar Toma.1 To many, the bombings were a direct result of socio-economic deprivation and tangible proof of the danger latent in the city’s glaring inequalities, making it clear that Casablanca’s underserved areas have never been more important. Yet the bidonvilles have rarely

1 Zakia Salime, Between Feminism and Islam: Human Rights and Sharia Law in Morocco (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), 110. 2 Morocco’s first Arabic-language novel was published in 1942. For a brief history of the Moroccan Arabic novel, see Abd Al Rahim Allam, Al Riwayah Al Maghribiyah Al Maktubah Bi Al Arabiyah: Al Hasilah Wa Al Masar, 1942–2003 (Al Rabat: Wizarat Al Thaqafah, 2003).

54

55


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:38 PM Page 56

C A S A B L A N C A C H A S M S : T H E B I D O N V I L L E I N M U H A M M A D Z A F Z A F ’ S M U H AW A L AT AY S H b y G R E T C H E N H E A D

URBANOGRAPHY

“Zafzaf’s novel continues to resonate as a text that makes Casablanca’s bidonvilles and their relation to the city center legible, providing crucial insight into the complexity of the city’s lived realities.”

Place de France, Casablanca at night. Images are taken from Michel Ecochard’s Casablanca: le roman d’une ville (1955).

Zafzaf wrote the experiences of the bidonvilles as Naguib Mahfouz wrote the alleys of Cairo’s old city. His novels not only offer portraits of these seldom represented people and their inhabited spaces but also intervene in the discourse born in the colonial period that paints the bidonville dwellers as compliant subjects to be managed, their status necessarily peripheral. Counter to these historical assumptions, Zafzaf ’s characters refuse to experience Casablanca as it would be imposed upon them; despite restricted access, they directly intervene in the city’s social space and its production. In his fiction, Zafzaf uncovers the ways in which the city’s spaces often conveniently conceal its uneasy class relations for the sake of those comfortably living within its center. Published in 1985, his novel Muhawalat Aysh (An Attempt to Live) is exceptionally incisive in its articulation of the struggles of those living in the shantytowns; it continues to resonate as a text that makes Casablanca’s bidonvilles and their relation to the city center legible, providing crucial insight into the complexity of the city’s lived realities. For the writer who chooses to depict Casablanca, the city’s disconnectedness from Morocco’s cultural and intellectual heritage presents a challenge. To speak of Casablanca is to speak of a city that is decidedly modern. Morocco’s traditional capitals are elsewhere: the imperial cities of Fez, Meknes, Marrakech, and Rabat-Salé. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Casablanca, now Morocco’s largest city, had a population of just twenty thousand inhabitants; today the count is over three million. Growth was a result of rural-to-urban migration, those living in the country who came to the city in the search for prosperity. By the end of the

Historical images from the era in which Zafzaf ’s novel is set reveal a bidonville and its relationship to an industrializing Casablanca. Images are taken from Jean-Louis Cohen’s Casablanca: Colonial Myths and Architectural Ventures (2003).

Morocco’s most distinguished modern novelists. Not only widely considered Morocco’s most important early novelist, Zafzaf is also the writer most closely associated with the depiction of Casablanca’s peripheral, disregarded landscapes. His work remains unsurpassed in its portrayal of the stark disparities that characterize Morocco’s economic capital.

56

57


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:38 PM Page 56

C A S A B L A N C A C H A S M S : T H E B I D O N V I L L E I N M U H A M M A D Z A F Z A F ’ S M U H AW A L AT AY S H b y G R E T C H E N H E A D

URBANOGRAPHY

“Zafzaf’s novel continues to resonate as a text that makes Casablanca’s bidonvilles and their relation to the city center legible, providing crucial insight into the complexity of the city’s lived realities.”

Place de France, Casablanca at night. Images are taken from Michel Ecochard’s Casablanca: le roman d’une ville (1955).

Zafzaf wrote the experiences of the bidonvilles as Naguib Mahfouz wrote the alleys of Cairo’s old city. His novels not only offer portraits of these seldom represented people and their inhabited spaces but also intervene in the discourse born in the colonial period that paints the bidonville dwellers as compliant subjects to be managed, their status necessarily peripheral. Counter to these historical assumptions, Zafzaf ’s characters refuse to experience Casablanca as it would be imposed upon them; despite restricted access, they directly intervene in the city’s social space and its production. In his fiction, Zafzaf uncovers the ways in which the city’s spaces often conveniently conceal its uneasy class relations for the sake of those comfortably living within its center. Published in 1985, his novel Muhawalat Aysh (An Attempt to Live) is exceptionally incisive in its articulation of the struggles of those living in the shantytowns; it continues to resonate as a text that makes Casablanca’s bidonvilles and their relation to the city center legible, providing crucial insight into the complexity of the city’s lived realities. For the writer who chooses to depict Casablanca, the city’s disconnectedness from Morocco’s cultural and intellectual heritage presents a challenge. To speak of Casablanca is to speak of a city that is decidedly modern. Morocco’s traditional capitals are elsewhere: the imperial cities of Fez, Meknes, Marrakech, and Rabat-Salé. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Casablanca, now Morocco’s largest city, had a population of just twenty thousand inhabitants; today the count is over three million. Growth was a result of rural-to-urban migration, those living in the country who came to the city in the search for prosperity. By the end of the

Historical images from the era in which Zafzaf ’s novel is set reveal a bidonville and its relationship to an industrializing Casablanca. Images are taken from Jean-Louis Cohen’s Casablanca: Colonial Myths and Architectural Ventures (2003).

Morocco’s most distinguished modern novelists. Not only widely considered Morocco’s most important early novelist, Zafzaf is also the writer most closely associated with the depiction of Casablanca’s peripheral, disregarded landscapes. His work remains unsurpassed in its portrayal of the stark disparities that characterize Morocco’s economic capital.

56

57


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:38 PM Page 58

C A S A B L A N C A C H A S M S : T H E B I D O N V I L L E I N M U H A M M A D Z A F Z A F ’ S M U H AW A L AT AY S H b y G R E T C H E N H E A D

While other observers might have condemned the conditions endured by Casablanca’s slum dwellers, architect Michel Ecochard saw in them the hope for a better future. Images are taken from Michel Ecochard’s Casablanca: le roman d’une ville (1955).

URBANOGRAPHY

aware of the dangers latent in unchecked ruralto-urban migration:

French protectorate in 1956, an estimated 75 percent of Casablanca’s population had immigrated from the countryside.3 By the 1920s, rural exodus had led to the creation of the bidonvilles, migrant shantytowns built from salvaged materials at the fringes of the urban center.4 Even a cursory glance at the history of Casablanca’s rapid growth in the first half of the twentieth century reveals the French authorities’ failure to manage these spaces of “adobe, corrugated iron, … porous masonry, … tents and nouallas” that sprang up around the city.5 Currentday Casablanca is marked by the colonial missteps in urban planning related to the bidonville. The same materials and mismanaged growth continue to define the housing districts that lace the city’s edges. The neighborhood of Habous represents this miscalculation. Designed as a simulacrum of a traditional medina in the 1930s, Habous was intended to be a sanitized ghetto for the rural migrants who had come “to lend strength to budding industries and large-scale urban development” but had found themselves “packed into filthy slums, reed dugouts, and even in petrol drums, without sewage facilities, or … hygienic amenities of any kind.”6 Rather than the peasants, port workers, and factory laborers the French housing authorities had imagined living in the quarter “without impinging on the European town,” Habous’s occupants ended up being Casablanca’s more affluent middle class – also in search of housing in a city where it was scarce. Meanwhile, new settlements of corrugated iron and flattened petrol drums continued to propagate on the city’s outskirts.7 Currently a tourist district, Habous has since become even less utilitarian. Since Habous, planning initiatives have done little to mitigate conditions for Casablanca’s migrants, and the bidonvilles have remained an indelible condition for Casablanca since the modern city’s founding. The colonial administrators were

The attraction of city life has caused many Moroccans from the Southern part of the country and the Atlas Mountains to break with the framework of their rural and familial lives. In moving to bidonvilles they lose contact with their tribes and villages, and the communal support of these social structures is replaced by a feeling of isolation amid chronic overcrowding. Rural migrants subsequently find it difficult to integrate, for although they are often welcomed in the city and factories, no provision is made for them in the way of housing or public facilities.8

Despite realizing the devastating consequences migrants suffered once severed from the social structures fundamental to their lives, neither they nor the post-independence Moroccan governments have adequately facilitated the process of integration. As the city has grown since the colonial period, the percentage of residents living in shantytowns has remained steady. In the 1940s, the city’s bidonvilles housed approximately 14 percent of Casablanca’s residents, with 50,000 shantytown dwellers of an urban population of 365,000; by 1982, the number of bidonville dwellers had swelled to 306,412 of Casablanca’s 2,253,029 counted residents, with the bidonville ratio remaining nearly the same at 13.6 percent.9 King Muhammad VI’s urban renewal policy, Villes sans bidonvilles (Cities without Shantytowns), has likewise failed to eradicate the economic capital’s shantytowns. In 2012, Casablanca’s bidonvilles housed as many as 17 percent of the city’s inhabitants (about 500,000).10 Though written in the mid 1980s, Muhawalat Aysh is most likely set in the 1960s, in the years immediately following Morocco’s independence, as Casablanca solidified its position as the country’s economic capital under King Hassan II. A

3 Paul Puschmann, Casablanca: A Demographic Miracle on Moroccan Soil? (Leuvan: Acco Academic, 2011), 14. 4 Lamia Zaki, “Transforming the City from Below: Shantytown Dwellers and the Fight for Electricity in Casablanca,” in Subalterns and Social Protest: History from Below in the Middle East and North Africa, ed. Stephanie Cronin (London: Routledge, 2007), 116. 5 Jean-Louis Cohen and Monique Eleb, Casablanca: Colonial Myths and Architectural Ventures (New York: Monacelli Press, 2002), 292. 6 Ibid., 217–218. A noualla is a portable reed hut. 7 Ibid., 224. 8 Ibid., 325. 9 Puschmann, Casablanca, 105. 10 “Housing in Casablanca: a Tricky Task,” Newsbook (blog), The Economist, September 5, 2012, http://www.economist.com/blogs/newsbook/2012/ 09/housing-casablanca.

58

59


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:38 PM Page 58

C A S A B L A N C A C H A S M S : T H E B I D O N V I L L E I N M U H A M M A D Z A F Z A F ’ S M U H AW A L AT AY S H b y G R E T C H E N H E A D

While other observers might have condemned the conditions endured by Casablanca’s slum dwellers, architect Michel Ecochard saw in them the hope for a better future. Images are taken from Michel Ecochard’s Casablanca: le roman d’une ville (1955).

URBANOGRAPHY

aware of the dangers latent in unchecked ruralto-urban migration:

French protectorate in 1956, an estimated 75 percent of Casablanca’s population had immigrated from the countryside.3 By the 1920s, rural exodus had led to the creation of the bidonvilles, migrant shantytowns built from salvaged materials at the fringes of the urban center.4 Even a cursory glance at the history of Casablanca’s rapid growth in the first half of the twentieth century reveals the French authorities’ failure to manage these spaces of “adobe, corrugated iron, … porous masonry, … tents and nouallas” that sprang up around the city.5 Currentday Casablanca is marked by the colonial missteps in urban planning related to the bidonville. The same materials and mismanaged growth continue to define the housing districts that lace the city’s edges. The neighborhood of Habous represents this miscalculation. Designed as a simulacrum of a traditional medina in the 1930s, Habous was intended to be a sanitized ghetto for the rural migrants who had come “to lend strength to budding industries and large-scale urban development” but had found themselves “packed into filthy slums, reed dugouts, and even in petrol drums, without sewage facilities, or … hygienic amenities of any kind.”6 Rather than the peasants, port workers, and factory laborers the French housing authorities had imagined living in the quarter “without impinging on the European town,” Habous’s occupants ended up being Casablanca’s more affluent middle class – also in search of housing in a city where it was scarce. Meanwhile, new settlements of corrugated iron and flattened petrol drums continued to propagate on the city’s outskirts.7 Currently a tourist district, Habous has since become even less utilitarian. Since Habous, planning initiatives have done little to mitigate conditions for Casablanca’s migrants, and the bidonvilles have remained an indelible condition for Casablanca since the modern city’s founding. The colonial administrators were

The attraction of city life has caused many Moroccans from the Southern part of the country and the Atlas Mountains to break with the framework of their rural and familial lives. In moving to bidonvilles they lose contact with their tribes and villages, and the communal support of these social structures is replaced by a feeling of isolation amid chronic overcrowding. Rural migrants subsequently find it difficult to integrate, for although they are often welcomed in the city and factories, no provision is made for them in the way of housing or public facilities.8

Despite realizing the devastating consequences migrants suffered once severed from the social structures fundamental to their lives, neither they nor the post-independence Moroccan governments have adequately facilitated the process of integration. As the city has grown since the colonial period, the percentage of residents living in shantytowns has remained steady. In the 1940s, the city’s bidonvilles housed approximately 14 percent of Casablanca’s residents, with 50,000 shantytown dwellers of an urban population of 365,000; by 1982, the number of bidonville dwellers had swelled to 306,412 of Casablanca’s 2,253,029 counted residents, with the bidonville ratio remaining nearly the same at 13.6 percent.9 King Muhammad VI’s urban renewal policy, Villes sans bidonvilles (Cities without Shantytowns), has likewise failed to eradicate the economic capital’s shantytowns. In 2012, Casablanca’s bidonvilles housed as many as 17 percent of the city’s inhabitants (about 500,000).10 Though written in the mid 1980s, Muhawalat Aysh is most likely set in the 1960s, in the years immediately following Morocco’s independence, as Casablanca solidified its position as the country’s economic capital under King Hassan II. A

3 Paul Puschmann, Casablanca: A Demographic Miracle on Moroccan Soil? (Leuvan: Acco Academic, 2011), 14. 4 Lamia Zaki, “Transforming the City from Below: Shantytown Dwellers and the Fight for Electricity in Casablanca,” in Subalterns and Social Protest: History from Below in the Middle East and North Africa, ed. Stephanie Cronin (London: Routledge, 2007), 116. 5 Jean-Louis Cohen and Monique Eleb, Casablanca: Colonial Myths and Architectural Ventures (New York: Monacelli Press, 2002), 292. 6 Ibid., 217–218. A noualla is a portable reed hut. 7 Ibid., 224. 8 Ibid., 325. 9 Puschmann, Casablanca, 105. 10 “Housing in Casablanca: a Tricky Task,” Newsbook (blog), The Economist, September 5, 2012, http://www.economist.com/blogs/newsbook/2012/ 09/housing-casablanca.

58

59


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:38 PM Page 64

A bidonville roofscape leads toward the perimeter wall of a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Sidi Moumen, Casablanca. Photograph by Ziyah Gafi´c


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:38 PM Page 64

A bidonville roofscape leads toward the perimeter wall of a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Sidi Moumen, Casablanca. Photograph by Ziyah Gafi´c


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:40 PM Page 70

S P E C TA C L E S O F P O W E R : L O C AT I N G R E S I S TA N C E I N B E N A L I ’ S T U N I S I A b y L A R Y S S A C H O M I A K

URBANOGRAPHY

Tunis Hammamat Soussa

Sidi Bou Zid M E D I T E R R A N E A N

S E A

S P E C TA C L E S O F P O W E R : L O C AT I N G R E S I S TA N C E I N B E N A L I ’ S TUNISIA

For the Ben Ali regime, every roundabout was a display opportunity. The number 7 was an omnipresent symbol of the regime’s political narrative. Photograph by Rebekah Dillon

Behind the media imprints of the country’s revolution are earlier moments of protest and communal organization that readied Tunisians for a reengagement with public space. The question remains as to whether public space has been reclaimed. Laryssa Chomiak ٤9 ‫ صفحة‬،‫ البّوابة التّاسعة‬،‫ تجليّات اﻻعﱰاض ﰲ تونس بن عﲇ‬:‫مشاهد من الُسلطة‬

videos began circulating online of citizens repeating the acts in the first videos, this time from Tunis and other towns and cities. A myriad of Tunisians were featured in the clips, tearing down, slashing, and burning supersized posters of their president and destroying crude sculptures of the number 7 commemorating when Ben Ali came to power on November 7, 1987. The spreading campaign to dismantle Ben Ali’s cult of personality developed in the current of a rapid, nationwide snowballing of protests after the December 17, 2010 self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in the southern town of Sidi Bouzid.

On January 10, 2011, four days before the Tunisian Revolution that brought an end to the twenty-three-year dictatorship of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, YouTube videos from the seaside resort of Hammamet went viral. They featured a group of young Tunisians who climbed onto a billboard with a gigantic image of Ben Ali and ripped the effigy down, an attention-grabbing, criminal act. As these billboard scalers demonstrated, Tunis’s beachside satellite represented an outlet for the buildup of political resistance that would eventually make its way to the capital.1 A few days after the YouTube postings, more images and

1 Hammamet, a town seventy kilometers south of Tunis, was developed in the 1960s as a low-cost package tourism destination for Western visitors and the affluent Tunisois and political elites close to the dictator. A beach mansion in Hammamet belonging to one of Ben Ali’s close relatives was one of the first casualties by rioters on January 13, 2011.

70

71


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:40 PM Page 70

S P E C TA C L E S O F P O W E R : L O C AT I N G R E S I S TA N C E I N B E N A L I ’ S T U N I S I A b y L A R Y S S A C H O M I A K

URBANOGRAPHY

Tunis Hammamat Soussa

Sidi Bou Zid M E D I T E R R A N E A N

S E A

S P E C TA C L E S O F P O W E R : L O C AT I N G R E S I S TA N C E I N B E N A L I ’ S TUNISIA

For the Ben Ali regime, every roundabout was a display opportunity. The number 7 was an omnipresent symbol of the regime’s political narrative. Photograph by Rebekah Dillon

Behind the media imprints of the country’s revolution are earlier moments of protest and communal organization that readied Tunisians for a reengagement with public space. The question remains as to whether public space has been reclaimed. Laryssa Chomiak ٤9 ‫ صفحة‬،‫ البّوابة التّاسعة‬،‫ تجليّات اﻻعﱰاض ﰲ تونس بن عﲇ‬:‫مشاهد من الُسلطة‬

videos began circulating online of citizens repeating the acts in the first videos, this time from Tunis and other towns and cities. A myriad of Tunisians were featured in the clips, tearing down, slashing, and burning supersized posters of their president and destroying crude sculptures of the number 7 commemorating when Ben Ali came to power on November 7, 1987. The spreading campaign to dismantle Ben Ali’s cult of personality developed in the current of a rapid, nationwide snowballing of protests after the December 17, 2010 self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in the southern town of Sidi Bouzid.

On January 10, 2011, four days before the Tunisian Revolution that brought an end to the twenty-three-year dictatorship of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, YouTube videos from the seaside resort of Hammamet went viral. They featured a group of young Tunisians who climbed onto a billboard with a gigantic image of Ben Ali and ripped the effigy down, an attention-grabbing, criminal act. As these billboard scalers demonstrated, Tunis’s beachside satellite represented an outlet for the buildup of political resistance that would eventually make its way to the capital.1 A few days after the YouTube postings, more images and

1 Hammamet, a town seventy kilometers south of Tunis, was developed in the 1960s as a low-cost package tourism destination for Western visitors and the affluent Tunisois and political elites close to the dictator. A beach mansion in Hammamet belonging to one of Ben Ali’s close relatives was one of the first casualties by rioters on January 13, 2011.

70

71


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:40 PM Page 74

S P E C TA C L E S O F P O W E R : L O C AT I N G R E S I S TA N C E I N B E N A L I ’ S T U N I S I A b y L A R Y S S A C H O M I A K

of the possibility of a “civic realm,” a type of space that can only result from legitimate power-sharing arrangements in pluralistic societies.8 Extending from this, public spaces in the era of Ben Ali represented an inauthentic relationship between citizenry and political power; citizens might have interacted with these spaces but did not necessarily accept them. The conundrum of a comprehensive political cult of personality, as Wedeen argues, is that the cult in all of its spatial and symbolic manifestations invites transgressions by ordinary citizens not in spite of but because of its ubiquity.9 Power, then, needs to be understood as not only conveying domination but also generating resistance.10 In this way, cults of personality constitute important spaces of inquiry, as they are simultaneously components of dictatorial strategies to control public space and sites to which citizens will turn in order to critique illiberal politics. Furthermore, they remind inhabitants of where power is located. Even before the well-publicized events of 2011, Tunisian citizens had already begun the dismantling of politically controlled public space through avoidance, dismissal, and subtle parody. This resistance culture, rooted in political jokes and rumors, developed at kitchen tables, in cafés in downtown Tunis, and in working-class beer halls. Nowhere were these resistant practices more loudly pronounced, however, than in Tunis’s soccer stadiums, especially when the capital’s two rival teams, Club Africain and Espérance, battled each other in seasonal derby matches.

cult also reached into public school textbooks, political spectacles such as public police parades and elections, and widely available magazines filled with photos of the dictator. Tunisians were forced to purchase tickets to cultural and political events organized by Ben Ali’s Rassemblement Constitutionnel Démocratique (RCD) party.4 In her study of Hafez Al Assad’s cult campaign in Syria, Lisa Wedeen writes that political cults are part of comprehensive strategies intended to develop regime-compliant citizens who are not only adulatory but also self-censoring.5 Cults can likewise be products of irrationality on the part of a leader, such as Turkmenbashi in Turkmenistan, or strategies to fill ideological voids in cases when dictators are not charismatic enough to build popular political ideologies. In Tunisia, Ben Ali’s cult served as both a mechanism of control and a substitute for an ideological void within the police state. Ben Ali’s omnipresent cult of personality seemed successful in achieving political quiescence and depoliticizing a citizenry who remained unwilling to push for political liberalization despite high educational levels and a substantial middle class, especially compared to other developing nations.6 Nevertheless, under authoritarian political systems, there is a fine line between the “realities” and “representations” of power, as Mabel Berezin describes in her work on Fascist Party rituals in interwar Italy.7 When citizens participate in cult rituals through mandatory political rallies or by casting votes in staged elections, they may be performing without accepting the legitimacy of power. Public participation in politics, then, does not necessarily mean that citizens view their governments as legitimate. The resulting relationship between citizens and state is consequently devoid

Stadiums of Resistance

As in every year since 1987, in 2008 the citizens of Tunis were once again obliged to commemorate Ben Ali’s anniversary of coming to power

URBANOGRAPHY

European Christmas market than a defining political moment, the waiter laughed and answered, “Oh that! No, the real national festival will occur the day after next.” They were distracted in preparation for the year’s most important soccer game scheduled for two days later, when Tunis’s rival teams, Club Africain and Espérance, would play for the national championship. The championship soccer match took place in the same stadium where Ben Ali had delivered his speech. The major difference on November 9 was the exhilarated crowd that filled the stadium with activity flowing beyond its walls. Within forty-eight hours, a quiet, awkward, and politically controlled space transformed into one of the most vibrant collective spaces, where those who remained quiet in the city’s streets now felt more comfortable expressing themselves. In political contexts where liberties are severely restricted and societies are alienated from political dialogue, as was so visible during that year’s November 7 celebrations, spectator sports can become important coded political events. Tunisia’s soccer stadiums constituted arenas not only where state power and societal expression most visibly interacted but also where cultures of resistance developed. In his book on soccer and politics, Simon Kuper writes:

on November 7. The absurdity of the annual November 7 spectacle was manifested in the cult campaign’s interior dialogue, such as “Progress for my Nation!” and “Thank you, Mr. President!” These slogans were amplified in the streets and squares of Tunis with purple light-fixtures, flags, and banners bearing the number 7, portraits of the president, and messages of thanks and congratulations.11 Every street, building, roundabout, and billboard was a display opportunity. Each year, the president delivered a commemorative speech to the nation, in which he praised himself for technological advancement, modernization, social development, and the country’s exemplary state of democracy. In 2008, the president opted to deliver his speech in Tunis’s ultra-modern Stade 7 Novembre soccer stadium located a few kilometers south of Tunis in the dreary port town of Radès. There, Ben Ali proclaimed: During these past twenty-one years of uninterrupted reform we have made gains and achievements in all domains, thanks to the devotion of our people, following our choices, our programs, our orientations, as well as the great ambitions that drive all Tunisians.12

Televised reporting betrayed only a small invited crowd of Ben Ali and party supporters, all wearing the same red scarf to signify their allegiance to the ruling political party. They did not come close to filling the stadium’s 60,000 seats. Beyond the empty stadium, ordinary Tunisians seemed apathetic to the day’s designated significance, despite the spectacular increase in cult paraphernalia that engulfed Tunis’s public spaces. “What national festival?” both a small shopkeeper and a waiter in a La Goulette restaurant cheekily asked in response to a question about November 7. Glancing at the visual representations of the cult resembling more a

For a young man in the Middle East, obliged to spend his leisure time hanging around with other young men, soccer is often the only recreation. That’s why in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, games between the two biggest clubs draw crowds of 100,000 – more than anywhere in Europe except occasionally Barcelona or Real Madrid. … Yet the game does help us understand this secretive region. In societies like Libya, Iran, and previously in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, where there is no freedom of press, no legal dissent, and hardly any foreign journalists, soccer can reveal the undercurrents.13

4 Ben Ali won all presidential elections during his reign with 95–99 percent of the vote, and the ruling RCD won over 90 percent of seats in the unicameral legislature in each election, with a few token seats given to regime-picked opposition parties. 5 Lisa Wedeen, Ambiguities of Domination: Politics, Rhetoric, and Symbols in Contemporary Syria (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 6. 6 This statement refers to the so-called “Tunisian paradox,” a puzzling condition that occupied analysts of Tunisian politics. The classic development formula “no bourgeoisie, no democracy,” generated by Barrington Moore, seemed inapplicable to the Tunisian case. See Barrington Moore, The Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World (Boston: Beacon Press, 1966). 7 Mabel Berezin, The Making of the Fascist Self: Political Culture of Interwar Italy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997), 7. 8 Peter G. Rowe, Civic Realism (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999), 58–68. 9 Wedeen, Ambiguities of Domination, 4–5, 18, 67. 10 Vaclav Havel et al., The Power of the Powerless: Citizens Against the State in Central-Eastern Europe (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1985); James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985).

11 Purple, according to rumor, was Ben Ali’s favorite color, and it was the official color of the RCD political party. An opposition activist once wrote a short parody entitled La Revolution Violée(t), calling the purple revolution a “raped revolution.” 12 “Discours intégral du Président Ben Ali à l’occasion du XXIème anniversaire du 7-Novembre,” Businessnews.com.tn, November 7, 2008. Accessed December 12, 2012. http://www.businessnews.com.tn/details_article.php?t=525&a=17028&temp=1&lang=. 13 Simon Kuper, Soccer Against the Enemy: How the World’s Most Popular Sport Starts and Fuels Revolutions and Keeps Dictators in Power (New York: Nations Books, 2006), 286.

74

75


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:40 PM Page 74

S P E C TA C L E S O F P O W E R : L O C AT I N G R E S I S TA N C E I N B E N A L I ’ S T U N I S I A b y L A R Y S S A C H O M I A K

of the possibility of a “civic realm,” a type of space that can only result from legitimate power-sharing arrangements in pluralistic societies.8 Extending from this, public spaces in the era of Ben Ali represented an inauthentic relationship between citizenry and political power; citizens might have interacted with these spaces but did not necessarily accept them. The conundrum of a comprehensive political cult of personality, as Wedeen argues, is that the cult in all of its spatial and symbolic manifestations invites transgressions by ordinary citizens not in spite of but because of its ubiquity.9 Power, then, needs to be understood as not only conveying domination but also generating resistance.10 In this way, cults of personality constitute important spaces of inquiry, as they are simultaneously components of dictatorial strategies to control public space and sites to which citizens will turn in order to critique illiberal politics. Furthermore, they remind inhabitants of where power is located. Even before the well-publicized events of 2011, Tunisian citizens had already begun the dismantling of politically controlled public space through avoidance, dismissal, and subtle parody. This resistance culture, rooted in political jokes and rumors, developed at kitchen tables, in cafés in downtown Tunis, and in working-class beer halls. Nowhere were these resistant practices more loudly pronounced, however, than in Tunis’s soccer stadiums, especially when the capital’s two rival teams, Club Africain and Espérance, battled each other in seasonal derby matches.

cult also reached into public school textbooks, political spectacles such as public police parades and elections, and widely available magazines filled with photos of the dictator. Tunisians were forced to purchase tickets to cultural and political events organized by Ben Ali’s Rassemblement Constitutionnel Démocratique (RCD) party.4 In her study of Hafez Al Assad’s cult campaign in Syria, Lisa Wedeen writes that political cults are part of comprehensive strategies intended to develop regime-compliant citizens who are not only adulatory but also self-censoring.5 Cults can likewise be products of irrationality on the part of a leader, such as Turkmenbashi in Turkmenistan, or strategies to fill ideological voids in cases when dictators are not charismatic enough to build popular political ideologies. In Tunisia, Ben Ali’s cult served as both a mechanism of control and a substitute for an ideological void within the police state. Ben Ali’s omnipresent cult of personality seemed successful in achieving political quiescence and depoliticizing a citizenry who remained unwilling to push for political liberalization despite high educational levels and a substantial middle class, especially compared to other developing nations.6 Nevertheless, under authoritarian political systems, there is a fine line between the “realities” and “representations” of power, as Mabel Berezin describes in her work on Fascist Party rituals in interwar Italy.7 When citizens participate in cult rituals through mandatory political rallies or by casting votes in staged elections, they may be performing without accepting the legitimacy of power. Public participation in politics, then, does not necessarily mean that citizens view their governments as legitimate. The resulting relationship between citizens and state is consequently devoid

Stadiums of Resistance

As in every year since 1987, in 2008 the citizens of Tunis were once again obliged to commemorate Ben Ali’s anniversary of coming to power

URBANOGRAPHY

European Christmas market than a defining political moment, the waiter laughed and answered, “Oh that! No, the real national festival will occur the day after next.” They were distracted in preparation for the year’s most important soccer game scheduled for two days later, when Tunis’s rival teams, Club Africain and Espérance, would play for the national championship. The championship soccer match took place in the same stadium where Ben Ali had delivered his speech. The major difference on November 9 was the exhilarated crowd that filled the stadium with activity flowing beyond its walls. Within forty-eight hours, a quiet, awkward, and politically controlled space transformed into one of the most vibrant collective spaces, where those who remained quiet in the city’s streets now felt more comfortable expressing themselves. In political contexts where liberties are severely restricted and societies are alienated from political dialogue, as was so visible during that year’s November 7 celebrations, spectator sports can become important coded political events. Tunisia’s soccer stadiums constituted arenas not only where state power and societal expression most visibly interacted but also where cultures of resistance developed. In his book on soccer and politics, Simon Kuper writes:

on November 7. The absurdity of the annual November 7 spectacle was manifested in the cult campaign’s interior dialogue, such as “Progress for my Nation!” and “Thank you, Mr. President!” These slogans were amplified in the streets and squares of Tunis with purple light-fixtures, flags, and banners bearing the number 7, portraits of the president, and messages of thanks and congratulations.11 Every street, building, roundabout, and billboard was a display opportunity. Each year, the president delivered a commemorative speech to the nation, in which he praised himself for technological advancement, modernization, social development, and the country’s exemplary state of democracy. In 2008, the president opted to deliver his speech in Tunis’s ultra-modern Stade 7 Novembre soccer stadium located a few kilometers south of Tunis in the dreary port town of Radès. There, Ben Ali proclaimed: During these past twenty-one years of uninterrupted reform we have made gains and achievements in all domains, thanks to the devotion of our people, following our choices, our programs, our orientations, as well as the great ambitions that drive all Tunisians.12

Televised reporting betrayed only a small invited crowd of Ben Ali and party supporters, all wearing the same red scarf to signify their allegiance to the ruling political party. They did not come close to filling the stadium’s 60,000 seats. Beyond the empty stadium, ordinary Tunisians seemed apathetic to the day’s designated significance, despite the spectacular increase in cult paraphernalia that engulfed Tunis’s public spaces. “What national festival?” both a small shopkeeper and a waiter in a La Goulette restaurant cheekily asked in response to a question about November 7. Glancing at the visual representations of the cult resembling more a

For a young man in the Middle East, obliged to spend his leisure time hanging around with other young men, soccer is often the only recreation. That’s why in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, games between the two biggest clubs draw crowds of 100,000 – more than anywhere in Europe except occasionally Barcelona or Real Madrid. … Yet the game does help us understand this secretive region. In societies like Libya, Iran, and previously in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, where there is no freedom of press, no legal dissent, and hardly any foreign journalists, soccer can reveal the undercurrents.13

4 Ben Ali won all presidential elections during his reign with 95–99 percent of the vote, and the ruling RCD won over 90 percent of seats in the unicameral legislature in each election, with a few token seats given to regime-picked opposition parties. 5 Lisa Wedeen, Ambiguities of Domination: Politics, Rhetoric, and Symbols in Contemporary Syria (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 6. 6 This statement refers to the so-called “Tunisian paradox,” a puzzling condition that occupied analysts of Tunisian politics. The classic development formula “no bourgeoisie, no democracy,” generated by Barrington Moore, seemed inapplicable to the Tunisian case. See Barrington Moore, The Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World (Boston: Beacon Press, 1966). 7 Mabel Berezin, The Making of the Fascist Self: Political Culture of Interwar Italy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997), 7. 8 Peter G. Rowe, Civic Realism (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999), 58–68. 9 Wedeen, Ambiguities of Domination, 4–5, 18, 67. 10 Vaclav Havel et al., The Power of the Powerless: Citizens Against the State in Central-Eastern Europe (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1985); James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985).

11 Purple, according to rumor, was Ben Ali’s favorite color, and it was the official color of the RCD political party. An opposition activist once wrote a short parody entitled La Revolution Violée(t), calling the purple revolution a “raped revolution.” 12 “Discours intégral du Président Ben Ali à l’occasion du XXIème anniversaire du 7-Novembre,” Businessnews.com.tn, November 7, 2008. Accessed December 12, 2012. http://www.businessnews.com.tn/details_article.php?t=525&a=17028&temp=1&lang=. 13 Simon Kuper, Soccer Against the Enemy: How the World’s Most Popular Sport Starts and Fuels Revolutions and Keeps Dictators in Power (New York: Nations Books, 2006), 286.

74

75


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:43 PM Page 84

B A C K W AT E R S , E D G E S , C E N T E R : TA H R I R S H A P E D b y K H A L E D A D H A M

URBANOGRAPHY

M E D I T E R R A N E A N

S E A

Port Said

Cairo

01 R E D S E

03

A

Aswan

B A C K WAT E R S , E D G E S , C E N T E R : TA H R I R S H A P E D Cairo’s most celebrated and politically charged space does not abide by a plan. Rather, it has acquired significance through a build-up of piecemeal spatial and economic definition. Khaled Adham ٣٧ ‫ صفحة‬،‫ البّوابة التّاسعة‬،‫ نشوء ميدان التحرير‬:‫ ثم مركز‬،‫ طرف‬،‫منعزل مايئ‬ In Cairo tens of thousands of people … flocked into the city center … When the demonstrators reached … [the] square … four armed vehicles moved toward them and a barrage of machine-gun fire opened up. According to the most reliable estimate, twenty-three demonstrators were killed and some one hundred and twenty injured … The government disclaimed all responsibility and blamed students for allowing their peaceful demonstrations to degenerate into violence. 1

02

01 Port of Bulaq, 02 Port of Fustat, 03 Eventual location of Midan Al Tahrir.

revolution that toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. The account describes February 21, 1946, or “Evacuation Day” as the demonstrators termed it, anticipating the departure of British forces from the nearby military barracks a year later. According to a leaflet issued by the National Committee of Workers and Students, Egyptian people resolved to make it “a day that shall be a universal awakening of the Egyptian people, which will thus make it plain that it will accept no deviation, no relinquishment of its right to independence and freedom.”3 The demonstrators were assembled

No, this account is not about the February 2011 events in Midan Al Tahrir,2 the epicenter of the

The article is accompanied by a series of schematic maps chronicling central Cairo's, and specifically Midan Al Tahrir's, development. Schematic Map 1 (based on an 1846 map of Cairo): In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the Nile had shifted westward. Further inland from the earlier port of Fustat and then the port of Bulaq, Cairo's development concentrated inland along a north–south axis until the mid-nineteenth century.

1 Ahmed Abdalla, The Student Movement and National Politics in Egypt 1923–1973 (Cairo: AUC Press, 2008), 66–67. 2 This article deliberately uses the Arabic word midan (pl. mayadeen) instead of the typical English translation “square.” Midan in the everyday language of Cairenes refers to the urban space of Al Tahrir. While the lexical meaning of “square” denotes a plaza or a piazza, midan (pl. mayadeen) maintains a more pliable form, at once connoting a plaza, a roundabout, an area, a horserace, and a field or range. 3 Abdalla, The Student Movement, 66.

84

85


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:43 PM Page 84

B A C K W AT E R S , E D G E S , C E N T E R : TA H R I R S H A P E D b y K H A L E D A D H A M

URBANOGRAPHY

M E D I T E R R A N E A N

S E A

Port Said

Cairo

01 R E D S E

03

A

Aswan

B A C K WAT E R S , E D G E S , C E N T E R : TA H R I R S H A P E D Cairo’s most celebrated and politically charged space does not abide by a plan. Rather, it has acquired significance through a build-up of piecemeal spatial and economic definition. Khaled Adham ٣٧ ‫ صفحة‬،‫ البّوابة التّاسعة‬،‫ نشوء ميدان التحرير‬:‫ ثم مركز‬،‫ طرف‬،‫منعزل مايئ‬ In Cairo tens of thousands of people … flocked into the city center … When the demonstrators reached … [the] square … four armed vehicles moved toward them and a barrage of machine-gun fire opened up. According to the most reliable estimate, twenty-three demonstrators were killed and some one hundred and twenty injured … The government disclaimed all responsibility and blamed students for allowing their peaceful demonstrations to degenerate into violence. 1

02

01 Port of Bulaq, 02 Port of Fustat, 03 Eventual location of Midan Al Tahrir.

revolution that toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. The account describes February 21, 1946, or “Evacuation Day” as the demonstrators termed it, anticipating the departure of British forces from the nearby military barracks a year later. According to a leaflet issued by the National Committee of Workers and Students, Egyptian people resolved to make it “a day that shall be a universal awakening of the Egyptian people, which will thus make it plain that it will accept no deviation, no relinquishment of its right to independence and freedom.”3 The demonstrators were assembled

No, this account is not about the February 2011 events in Midan Al Tahrir,2 the epicenter of the

The article is accompanied by a series of schematic maps chronicling central Cairo's, and specifically Midan Al Tahrir's, development. Schematic Map 1 (based on an 1846 map of Cairo): In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the Nile had shifted westward. Further inland from the earlier port of Fustat and then the port of Bulaq, Cairo's development concentrated inland along a north–south axis until the mid-nineteenth century.

1 Ahmed Abdalla, The Student Movement and National Politics in Egypt 1923–1973 (Cairo: AUC Press, 2008), 66–67. 2 This article deliberately uses the Arabic word midan (pl. mayadeen) instead of the typical English translation “square.” Midan in the everyday language of Cairenes refers to the urban space of Al Tahrir. While the lexical meaning of “square” denotes a plaza or a piazza, midan (pl. mayadeen) maintains a more pliable form, at once connoting a plaza, a roundabout, an area, a horserace, and a field or range. 3 Abdalla, The Student Movement, 66.

84

85


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:43 PM Page 86

B A C K W AT E R S , E D G E S , C E N T E R : TA H R I R S H A P E D b y K H A L E D A D H A M

in Midan Al Ismailia which, seven years later, would be renamed Midan Al Tahrir. Sixty-five years after “Evacuation Day,” anti-Mubarak protesters in Midan Al Tahrir evoked this event when they declared Friday, February 4 the “Day of Departure.” Future urban historians perhaps will mark these two Februaries as signposts of transitions through three significant periods of modern Egyptian history: colonial, postcolonial, and postpostcolonial. Midan Al Tahrir has been a spatial product of the first two eras, which span over more than a century and a half of urban history. This article argues that, while it is true that the 1952 revolution designated Midan Al Tahrir as the main cultural, political, and symbolic center of the city, its gradual formulation, in shape and signification, began during the colonial period as a result of the shifting political and economic forces in the city. This accumulated socio-geographical prominence, however, was under threat at the time of the 2011 demonstrations by urban planning decisions including Cairo Vision 2050, a government-sponsored document released a few weeks before the demonstrations began in January 2011. This article addresses the following questions: When did Midan Al Tahrir become the symbolic and political central urban space in the city, and why? Mapping the rise of Midan Al Tahrir as Cairo’s symbolic center demonstrates how shifts in the city’s spatial hierarchies are linked to changes in the city’s political and economic conditions.4 To substantiate this argument, the article traces the emergence and transformation of urban political and cultural centrality throughout the city’s modern history. Such a process highlights how the city’s political and economic development has taken physical and social form. The ultimate goal is to contribute to the growing literature that examines how political will and economic forces have influenced urban form and public spaces in today’s Cairo. Below are three scenes from Cairo’s dense, intricate history that have led to the Midan Al Tahrir we witness today.

Scene 1: The Pre-Colonial Urban Centers

A contemporary Cairene transported back in time to the turn of the nineteenth century at the site of what is now Midan Al Tahrir would be bemused to find it consisting of muddy mounds amid vast swaths of marshland and, more importantly, far away from the city’s urban density to the east. From the establishment of medieval Cairo’s first royal city, Al Fustat, in AD 640 and up to the middle of the nineteenth century, the urban growth of the city obeyed a north–south axis squeezed between the Muqatam Hills to the east and the flood- and silt-prone land to the west. During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the Nile’s course gradually shifted westward, not only exposing the ground that would become Midan Al Tahrir but also causing the port of Al Fustat in the south to silt up. This necessitated the establishment of the new port of Bulaq to the north during the Ayyubid dynasty.5 At that time, the city’s urban structure appeared more like an arc with the ports of Fustat and Bulaq at its terminating ends. It was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that the area between the Nile and the medieval city began to spark development interest. The marshy land had to be hardened. Once much of the land had been drained, filled, and planted, Ibrahim Pasha, the son and heir of modern Egypt’s founder Mohammad Ali, constructed his royal palace, Al Qasr Al Ali, on the previously soggy land. It was the first building in the area. A few years later, Mohammad Ali’s son and Egypt’s subsequent ruler, Khedive Said, built another palace, Qasr Al Nile, which was converted a decade later to house the Egyptian army, soldier barracks, and the Ministry of War. Although Khedive Said’s successor, Ismail, also built himself a palace on the reclaimed swamp lands (Ismailia Palace), Khedive Ismail made his true mark on Cairo’s urban development elsewhere. Determined that Cairo's streets should reflect the city's economic and cultural ties with Europe and to boost his image as a

4 Dona Stewart, “Changing Cairo: The Political Economy of Urban Form,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 23, no. 1 (1999): 130. 5 Abass Al Tarabely, Ahyaa Al Qaherah Al Mahroosah (Cairo: Al Dar Al Misryyia Al Lebnaniya, 2003).

86

URBANOGRAPHY

“A contemporary Cairene transported back in time to the turn of the nineteenth century at the site of what is now Midan Al Tahrir would be bemused to find it consisting of muddy mounds amid vast swaths of marshland.” The new district included three important plaza-like squares to signify modern Cairo’s urban life: Abdeen, Opera, and Ataba.9 Upon its completion in 1874, Abdeen Palace and the adjoining Abdeen Square supplanted the citadel as the city’s main political centerpiece. The new square attracted governmental buildings, with the parliament and several ministries arriving just to the west. Opera and Ataba Squares, as well as the Azbakiyya gardens, were designed to provide cumulatively the modern quarter’s social, commercial, and cultural center. To facilitate European visitors’ day trips to the pyramids on the opposite side of the Nile, the plan for Ismailia included another significant development: the Ismailia Bridge (later renamed Qasr Al Nile Bridge). The new bridge connected the modern quarter of Ismailia to the newly constructed road across the Nile in Giza, reaching through a scattering of villages toward the pyramids. The Nile crossing further diverted the city’s development from its north–south axis, stretching Cairo to the west and eventually leading to the urban development of the Nile’s west bank. To link the bridge to the Ismailia quarter, planners proposed a roundabout at the eastern approach to the bridge. In response, Khedive Ismail gave up a large section of his Ismailia palace gardens for the project. With Ismail’s land grant, the assemblage of land eventually known as Midan Al Tahrir was complete. While the Ismailia quarter and the reach of the Ismailia Bridge signified Cairo’s western expansion toward the Nile, architectural orientation and urban spaces remained directed toward the old city. The continued result was a contrast between the ancient and the modern. Royal palaces and the military barracks might have had gardens

ruler of a modern nation, particularly in anticipation of the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, Ismail wanted the city to develop following Western principles. The government grafted urban and architectural styles of nineteenthcentury Paris onto the marshy land between the Nile and the medieval city and invited private developers to build on land kept cheap to stimulate speedy development. The city’s growth began its steady reach toward what would become Midan Al Tahrir. By signaling a deviation from Cairo’s historical north–south axis and by pushing the city toward the Nile, Ismail’s development project altered the historical course of the city’s growth. Furthermore, in contrast to the medieval city’s narrow, winding roads, the new quarter, named Ismailia, was defined by its wide, radiating boulevards, open squares, gas-lit street lighting, gardens, and an opera house.6 The emergence of a European-like quarter paralleled the gradual rise of a Western-oriented Egyptian bourgeoisie and the influx of an international population that needed hotels and expected modern amenities. Several historians have described Ismailia as “a second Cairo,” suggesting the city acquired a double identity: native and modern.7 The wealth necessary to carry out these massive urban developments was generated from the sudden increase in Egyptian cotton exports to British textile manufacturing centers as a result of the decline in American cotton production and sales due to the Civil War.8 To maintain healthy property values, Ismailia’s private backers endorsed the development of public squares so that the district would become the true heart of the city, or the “downtown,” as it was later coined. Public space, therefore, was an investment by private developers.

6 Max Rodenbeck, Cairo: The City Victorious (New York: Picardo, 1998). 7 Janet Abu-Lughod, Cairo (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971). 8 For a classic reading on the impact of the American Civil War between 1861 and 1865 on Egypt’s modernization, see Edward M. Earle, “Egyptian Cotton and the American Civil War,” Political Science Quarterly 41 (December 1926): 520–545. 9 Arafa A. Ali, Al Qahirah Fi Aahd Ismail (Cairo: Dar Al Madina Al Monawara, 1998). Because these public spaces are based on French urban planning, they will be called “squares” throughout this article.

87


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:43 PM Page 86

B A C K W AT E R S , E D G E S , C E N T E R : TA H R I R S H A P E D b y K H A L E D A D H A M

in Midan Al Ismailia which, seven years later, would be renamed Midan Al Tahrir. Sixty-five years after “Evacuation Day,” anti-Mubarak protesters in Midan Al Tahrir evoked this event when they declared Friday, February 4 the “Day of Departure.” Future urban historians perhaps will mark these two Februaries as signposts of transitions through three significant periods of modern Egyptian history: colonial, postcolonial, and postpostcolonial. Midan Al Tahrir has been a spatial product of the first two eras, which span over more than a century and a half of urban history. This article argues that, while it is true that the 1952 revolution designated Midan Al Tahrir as the main cultural, political, and symbolic center of the city, its gradual formulation, in shape and signification, began during the colonial period as a result of the shifting political and economic forces in the city. This accumulated socio-geographical prominence, however, was under threat at the time of the 2011 demonstrations by urban planning decisions including Cairo Vision 2050, a government-sponsored document released a few weeks before the demonstrations began in January 2011. This article addresses the following questions: When did Midan Al Tahrir become the symbolic and political central urban space in the city, and why? Mapping the rise of Midan Al Tahrir as Cairo’s symbolic center demonstrates how shifts in the city’s spatial hierarchies are linked to changes in the city’s political and economic conditions.4 To substantiate this argument, the article traces the emergence and transformation of urban political and cultural centrality throughout the city’s modern history. Such a process highlights how the city’s political and economic development has taken physical and social form. The ultimate goal is to contribute to the growing literature that examines how political will and economic forces have influenced urban form and public spaces in today’s Cairo. Below are three scenes from Cairo’s dense, intricate history that have led to the Midan Al Tahrir we witness today.

Scene 1: The Pre-Colonial Urban Centers

A contemporary Cairene transported back in time to the turn of the nineteenth century at the site of what is now Midan Al Tahrir would be bemused to find it consisting of muddy mounds amid vast swaths of marshland and, more importantly, far away from the city’s urban density to the east. From the establishment of medieval Cairo’s first royal city, Al Fustat, in AD 640 and up to the middle of the nineteenth century, the urban growth of the city obeyed a north–south axis squeezed between the Muqatam Hills to the east and the flood- and silt-prone land to the west. During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the Nile’s course gradually shifted westward, not only exposing the ground that would become Midan Al Tahrir but also causing the port of Al Fustat in the south to silt up. This necessitated the establishment of the new port of Bulaq to the north during the Ayyubid dynasty.5 At that time, the city’s urban structure appeared more like an arc with the ports of Fustat and Bulaq at its terminating ends. It was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that the area between the Nile and the medieval city began to spark development interest. The marshy land had to be hardened. Once much of the land had been drained, filled, and planted, Ibrahim Pasha, the son and heir of modern Egypt’s founder Mohammad Ali, constructed his royal palace, Al Qasr Al Ali, on the previously soggy land. It was the first building in the area. A few years later, Mohammad Ali’s son and Egypt’s subsequent ruler, Khedive Said, built another palace, Qasr Al Nile, which was converted a decade later to house the Egyptian army, soldier barracks, and the Ministry of War. Although Khedive Said’s successor, Ismail, also built himself a palace on the reclaimed swamp lands (Ismailia Palace), Khedive Ismail made his true mark on Cairo’s urban development elsewhere. Determined that Cairo's streets should reflect the city's economic and cultural ties with Europe and to boost his image as a

4 Dona Stewart, “Changing Cairo: The Political Economy of Urban Form,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 23, no. 1 (1999): 130. 5 Abass Al Tarabely, Ahyaa Al Qaherah Al Mahroosah (Cairo: Al Dar Al Misryyia Al Lebnaniya, 2003).

86

URBANOGRAPHY

“A contemporary Cairene transported back in time to the turn of the nineteenth century at the site of what is now Midan Al Tahrir would be bemused to find it consisting of muddy mounds amid vast swaths of marshland.” The new district included three important plaza-like squares to signify modern Cairo’s urban life: Abdeen, Opera, and Ataba.9 Upon its completion in 1874, Abdeen Palace and the adjoining Abdeen Square supplanted the citadel as the city’s main political centerpiece. The new square attracted governmental buildings, with the parliament and several ministries arriving just to the west. Opera and Ataba Squares, as well as the Azbakiyya gardens, were designed to provide cumulatively the modern quarter’s social, commercial, and cultural center. To facilitate European visitors’ day trips to the pyramids on the opposite side of the Nile, the plan for Ismailia included another significant development: the Ismailia Bridge (later renamed Qasr Al Nile Bridge). The new bridge connected the modern quarter of Ismailia to the newly constructed road across the Nile in Giza, reaching through a scattering of villages toward the pyramids. The Nile crossing further diverted the city’s development from its north–south axis, stretching Cairo to the west and eventually leading to the urban development of the Nile’s west bank. To link the bridge to the Ismailia quarter, planners proposed a roundabout at the eastern approach to the bridge. In response, Khedive Ismail gave up a large section of his Ismailia palace gardens for the project. With Ismail’s land grant, the assemblage of land eventually known as Midan Al Tahrir was complete. While the Ismailia quarter and the reach of the Ismailia Bridge signified Cairo’s western expansion toward the Nile, architectural orientation and urban spaces remained directed toward the old city. The continued result was a contrast between the ancient and the modern. Royal palaces and the military barracks might have had gardens

ruler of a modern nation, particularly in anticipation of the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, Ismail wanted the city to develop following Western principles. The government grafted urban and architectural styles of nineteenthcentury Paris onto the marshy land between the Nile and the medieval city and invited private developers to build on land kept cheap to stimulate speedy development. The city’s growth began its steady reach toward what would become Midan Al Tahrir. By signaling a deviation from Cairo’s historical north–south axis and by pushing the city toward the Nile, Ismail’s development project altered the historical course of the city’s growth. Furthermore, in contrast to the medieval city’s narrow, winding roads, the new quarter, named Ismailia, was defined by its wide, radiating boulevards, open squares, gas-lit street lighting, gardens, and an opera house.6 The emergence of a European-like quarter paralleled the gradual rise of a Western-oriented Egyptian bourgeoisie and the influx of an international population that needed hotels and expected modern amenities. Several historians have described Ismailia as “a second Cairo,” suggesting the city acquired a double identity: native and modern.7 The wealth necessary to carry out these massive urban developments was generated from the sudden increase in Egyptian cotton exports to British textile manufacturing centers as a result of the decline in American cotton production and sales due to the Civil War.8 To maintain healthy property values, Ismailia’s private backers endorsed the development of public squares so that the district would become the true heart of the city, or the “downtown,” as it was later coined. Public space, therefore, was an investment by private developers.

6 Max Rodenbeck, Cairo: The City Victorious (New York: Picardo, 1998). 7 Janet Abu-Lughod, Cairo (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971). 8 For a classic reading on the impact of the American Civil War between 1861 and 1865 on Egypt’s modernization, see Edward M. Earle, “Egyptian Cotton and the American Civil War,” Political Science Quarterly 41 (December 1926): 520–545. 9 Arafa A. Ali, Al Qahirah Fi Aahd Ismail (Cairo: Dar Al Madina Al Monawara, 1998). Because these public spaces are based on French urban planning, they will be called “squares” throughout this article.

87


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:43 PM Page 88

B A C K W AT E R S , E D G E S , C E N T E R : TA H R I R S H A P E D b y K H A L E D A D H A M

URBANOGRAPHY

“By this historical moment, Midan Al Ismailia had developed as little more than a place for siting palaces and the military beyond the density of the city.”

02

01 03

05

06

07 08

Cairo remained connected to its geographical roots during these first stages of modernization. Shops, cafés, cinemas, the train station, the city’s famous hotels, travel agencies, foreign embassies, and the Royal Opera House were all within view of the minarets and domes of medieval Cairo.13 Midan Al Ismailia, on the other hand, was disregarded as a backwater at the edge of the city. If it was considered at all, then it was associated with the much-despised British occupation. By 1902, it seemed the Francophile boulevards of Ismailia might have continued westward into Midan Al Ismailia. Initiated by the government and the increasingly dominant private sector, a number of buildings around Midan Al Ismailia from the era reflected Cairo’s economic and cultural conditions. First, several apartment buildings were added to flank the midan’s eastern side.14 These buildings reflected the government’s more liberal economic policies adopted between 1898 and 1907. Second, to the south of these buildings, the former Ahmed Khairy Pasha palace complex was retrofitted to become Cairo University (later the American University in Cairo). The third significant addition from this period was the transfer of the Egyptian Museum to the new and larger current location.15 From an urban design perspective, the new museum delineated for the first time the northern edge of Midan Al Ismailia. Rather than extending the cultural reach of Ismailia, the museum’s new location and monumental architecture offered the first challenge to Opera Square’s cultural primacy. Midan Al Ismailia was poised to represent an additional element of Egyptian history that Opera Square could not: the ancient history.

that backed up onto the banks of the Nile, but their main entrances faced the old city. This remaining attention to the old city meant that the Nile was not yet a significant part of the urban or tourist experience.

04 09

01 Azbakiyya Gardens, 02 Opera Square, 03 Ataba Square, 04 Abdeen Square, 05 Eventual location of Midan Al Tahrir, 06 Qasr Al Nile (eventually military barracks), 07 Qasr Ismailia, 08 Qasr Al Doubara, 09 Ministry offices.

Scene 2: The Colonial Urban Centers of the City

September 1882 marked the beginning of the colonial period in Egyptian modern history.10 After defeating the Egyptian army at Al Tal Al Kabeer, British troops marched westward toward Cairo and through its new Haussmannian boulevards in the heart of the city until they reached their final destination, the Qasr Al Nile barracks at Midan Al Ismailia.11 The British troops’ occupation of the barracks marked the beginning of the intertwined relationship between Midan Al Ismailia and the Egyptian struggle for independence. By this historical moment, Midan Al Ismailia had developed as little more than a place for siting palaces and the military beyond the density of the city and as a gateway to the Ismailia quarter for those returning from the pyramids. While Midan Al Ismailia remained in this unformed state, the Ismailia quarter was nearing full capacity. With the city’s population continuing to grow substantially, Egyptian and foreign entrepreneurs became increasingly interested in exploiting the population boom through real estate developments, resulting in designated districts like Heliopolis and Maadi.12 Despite urban expansion, Ismailia’s three major squares continued to rise as the city’s dominant urban attractors. Located on the district’s eastern edge and abutting the native city, Opera Square in particular existed as the city’s commercial and cultural center. For this reason,

Schematic Map 2 (based on historical maps circa 1870): The initial streets and blocks of the Paris-like Ismailia district extended to the west of existing Cairo toward the reclaimed marshland along the Nile. The backers of Cairo's new district wanted to convey European-style modernity. Ismailia included three Parisian squares intended to define the district as the “downtown” of Cairo. The area south of what would become Midan Al Tahrir remained a marginal district of mostly palaces.

10 It is arguable that while the short French expedition in Egypt between 1798 and 1801 marked the beginning of the modern European powers’ interest in the country, it was not until after the arrival of the British troops in 1882 that the colonial period is considered to have begun. 11 Ahmed Kamaly, “Midan Al Tahrir Fi Zakirat Al Tareekh,” Selselat Ayam Masriya 40 (2011): 39–40. 12 Fathy Moselhi, Tatour Al’asyma Al Misriya (Cairo: Dar Al Madina Al Monawara, 1998). 13 Nina Nelson, Helnan Shepheard Hotel (Cairo: Ahram, 1992), 61. 14 For more discussion on the development of Midan Al Ismailia during this era, see Samir Raafat, “Midan Al-Tahrir,” Cairo Times, December 10, 1998. 15 Waffaa Al Saddiq, “The Egyptian Museum,” Museum International 57, nos. 1–2 (2005).

88

89


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:43 PM Page 88

B A C K W AT E R S , E D G E S , C E N T E R : TA H R I R S H A P E D b y K H A L E D A D H A M

URBANOGRAPHY

“By this historical moment, Midan Al Ismailia had developed as little more than a place for siting palaces and the military beyond the density of the city.”

02

01 03

05

06

07 08

Cairo remained connected to its geographical roots during these first stages of modernization. Shops, cafés, cinemas, the train station, the city’s famous hotels, travel agencies, foreign embassies, and the Royal Opera House were all within view of the minarets and domes of medieval Cairo.13 Midan Al Ismailia, on the other hand, was disregarded as a backwater at the edge of the city. If it was considered at all, then it was associated with the much-despised British occupation. By 1902, it seemed the Francophile boulevards of Ismailia might have continued westward into Midan Al Ismailia. Initiated by the government and the increasingly dominant private sector, a number of buildings around Midan Al Ismailia from the era reflected Cairo’s economic and cultural conditions. First, several apartment buildings were added to flank the midan’s eastern side.14 These buildings reflected the government’s more liberal economic policies adopted between 1898 and 1907. Second, to the south of these buildings, the former Ahmed Khairy Pasha palace complex was retrofitted to become Cairo University (later the American University in Cairo). The third significant addition from this period was the transfer of the Egyptian Museum to the new and larger current location.15 From an urban design perspective, the new museum delineated for the first time the northern edge of Midan Al Ismailia. Rather than extending the cultural reach of Ismailia, the museum’s new location and monumental architecture offered the first challenge to Opera Square’s cultural primacy. Midan Al Ismailia was poised to represent an additional element of Egyptian history that Opera Square could not: the ancient history.

that backed up onto the banks of the Nile, but their main entrances faced the old city. This remaining attention to the old city meant that the Nile was not yet a significant part of the urban or tourist experience.

04 09

01 Azbakiyya Gardens, 02 Opera Square, 03 Ataba Square, 04 Abdeen Square, 05 Eventual location of Midan Al Tahrir, 06 Qasr Al Nile (eventually military barracks), 07 Qasr Ismailia, 08 Qasr Al Doubara, 09 Ministry offices.

Scene 2: The Colonial Urban Centers of the City

September 1882 marked the beginning of the colonial period in Egyptian modern history.10 After defeating the Egyptian army at Al Tal Al Kabeer, British troops marched westward toward Cairo and through its new Haussmannian boulevards in the heart of the city until they reached their final destination, the Qasr Al Nile barracks at Midan Al Ismailia.11 The British troops’ occupation of the barracks marked the beginning of the intertwined relationship between Midan Al Ismailia and the Egyptian struggle for independence. By this historical moment, Midan Al Ismailia had developed as little more than a place for siting palaces and the military beyond the density of the city and as a gateway to the Ismailia quarter for those returning from the pyramids. While Midan Al Ismailia remained in this unformed state, the Ismailia quarter was nearing full capacity. With the city’s population continuing to grow substantially, Egyptian and foreign entrepreneurs became increasingly interested in exploiting the population boom through real estate developments, resulting in designated districts like Heliopolis and Maadi.12 Despite urban expansion, Ismailia’s three major squares continued to rise as the city’s dominant urban attractors. Located on the district’s eastern edge and abutting the native city, Opera Square in particular existed as the city’s commercial and cultural center. For this reason,

Schematic Map 2 (based on historical maps circa 1870): The initial streets and blocks of the Paris-like Ismailia district extended to the west of existing Cairo toward the reclaimed marshland along the Nile. The backers of Cairo's new district wanted to convey European-style modernity. Ismailia included three Parisian squares intended to define the district as the “downtown” of Cairo. The area south of what would become Midan Al Tahrir remained a marginal district of mostly palaces.

10 It is arguable that while the short French expedition in Egypt between 1798 and 1801 marked the beginning of the modern European powers’ interest in the country, it was not until after the arrival of the British troops in 1882 that the colonial period is considered to have begun. 11 Ahmed Kamaly, “Midan Al Tahrir Fi Zakirat Al Tareekh,” Selselat Ayam Masriya 40 (2011): 39–40. 12 Fathy Moselhi, Tatour Al’asyma Al Misriya (Cairo: Dar Al Madina Al Monawara, 1998). 13 Nina Nelson, Helnan Shepheard Hotel (Cairo: Ahram, 1992), 61. 14 For more discussion on the development of Midan Al Ismailia during this era, see Samir Raafat, “Midan Al-Tahrir,” Cairo Times, December 10, 1998. 15 Waffaa Al Saddiq, “The Egyptian Museum,” Museum International 57, nos. 1–2 (2005).

88

89


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:43 PM Page 96

B A C K W AT E R S , E D G E S , C E N T E R : TA H R I R S H A P E D b y K H A L E D A D H A M

URBANOGRAPHY

political center of the city and the nation? Or are we going to experience yet another shift in urban centrality?

The Post-Postcolonial Era: Parting Thoughts

02

01 03

09 06 08

11 10

05 07

04

12 13

14

01 Azbakiyya Gardens, 02 Opera Square, 03 Ataba Square, 04 Abdeen Square, 05 Midan Al Tahrir, 06 Nile Hilton Hotel (under construction), 07 Mogamma Building, 08 Qasr Al Nile Bridge, 09 Egyptian Museum, 10 Semiramis Hotel, 11 Qasr Kamal Al Din (Ministry of Foreign Affairs), 12 American University in Cairo, 13 Parliament and ministry offices, 14 Garden City. Schematic Map 5 (based on a 1958 map): Midan Al Tahrir is revealed as it was five years after its renaming for the celebrations that took place to mark the end of King Farouk’s rule. The well-known roundabout at Midan Al Tahrir was abutted by gardens, which would eventually include a bus station. By 1958, Gamal Abdel Nasser had ascended to the presidency and participated in the development of the Nile's “Gold Coast,” including the Nile Hilton Hotel, which was under construction. The Hilton stood on the land cleared after the demolition of the barracks occupied by the British.

96

Since the middle of the nineteenth century and throughout Cairo’s subsequent historical periods, Midan Al Tahrir has successively acquired entangled layers of symbolic significance for Egyptians, which are today either embedded in the pantheon of its buildings or stored in the memory of the place from past iterations of national events: namely, funerals, celebrations, and protests. Throughout its history, Midan Al Tahrir was never a carefully planned, delineated public space like those of Ismailia but rather an adapting product of political and economic changes. The vast urban space of Midan Al Tahrir has been maintained functionally and symbolically as a liminal space between downtown Cairo (the Ismailia quarter) and the expanding metropolis to its west. It exists between the residential blocks that form its eastern edge and the institutional buildings that enclose it from nearly all other sides, or, to put it differently, between the city and the state.38 Whether during the colonial or postcolonial era, Midan Al Tahrir has functioned as a spatial symbol of the Egyptian society’s struggle for freedom against oppressive authority. In a way, the occupation of Midan Al Tahrir in January 2011 represents the ultimate irony of the revolution: on the one hand, the January revolution saved Midan Al Tahrir from the authorities’ future plans that would have deprived the midan of its cultural and political symbolic centrality. On the other hand, the revolution was a rebellion against authority and the liberal laissez-faire economic regime which produced the midan in the first place. It is not clear how events will unfold in the coming years, but recent developments bring many questions to the fore; among them: How will Cairenes reinvent Midan Al Tahrir in the emerging post-postcolonial era? What new spaces of civic representation and civil society will result from the transition now underway? Will Tahrir remain the urban

38 The historian Khaled Fahmy has suggested that the buildings overlooking Midan Al Tahrir represent what he calls “a touchline between the city and the authorities.” Khaled Fahmy, “Al Midan le-Mann,” Al Shorouk, September 23, 2012, 14.

97


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:43 PM Page 96

B A C K W AT E R S , E D G E S , C E N T E R : TA H R I R S H A P E D b y K H A L E D A D H A M

URBANOGRAPHY

political center of the city and the nation? Or are we going to experience yet another shift in urban centrality?

The Post-Postcolonial Era: Parting Thoughts

02

01 03

09 06 08

11 10

05 07

04

12 13

14

01 Azbakiyya Gardens, 02 Opera Square, 03 Ataba Square, 04 Abdeen Square, 05 Midan Al Tahrir, 06 Nile Hilton Hotel (under construction), 07 Mogamma Building, 08 Qasr Al Nile Bridge, 09 Egyptian Museum, 10 Semiramis Hotel, 11 Qasr Kamal Al Din (Ministry of Foreign Affairs), 12 American University in Cairo, 13 Parliament and ministry offices, 14 Garden City. Schematic Map 5 (based on a 1958 map): Midan Al Tahrir is revealed as it was five years after its renaming for the celebrations that took place to mark the end of King Farouk’s rule. The well-known roundabout at Midan Al Tahrir was abutted by gardens, which would eventually include a bus station. By 1958, Gamal Abdel Nasser had ascended to the presidency and participated in the development of the Nile's “Gold Coast,” including the Nile Hilton Hotel, which was under construction. The Hilton stood on the land cleared after the demolition of the barracks occupied by the British.

96

Since the middle of the nineteenth century and throughout Cairo’s subsequent historical periods, Midan Al Tahrir has successively acquired entangled layers of symbolic significance for Egyptians, which are today either embedded in the pantheon of its buildings or stored in the memory of the place from past iterations of national events: namely, funerals, celebrations, and protests. Throughout its history, Midan Al Tahrir was never a carefully planned, delineated public space like those of Ismailia but rather an adapting product of political and economic changes. The vast urban space of Midan Al Tahrir has been maintained functionally and symbolically as a liminal space between downtown Cairo (the Ismailia quarter) and the expanding metropolis to its west. It exists between the residential blocks that form its eastern edge and the institutional buildings that enclose it from nearly all other sides, or, to put it differently, between the city and the state.38 Whether during the colonial or postcolonial era, Midan Al Tahrir has functioned as a spatial symbol of the Egyptian society’s struggle for freedom against oppressive authority. In a way, the occupation of Midan Al Tahrir in January 2011 represents the ultimate irony of the revolution: on the one hand, the January revolution saved Midan Al Tahrir from the authorities’ future plans that would have deprived the midan of its cultural and political symbolic centrality. On the other hand, the revolution was a rebellion against authority and the liberal laissez-faire economic regime which produced the midan in the first place. It is not clear how events will unfold in the coming years, but recent developments bring many questions to the fore; among them: How will Cairenes reinvent Midan Al Tahrir in the emerging post-postcolonial era? What new spaces of civic representation and civil society will result from the transition now underway? Will Tahrir remain the urban

38 The historian Khaled Fahmy has suggested that the buildings overlooking Midan Al Tahrir represent what he calls “a touchline between the city and the authorities.” Khaled Fahmy, “Al Midan le-Mann,” Al Shorouk, September 23, 2012, 14.

97


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:43 PM Page 98

C O N V E R S AT I O N S

P L A N S T H E E A RT H S W A L L O W S : A N I N T E RV I E W W I T H ABDULRAHMAN MAKHLOUF The son of an Egyptian Grand Mufti was a harbinger of modernity for Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Abu Dhabi. So why were his ideas about Arab cityscapes paved over? Todd Reisz 62 ‫ صفحة‬،‫ البّوابة التّاسعة‬،‫مخططات تبتلعها اﻷرض‬ Architect and urban planner Dr. Abdulrahman Makhlouf points to an aerial photograph of Abu Dhabi dating from 1973. Within five years of his working in Abu Dhabi, the modern grid he was hired to set in place was already evident. Photograph by Ziyah Gafi´c (Above) Sheikh Zayed and other officials pay close attention to Dr. Makhlouf as he presents his cardboard model of his proposal for Abu Dhabi’s northern shore. Photograph courtesy of Abdulrahman Makhlouf


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:43 PM Page 98

C O N V E R S AT I O N S

P L A N S T H E E A RT H S W A L L O W S : A N I N T E RV I E W W I T H ABDULRAHMAN MAKHLOUF The son of an Egyptian Grand Mufti was a harbinger of modernity for Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Abu Dhabi. So why were his ideas about Arab cityscapes paved over? Todd Reisz 62 ‫ صفحة‬،‫ البّوابة التّاسعة‬،‫مخططات تبتلعها اﻷرض‬ Architect and urban planner Dr. Abdulrahman Makhlouf points to an aerial photograph of Abu Dhabi dating from 1973. Within five years of his working in Abu Dhabi, the modern grid he was hired to set in place was already evident. Photograph by Ziyah Gafi´c (Above) Sheikh Zayed and other officials pay close attention to Dr. Makhlouf as he presents his cardboard model of his proposal for Abu Dhabi’s northern shore. Photograph courtesy of Abdulrahman Makhlouf


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:43 PM Page 100

PLANS THE EARTH SWALLOWS: AN INTERVIEW WITH ABDULRAHMAN MAKHLOUF by TODD REISZ

Surrounded by memories of past achievements, Dr. Makhlouf stands in his conference room in Abu Dhabi, on November 6, 2012. The exhibition boards illustrate his early education in Quranic and Arabic studies in Cairo, doctoral studies in Germany, and the presentation of his master plans on the palace floors of Abu Dhabi. On the upper left appears a satellite image of the emirate that has been his home since 1968. Photograph by Ziyah Gafi´c

C O N V E R S AT I O N S

Urban history is often told through great structures or their ruins. If history is the story of the victors, then urban history defaults to the story of the built. The towers, bridges, and kilometers of tarmac do not go the way of faded memories and yellowing archives. But it is these memories and archives that may reveal why we are left with the buildings and infrastructure we obligingly inhabit. In my ongoing work with the architecture and urbanism of cities in the Gulf, I am constantly struck by how history is slipping through our metaphorical fingers. I put hope in meeting Abdulrahman Makhlouf, an Egyptian planner and long-time resident of Abu Dhabi. Our first encounter was in 2010, after I had seen that he was associated with Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Stadium, one of the most beautiful buildings in the UAE. Our conversation generated a list of topics that multiplied the longer we talked. He studied under professors including Georg Werner at Technische Hochschule Munich1 in Germany in the years after the Second World War. He worked as an architect and urban planner in Cairo as the city tried to handle a population boom. There, he crossed paths with well-known Egyptian architects like Hassan Fathy and Sayed Karim. In the late 1950s, the United Nations appointed him to formulate the first master plans for Saudi Arabia’s cities. And then he moved to Abu Dhabi as chief town planner at the moment the city was catching up with modern expectations. Over the course of these experiences, Dr. Makhlouf participated in and witnessed a terrific age of urban history in Egypt and the Gulf region. He negotiated the meeting of so-called “Western modernism” with local and regional expectations. Decades of practice by this one man could help inform a broader region’s urban history largely unrecorded by a generation that is leaving us. Raised by a grand mufti and trained in European planning principles, Dr. Makhlouf seemed well positioned to give us some perspective on urbanism in the Arab world. Nearing his eighty-ninth birthday, he is genial, but his eyes are still those of the calculating man in the many photographs with sheikhs and dignitaries. In these pictures, he wears perfectly tailored suits and oils his curly hair back. He played the part of the agile, shrewd, ambitious architect. Dr. Makhlouf says that he constantly reminds himself that God punished Qaroun for his arrogance by having the earth swallow him up. The Quran story serves as a reminder that God gives and God takes. Memory is part of this equation. To his great frustration, memory often fails Dr. Makhlouf, a fact he does not easily admit. He doesn’t want to forget as much as he doesn’t want to be forgotten. Therefore, he does not shy away from claiming credit for his work. He knows it is unlikely anyone will do so on his behalf. The roads he drew and the residential blocks he designed have all been razed and replaced by wider, taller, and sometimes better structures. For the planner, the next building boom is the equivalent of Qaroun’s swallowing earth. Dr. Makhlouf invested a great deal of effort into our meeting. He converted his conference room into an exhibition of informational boards he has made over the years. The boards’ combination of text and images presented his biography: his grandfather and father, the teachers at Al Azhar, his time as a student in Germany, and his presentations of master plans on palace floors in Abu Dhabi. These panels surrounded us as we talked. In addition, the conference table was covered with a grid of stacked documents, the organization of which he rigorously maintained. All this effort made it seem as if urban history were within reach. However, the piles amounted to a mere fraction, at an oblique angle, of the story. The boards and documents functioned more as crutches of postponement than as easy access to history. Urban history is once again escaping us. We look at Jedda, Mecca, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai, and by reacting to, say, a constructed clock tower, a mega-highway, or a ski-slope, we think we can interpret what happened. But we have lost the chance to know the personalities and the transcultural interactions that laid the complicated path to such urban testimonies. We have lost the stories not only of the places but also of major chapters in the saga of modernity.

1 After working in various ministries in Berlin under Hitler’s Germany, Werner eventually oversaw the rebuilding of the city of Augsburg after the war. He began teaching at Technische Hochschule Munich in 1951 and held the town planning professorship when Makhlouf was studying there.

100

101


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:43 PM Page 100

PLANS THE EARTH SWALLOWS: AN INTERVIEW WITH ABDULRAHMAN MAKHLOUF by TODD REISZ

Surrounded by memories of past achievements, Dr. Makhlouf stands in his conference room in Abu Dhabi, on November 6, 2012. The exhibition boards illustrate his early education in Quranic and Arabic studies in Cairo, doctoral studies in Germany, and the presentation of his master plans on the palace floors of Abu Dhabi. On the upper left appears a satellite image of the emirate that has been his home since 1968. Photograph by Ziyah Gafi´c

C O N V E R S AT I O N S

Urban history is often told through great structures or their ruins. If history is the story of the victors, then urban history defaults to the story of the built. The towers, bridges, and kilometers of tarmac do not go the way of faded memories and yellowing archives. But it is these memories and archives that may reveal why we are left with the buildings and infrastructure we obligingly inhabit. In my ongoing work with the architecture and urbanism of cities in the Gulf, I am constantly struck by how history is slipping through our metaphorical fingers. I put hope in meeting Abdulrahman Makhlouf, an Egyptian planner and long-time resident of Abu Dhabi. Our first encounter was in 2010, after I had seen that he was associated with Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Stadium, one of the most beautiful buildings in the UAE. Our conversation generated a list of topics that multiplied the longer we talked. He studied under professors including Georg Werner at Technische Hochschule Munich1 in Germany in the years after the Second World War. He worked as an architect and urban planner in Cairo as the city tried to handle a population boom. There, he crossed paths with well-known Egyptian architects like Hassan Fathy and Sayed Karim. In the late 1950s, the United Nations appointed him to formulate the first master plans for Saudi Arabia’s cities. And then he moved to Abu Dhabi as chief town planner at the moment the city was catching up with modern expectations. Over the course of these experiences, Dr. Makhlouf participated in and witnessed a terrific age of urban history in Egypt and the Gulf region. He negotiated the meeting of so-called “Western modernism” with local and regional expectations. Decades of practice by this one man could help inform a broader region’s urban history largely unrecorded by a generation that is leaving us. Raised by a grand mufti and trained in European planning principles, Dr. Makhlouf seemed well positioned to give us some perspective on urbanism in the Arab world. Nearing his eighty-ninth birthday, he is genial, but his eyes are still those of the calculating man in the many photographs with sheikhs and dignitaries. In these pictures, he wears perfectly tailored suits and oils his curly hair back. He played the part of the agile, shrewd, ambitious architect. Dr. Makhlouf says that he constantly reminds himself that God punished Qaroun for his arrogance by having the earth swallow him up. The Quran story serves as a reminder that God gives and God takes. Memory is part of this equation. To his great frustration, memory often fails Dr. Makhlouf, a fact he does not easily admit. He doesn’t want to forget as much as he doesn’t want to be forgotten. Therefore, he does not shy away from claiming credit for his work. He knows it is unlikely anyone will do so on his behalf. The roads he drew and the residential blocks he designed have all been razed and replaced by wider, taller, and sometimes better structures. For the planner, the next building boom is the equivalent of Qaroun’s swallowing earth. Dr. Makhlouf invested a great deal of effort into our meeting. He converted his conference room into an exhibition of informational boards he has made over the years. The boards’ combination of text and images presented his biography: his grandfather and father, the teachers at Al Azhar, his time as a student in Germany, and his presentations of master plans on palace floors in Abu Dhabi. These panels surrounded us as we talked. In addition, the conference table was covered with a grid of stacked documents, the organization of which he rigorously maintained. All this effort made it seem as if urban history were within reach. However, the piles amounted to a mere fraction, at an oblique angle, of the story. The boards and documents functioned more as crutches of postponement than as easy access to history. Urban history is once again escaping us. We look at Jedda, Mecca, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai, and by reacting to, say, a constructed clock tower, a mega-highway, or a ski-slope, we think we can interpret what happened. But we have lost the chance to know the personalities and the transcultural interactions that laid the complicated path to such urban testimonies. We have lost the stories not only of the places but also of major chapters in the saga of modernity.

1 After working in various ministries in Berlin under Hitler’s Germany, Werner eventually oversaw the rebuilding of the city of Augsburg after the war. He began teaching at Technische Hochschule Munich in 1951 and held the town planning professorship when Makhlouf was studying there.

100

101


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:43 PM Page 102

PLANS THE EARTH SWALLOWS: AN INTERVIEW WITH ABDULRAHMAN MAKHLOUF by TODD REISZ

“I had a dream based on these drawings of the two holy cities, Mecca and Medina. I was hoping that I would be the planner of these cities, and it happened.”

C O N V E R S AT I O N S

in England, where most people went for graduate studies. He told me to go to Germany. This was in the early 1950s. He said I needed to see how Germany was rebuilding its cities after the war.

Dr. Makhlouf receives me in his conference room. He begins to present his boards. Abdulrahman Makhlouf: I grew up in what I call “The House of the Three Generations,” in the Cairo suburb Abbasiya. Three generations lived together in one building. Later, it was a group of buildings, like a compound. I lived on the ground floor of a two-story building. We had a reception area for the men and one for the women and the servants. And there was a garden. My grandfather was the rector and a teacher at Al Azhar.2 From him I learned the Quran and the Arabic language. He insisted on correct pronunciation, not the colloquial. This helped me become a good writer. Part of becoming a good writer is to learn, but a bigger part is God’s gift to you. To write well you have to know the Quran and the Hadiths. The Quran is written at a level higher than the human way of thinking. It is more than whatever you can think about. My writing was aided by my innate sense of order. I had to arrange everything around me, and not just on paper. I cannot tolerate disorder.

After returning from Munich, you didn’t remain long in Cairo.

Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (fourth from left), the ruler of Abu Dhabi from 1966 until 2004, tours the construction site of Abu Dhabi’s modern souks as designed and managed by Dr. Makhlouf (second from left). The souks have since been demolished and replaced by the Central Market complex designed by Foster + Partners. Photograph courtesy of Abdulrahman Makhlouf

In 1958, was Mecca already experiencing a real estate bonanza? Oh, yes. There were many people looking to become millionaires. That meant there were many who wanted to get rid of me.

Todd Reisz: Was it an obsession with order that brought you to architecture?

That has to do with visiting my grandfather’s village. When we went to the village, I would see that the houses were built with mud and not with bricks. Eventually, some people began to build with brick. I said, “Okay, I want to do this. But even if we can do it for our house, what about the neighbors’ houses?” As a boy, I realized that we cannot increase the standard of living with individual buildings. It has to be through the whole village. It seems then that from early on you were more a planner than an architect.

Dr. Makhlouf presents his doctoral thesis, which explores the history of the neighborhood unit theory and proposes its application in Giza, Egypt. The online version of this interview includes more discussion about Dr. Makhlouf ’s work in Egypt. Photograph by Ziyah Gafi´c

A city planner, yes. I always say, “Planning is a social mission.” When I reached the architecture department at Cairo University, I was part of a group of students studying town planning. I chose a branch of engineering that would help me learn how to make a better environment. This was my dream. To go further, I needed higher learning, a PhD. I told the head of my department that I wanted to study

102

After a year, I was nominated to work for the United Nations in Saudi Arabia. They wanted a Muslim expert who could work in Mecca and Medina. Sayed Karim3 recommended me, but it also helped that my father was Egypt’s Grand Mufti.4 During my stay in Munich, I had a dream based on these drawings of the two holy cities. Every morning in Munich before school started, I prayed in the direction of Mecca. I was hoping and dreaming that I would be the planner of these cities. And it happened.

Within a few years, you made the first plans for the expansion and redevelopment for which cities? For all the cities.

Not just Mecca, Medina, and Jedda? All of them. Yanbu, Jazan ... 2 Al Azhar is a mosque in the medieval quarter of Cairo. It has been considered a center of Islamic learning since it was founded in the tenth century. Dr. Makhlouf claims that his father reintroduced mathematics to the theological studies during his time there. 3 Sayed Karim was the first Egyptian to earn a PhD in architectural engineering and was a well-known modernist in Cairo. His proposals for Cairo and work for Port Said were the topic of an article in the autumn 2012 edition of Portal 9. See Mohamad Elshahed, “Port Said 1957: Egyptian Modernism Unfurled,” Portal 9, no. 1: The Imagined (2012). 4 Dr. Makhlouf’s father, Sheikh Hussein Mohammad Makhlouf, was the Egyptian Grand Mufti from 1946 until 1950. Later, coinciding with his son’s working abroad, the elder Makhlouf traveled throughout the Gulf and Saudi Arabia as a founding advocate of the Muslim World League.

Also Riyadh?

No, not Riyadh. Did the greed affect your approach to urban planning in Saudi Arabia?

Greed was not just in Saudi Arabia. It was throughout the region because these countries needed experts from abroad. They needed expatriates at all levels, so then there was competition among expats coming from various places including Britain, America, Iraq, and Egypt. There was a lot of jealousy. Some were upset I did not follow their ways. I could have become a millionaire too.

103


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:43 PM Page 102

PLANS THE EARTH SWALLOWS: AN INTERVIEW WITH ABDULRAHMAN MAKHLOUF by TODD REISZ

“I had a dream based on these drawings of the two holy cities, Mecca and Medina. I was hoping that I would be the planner of these cities, and it happened.”

C O N V E R S AT I O N S

in England, where most people went for graduate studies. He told me to go to Germany. This was in the early 1950s. He said I needed to see how Germany was rebuilding its cities after the war.

Dr. Makhlouf receives me in his conference room. He begins to present his boards. Abdulrahman Makhlouf: I grew up in what I call “The House of the Three Generations,” in the Cairo suburb Abbasiya. Three generations lived together in one building. Later, it was a group of buildings, like a compound. I lived on the ground floor of a two-story building. We had a reception area for the men and one for the women and the servants. And there was a garden. My grandfather was the rector and a teacher at Al Azhar.2 From him I learned the Quran and the Arabic language. He insisted on correct pronunciation, not the colloquial. This helped me become a good writer. Part of becoming a good writer is to learn, but a bigger part is God’s gift to you. To write well you have to know the Quran and the Hadiths. The Quran is written at a level higher than the human way of thinking. It is more than whatever you can think about. My writing was aided by my innate sense of order. I had to arrange everything around me, and not just on paper. I cannot tolerate disorder.

After returning from Munich, you didn’t remain long in Cairo.

Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (fourth from left), the ruler of Abu Dhabi from 1966 until 2004, tours the construction site of Abu Dhabi’s modern souks as designed and managed by Dr. Makhlouf (second from left). The souks have since been demolished and replaced by the Central Market complex designed by Foster + Partners. Photograph courtesy of Abdulrahman Makhlouf

In 1958, was Mecca already experiencing a real estate bonanza? Oh, yes. There were many people looking to become millionaires. That meant there were many who wanted to get rid of me.

Todd Reisz: Was it an obsession with order that brought you to architecture?

That has to do with visiting my grandfather’s village. When we went to the village, I would see that the houses were built with mud and not with bricks. Eventually, some people began to build with brick. I said, “Okay, I want to do this. But even if we can do it for our house, what about the neighbors’ houses?” As a boy, I realized that we cannot increase the standard of living with individual buildings. It has to be through the whole village. It seems then that from early on you were more a planner than an architect.

Dr. Makhlouf presents his doctoral thesis, which explores the history of the neighborhood unit theory and proposes its application in Giza, Egypt. The online version of this interview includes more discussion about Dr. Makhlouf ’s work in Egypt. Photograph by Ziyah Gafi´c

A city planner, yes. I always say, “Planning is a social mission.” When I reached the architecture department at Cairo University, I was part of a group of students studying town planning. I chose a branch of engineering that would help me learn how to make a better environment. This was my dream. To go further, I needed higher learning, a PhD. I told the head of my department that I wanted to study

102

After a year, I was nominated to work for the United Nations in Saudi Arabia. They wanted a Muslim expert who could work in Mecca and Medina. Sayed Karim3 recommended me, but it also helped that my father was Egypt’s Grand Mufti.4 During my stay in Munich, I had a dream based on these drawings of the two holy cities. Every morning in Munich before school started, I prayed in the direction of Mecca. I was hoping and dreaming that I would be the planner of these cities. And it happened.

Within a few years, you made the first plans for the expansion and redevelopment for which cities? For all the cities.

Not just Mecca, Medina, and Jedda? All of them. Yanbu, Jazan ... 2 Al Azhar is a mosque in the medieval quarter of Cairo. It has been considered a center of Islamic learning since it was founded in the tenth century. Dr. Makhlouf claims that his father reintroduced mathematics to the theological studies during his time there. 3 Sayed Karim was the first Egyptian to earn a PhD in architectural engineering and was a well-known modernist in Cairo. His proposals for Cairo and work for Port Said were the topic of an article in the autumn 2012 edition of Portal 9. See Mohamad Elshahed, “Port Said 1957: Egyptian Modernism Unfurled,” Portal 9, no. 1: The Imagined (2012). 4 Dr. Makhlouf’s father, Sheikh Hussein Mohammad Makhlouf, was the Egyptian Grand Mufti from 1946 until 1950. Later, coinciding with his son’s working abroad, the elder Makhlouf traveled throughout the Gulf and Saudi Arabia as a founding advocate of the Muslim World League.

Also Riyadh?

No, not Riyadh. Did the greed affect your approach to urban planning in Saudi Arabia?

Greed was not just in Saudi Arabia. It was throughout the region because these countries needed experts from abroad. They needed expatriates at all levels, so then there was competition among expats coming from various places including Britain, America, Iraq, and Egypt. There was a lot of jealousy. Some were upset I did not follow their ways. I could have become a millionaire too.

103


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:44 PM Page 108

PLANS THE EARTH SWALLOWS: AN INTERVIEW WITH ABDULRAHMAN MAKHLOUF by TODD REISZ

C O N V E R S AT I O N S

Conceptual sketch of the full build-out of Abu Dhabi Island by Dr. Makhlouf, dated December 22, 1968. Drawing courtesy of Abdulrahman Makhlouf

Dr. Makhlouf ’s drawing of Abu Dhabi from December 1968, when he first arrived in the emirate. It is arguably the first comprehensive map of Abu Dhabi’s ongoing and proposed development. Drawing courtesy of Abdulrahman Makhlouf

108

109


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:44 PM Page 108

PLANS THE EARTH SWALLOWS: AN INTERVIEW WITH ABDULRAHMAN MAKHLOUF by TODD REISZ

C O N V E R S AT I O N S

Conceptual sketch of the full build-out of Abu Dhabi Island by Dr. Makhlouf, dated December 22, 1968. Drawing courtesy of Abdulrahman Makhlouf

Dr. Makhlouf ’s drawing of Abu Dhabi from December 1968, when he first arrived in the emirate. It is arguably the first comprehensive map of Abu Dhabi’s ongoing and proposed development. Drawing courtesy of Abdulrahman Makhlouf

108

109


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:44 PM Page 112

PLANS THE EARTH SWALLOWS: AN INTERVIEW WITH ABDULRAHMAN MAKHLOUF by TODD REISZ

“I am just an observer, a historian.”

C O N V E R S AT I O N S

to start my own architecture and planning firm. Fifteen years passed. One summer, Sheikh Zayed was staying near Geneva. His advisor rang me and said, “Sheikh Zayed has been talking about you ... good things.” Two days later the same man called me to tell me that Sheikh Zayed had mentioned me again and regretted accepting the resignation of an honest and clean man. (Dr. Makhlouf pounds his hand flat-palmed on table.) Are you surprised by what Abu Dhabi has become? When you came in 1968, there was a road network but not much else. And now there are towers in every direction.

I won’t give you my opinion of what Abu Dhabi has become, but I am not surprised. I have been living here. I was expecting that this would happen. When Dubai started to develop in the way it has, we were hoping it would not happen here. But it is difficult to express what I mean. Now I am sitting here thinking, “What will happen with Egypt?” Things will happen. I expect the good and the bad. I did not choose this. I could not have prevented this, nor could I have made this. I am just an observer, a historian. We have spoken a lot about the Arab city and the Islamic city. Do you think Abu Dhabi is an Islamic city? So far? That is a big question.

A longer version of this interview, which includes accounts of Dr. Makhlouf 's work in and about Egypt, can be found on the Portal 9 website, portal9journal.org.

112

In Dr. Makhlouf ’s office, Sheikh Zayed hears about plans for Sheikh Zayed Stadium designed by Henri Colboc as part of the Sports City complex. Photograph courtesy of Abdulrahman Makhlouf

113


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:44 PM Page 112

PLANS THE EARTH SWALLOWS: AN INTERVIEW WITH ABDULRAHMAN MAKHLOUF by TODD REISZ

“I am just an observer, a historian.”

C O N V E R S AT I O N S

to start my own architecture and planning firm. Fifteen years passed. One summer, Sheikh Zayed was staying near Geneva. His advisor rang me and said, “Sheikh Zayed has been talking about you ... good things.” Two days later the same man called me to tell me that Sheikh Zayed had mentioned me again and regretted accepting the resignation of an honest and clean man. (Dr. Makhlouf pounds his hand flat-palmed on table.) Are you surprised by what Abu Dhabi has become? When you came in 1968, there was a road network but not much else. And now there are towers in every direction.

I won’t give you my opinion of what Abu Dhabi has become, but I am not surprised. I have been living here. I was expecting that this would happen. When Dubai started to develop in the way it has, we were hoping it would not happen here. But it is difficult to express what I mean. Now I am sitting here thinking, “What will happen with Egypt?” Things will happen. I expect the good and the bad. I did not choose this. I could not have prevented this, nor could I have made this. I am just an observer, a historian. We have spoken a lot about the Arab city and the Islamic city. Do you think Abu Dhabi is an Islamic city? So far? That is a big question.

A longer version of this interview, which includes accounts of Dr. Makhlouf 's work in and about Egypt, can be found on the Portal 9 website, portal9journal.org.

112

In Dr. Makhlouf ’s office, Sheikh Zayed hears about plans for Sheikh Zayed Stadium designed by Henri Colboc as part of the Sports City complex. Photograph courtesy of Abdulrahman Makhlouf

113


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:44 PM Page 114

S A N A A’ S W A L L S A N D T H E M Y T H O F S E C U R I T Y b y J A M A L J U B R A N

FLANEUR

S A N A A’ S W A L L S A N D T H E MYTH OF SECURITY Sanaa derives its name from the South Arabian term for “well fortified”. Yet the walls that are supposed to defend the Yemeni capital’s inhabitants from menacing outsiders have never been entirely successful. Both as a seven-year-old boy and a seventy-year-old retiree, Abdel Raheem has seen it all. Jamal Jubran portal9journal.org ،‫صنعاء ساحة مفتوحة‬ I

Scenes from Sanaa – ancient walls and gateways typify the Old City, some dating back to pre-Islamic times. Unfortunately, history has proven the city’s foreboding walls to be less than effective. Stills from a video by Ziryab Al Ghaberi

114

“Sanaa has always been an alluring city,” observes Abdel Raheem, a retired civil servant and dedicated flaneur who witnessed the looting of the city by local tribesmen when he was a little boy. As he recalls the pillage of 1948, he adds, “Sanaa was irresistible, and they came to loot her every morning.” He goes on to explain, “The mud wall that surrounds the old city is incredibly high, relatively speaking.” It is made up of a succession of smaller contiguous walls, some of which date back to pre-Islamic times. The protective barrier, many stories high, is designed to repel incursions because Sanaa has long been regarded a “palatable and permissible morsel.” In the not-too-distant past, Imam Yahya Bin Hamid Al Din, who ruled over Yemen from 1904 to 1948, would see to it that the 115


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:44 PM Page 114

S A N A A’ S W A L L S A N D T H E M Y T H O F S E C U R I T Y b y J A M A L J U B R A N

FLANEUR

S A N A A’ S W A L L S A N D T H E MYTH OF SECURITY Sanaa derives its name from the South Arabian term for “well fortified”. Yet the walls that are supposed to defend the Yemeni capital’s inhabitants from menacing outsiders have never been entirely successful. Both as a seven-year-old boy and a seventy-year-old retiree, Abdel Raheem has seen it all. Jamal Jubran portal9journal.org ،‫صنعاء ساحة مفتوحة‬ I

Scenes from Sanaa – ancient walls and gateways typify the Old City, some dating back to pre-Islamic times. Unfortunately, history has proven the city’s foreboding walls to be less than effective. Stills from a video by Ziryab Al Ghaberi

114

“Sanaa has always been an alluring city,” observes Abdel Raheem, a retired civil servant and dedicated flaneur who witnessed the looting of the city by local tribesmen when he was a little boy. As he recalls the pillage of 1948, he adds, “Sanaa was irresistible, and they came to loot her every morning.” He goes on to explain, “The mud wall that surrounds the old city is incredibly high, relatively speaking.” It is made up of a succession of smaller contiguous walls, some of which date back to pre-Islamic times. The protective barrier, many stories high, is designed to repel incursions because Sanaa has long been regarded a “palatable and permissible morsel.” In the not-too-distant past, Imam Yahya Bin Hamid Al Din, who ruled over Yemen from 1904 to 1948, would see to it that the 115


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:44 PM Page 116

S A N A A’ S W A L L S A N D T H E M Y T H O F S E C U R I T Y b y J A M A L J U B R A N

FLANEUR

city’s seven gates were closed everyday at nightfall. Residents late to return home would be locked out of the city and have to sleep outside the city gates until the break of dawn the following day. They would be exposed to untold dangers since tribesmen lurked around like wild animals, ready to pounce on the enticing sight of their sleeping forms. “In Yemen, the concept of the wall and of walling in a space has long been part of the culture as a result of the association of open space with danger and the view of the mountains as a fortress,” says Abdel Raheem. He recounts that during a cholera outbreak in neighboring territories at the end of the nineteenth century, the Yemenis completely rejected a vaccination campaign proposed by a French doctor who lived in the city with his wife. They were convinced that the microbe could not scale their fortress-like mountains. Abdel Raheem goes on to explain that the word sanaa means “well-fortified city” in an old Yemeni dialect of Arabic and that the verbal form sanau means “to fortify.” Thus, the walling in and fortification of Sanaa were inextricably bound with its emergence and growth as a city. Walls are also used to protect a home’s inner space and to shield women from

marauding eyes. “Look at the houses around us,” he says. “Before starting on the foundations of his home, the Yemeni builds a wall. A house without a wall is a like an invitation to robbery, and it is a mouth-watering temptation for a covetous passerby.” Building a wall equals safety and security, and even in the well-to-do districts the habit persists to this day. A luxurious villa will be surrounded by a wall whose construction expenses rival those of the villa itself. If there is a large empty lot next to the villa, then it too will be enclosed by a high wall and accompanying sign with the poorly scribbled words, “This parcel of land is the property of so and so.” The words are repeated like a mantra, over and over again, as if they could protect the open and unkempt space from a looting expedition that could occur at any minute. The more prominent the “so and so” and the better established he is in the tribal hierarchy, the lesser the danger to his land. However, the property of those who are neither rich nor powerful is at risk of being seized or taken at a moment’s notice. The land belonging to the poor is always up for grabs: it is a permanent commons, and the protective walls that enclose it are fragile and ineffective.

116

117


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:44 PM Page 116

S A N A A’ S W A L L S A N D T H E M Y T H O F S E C U R I T Y b y J A M A L J U B R A N

FLANEUR

city’s seven gates were closed everyday at nightfall. Residents late to return home would be locked out of the city and have to sleep outside the city gates until the break of dawn the following day. They would be exposed to untold dangers since tribesmen lurked around like wild animals, ready to pounce on the enticing sight of their sleeping forms. “In Yemen, the concept of the wall and of walling in a space has long been part of the culture as a result of the association of open space with danger and the view of the mountains as a fortress,” says Abdel Raheem. He recounts that during a cholera outbreak in neighboring territories at the end of the nineteenth century, the Yemenis completely rejected a vaccination campaign proposed by a French doctor who lived in the city with his wife. They were convinced that the microbe could not scale their fortress-like mountains. Abdel Raheem goes on to explain that the word sanaa means “well-fortified city” in an old Yemeni dialect of Arabic and that the verbal form sanau means “to fortify.” Thus, the walling in and fortification of Sanaa were inextricably bound with its emergence and growth as a city. Walls are also used to protect a home’s inner space and to shield women from

marauding eyes. “Look at the houses around us,” he says. “Before starting on the foundations of his home, the Yemeni builds a wall. A house without a wall is a like an invitation to robbery, and it is a mouth-watering temptation for a covetous passerby.” Building a wall equals safety and security, and even in the well-to-do districts the habit persists to this day. A luxurious villa will be surrounded by a wall whose construction expenses rival those of the villa itself. If there is a large empty lot next to the villa, then it too will be enclosed by a high wall and accompanying sign with the poorly scribbled words, “This parcel of land is the property of so and so.” The words are repeated like a mantra, over and over again, as if they could protect the open and unkempt space from a looting expedition that could occur at any minute. The more prominent the “so and so” and the better established he is in the tribal hierarchy, the lesser the danger to his land. However, the property of those who are neither rich nor powerful is at risk of being seized or taken at a moment’s notice. The land belonging to the poor is always up for grabs: it is a permanent commons, and the protective walls that enclose it are fragile and ineffective.

116

117


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:44 PM Page 124

C R E AT I V E W R I T I N G

P L A C E D U PA L A I S BOURBON Mario Sabino

١٠١ ‫ صفحة‬،‫ البّوابة التّاسعة‬،‫ساحة قﴫ بوربون‬

125


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:44 PM Page 124

C R E AT I V E W R I T I N G

P L A C E D U PA L A I S BOURBON Mario Sabino

١٠١ ‫ صفحة‬،‫ البّوابة التّاسعة‬،‫ساحة قﴫ بوربون‬

125


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:44 PM Page 128

PLACE DU PALAIS BOURBON by MARIO SABINO

C R E AT I V E W R I T I N G

beliefs. In ancient Athens, squares served the philosophy that elevated humankind to an inexistent transcendence and the democracy of the few who are equal. In the Rome of the Caesars, squares served the ferocious circus provided by the few who were equal for the great unwashed. In the Middle Ages, squares were backdrops for Inquisition hearings. Many squares are still extensions of churches. The most monumental of them all, Piazza San Pietro, in Rome, was designed by Lorenzo Bernini, to make us all feel small before the Catholic Church – and reverent toward the divine power that it represents. In San Pietro, I felt joyfully small on my first visit. I later ceased to feel anything when I passed the baroque play of Bernini’s colonnade and entered the space he had designed. There are also squares in which symbols of temporal power predominate. Piazza della Signoria, in Florence, with its Palazzo Vecchio is one of the most famous. When I remember Piazza della Signoria, the first image that comes to mind is of a rainy night on which I, accompanied by I don’t remember who, was completely disinclined to appreciate its magnificent architecture. On the other side of the world, in Peking, I once stood in another square of temporal power: Tiananmen, where a photograph of Mao Tse-Tung hangs on the wall of the former imperial palace. There, the statue of “The Law” is the image of Mao. When I visited Tiananmen Square, I was disturbed by the number of people walking around the Chinese flag in the center of that vast space devoid of architecture. I wasn’t sad because the regime had killed a group of students there twenty years earlier. It is hard to feel sad when standing before the photograph of Mao. Hard, because it is one of the most laughable things ever done in the name of personality worship. In Tiananmen, all I felt was the ridiculousness of ideology. On TV and in the newspapers, I followed the crowd that occupied Tahrir Square, in Cairo, to demand an end to Egypt’s dictatorship. Similar to Peking, large squares have become sites for demonstrations. I don’t feel anything about demonstrations. That’s a lie. I feel fear. The masses as a single organism, with a will of its own, are a monster that frightens me. I will never visit Tahrir Square. On TV and in the newspapers, its spring struck me as a violent summer and nothing else. I don’t have a lot to say about squares, because I don’t have anything to say about myself or the world. I don’t harbor an anthropological passion that allows me to appreciate the squares that still seem like mere simulations of clearings (those of my native country stink of urine and are the territory of

beggars, drug dealers, thieves, and prostitutes). The ruins of Greece and Rome do not move me anymore, because all I see in them are the seeds of our arrogance. I don’t believe in the Catholic God and, as such, the large squares dedicated to him don’t move me with their architecture that reduces human beings, not to their exact proportion, but even smaller, so as to aggrandize a supernatural being that we created ourselves in our own image and likeness. In God’s squares, we are small because we think too highly of ourselves. And therein lies the paradox. I am indifferent to the power that I no longer appreciate historically and aesthetically in squares built to pay homage to rulers. I fear the masses and, as such, avoid squares that might serve as a stage for their demonstrations, no matter how fair they may seem. I am left with Place du Palais Bourbon. But its stony beauty is continuously eroded by the automobiles that drive around it. Truth be told, it is just a traffic circle, in whose center is the statue of The Law. Perhaps I should close the curtains so that I never gaze upon Place du Palais Bourbon again. Perhaps I should seek a square inside myself. A square where a little boy used to play, and saw shapes in the evening sky, and dreamed of the future, and chatted with friends. A place as common as a commonplace. But I would have to create this boy out of nothing. I would have to build this inner square from nothing. I can’t. I don’t dare. I feel nothing about myself and this nothing tastes like madeleines from the supermarket. It’s nice to be able to buy madeleines from the supermarket.

128

129

Translated from the Portuguese by Alison Entrekin


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:44 PM Page 128

PLACE DU PALAIS BOURBON by MARIO SABINO

C R E AT I V E W R I T I N G

beliefs. In ancient Athens, squares served the philosophy that elevated humankind to an inexistent transcendence and the democracy of the few who are equal. In the Rome of the Caesars, squares served the ferocious circus provided by the few who were equal for the great unwashed. In the Middle Ages, squares were backdrops for Inquisition hearings. Many squares are still extensions of churches. The most monumental of them all, Piazza San Pietro, in Rome, was designed by Lorenzo Bernini, to make us all feel small before the Catholic Church – and reverent toward the divine power that it represents. In San Pietro, I felt joyfully small on my first visit. I later ceased to feel anything when I passed the baroque play of Bernini’s colonnade and entered the space he had designed. There are also squares in which symbols of temporal power predominate. Piazza della Signoria, in Florence, with its Palazzo Vecchio is one of the most famous. When I remember Piazza della Signoria, the first image that comes to mind is of a rainy night on which I, accompanied by I don’t remember who, was completely disinclined to appreciate its magnificent architecture. On the other side of the world, in Peking, I once stood in another square of temporal power: Tiananmen, where a photograph of Mao Tse-Tung hangs on the wall of the former imperial palace. There, the statue of “The Law” is the image of Mao. When I visited Tiananmen Square, I was disturbed by the number of people walking around the Chinese flag in the center of that vast space devoid of architecture. I wasn’t sad because the regime had killed a group of students there twenty years earlier. It is hard to feel sad when standing before the photograph of Mao. Hard, because it is one of the most laughable things ever done in the name of personality worship. In Tiananmen, all I felt was the ridiculousness of ideology. On TV and in the newspapers, I followed the crowd that occupied Tahrir Square, in Cairo, to demand an end to Egypt’s dictatorship. Similar to Peking, large squares have become sites for demonstrations. I don’t feel anything about demonstrations. That’s a lie. I feel fear. The masses as a single organism, with a will of its own, are a monster that frightens me. I will never visit Tahrir Square. On TV and in the newspapers, its spring struck me as a violent summer and nothing else. I don’t have a lot to say about squares, because I don’t have anything to say about myself or the world. I don’t harbor an anthropological passion that allows me to appreciate the squares that still seem like mere simulations of clearings (those of my native country stink of urine and are the territory of

beggars, drug dealers, thieves, and prostitutes). The ruins of Greece and Rome do not move me anymore, because all I see in them are the seeds of our arrogance. I don’t believe in the Catholic God and, as such, the large squares dedicated to him don’t move me with their architecture that reduces human beings, not to their exact proportion, but even smaller, so as to aggrandize a supernatural being that we created ourselves in our own image and likeness. In God’s squares, we are small because we think too highly of ourselves. And therein lies the paradox. I am indifferent to the power that I no longer appreciate historically and aesthetically in squares built to pay homage to rulers. I fear the masses and, as such, avoid squares that might serve as a stage for their demonstrations, no matter how fair they may seem. I am left with Place du Palais Bourbon. But its stony beauty is continuously eroded by the automobiles that drive around it. Truth be told, it is just a traffic circle, in whose center is the statue of The Law. Perhaps I should close the curtains so that I never gaze upon Place du Palais Bourbon again. Perhaps I should seek a square inside myself. A square where a little boy used to play, and saw shapes in the evening sky, and dreamed of the future, and chatted with friends. A place as common as a commonplace. But I would have to create this boy out of nothing. I would have to build this inner square from nothing. I can’t. I don’t dare. I feel nothing about myself and this nothing tastes like madeleines from the supermarket. It’s nice to be able to buy madeleines from the supermarket.

128

129

Translated from the Portuguese by Alison Entrekin


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:44 PM Page 130

C R E AT I V E W R I T I N G

C R E AT I V E W R I T I N G

I N S E A RC H O F A TA H R I R S Q UA R E Khaled Khalifa

٨٧ ‫ صفحة‬،‫ البّوابة التّاسعة‬،‫البحث عن ميدان للتحرير‬

131


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:44 PM Page 130

C R E AT I V E W R I T I N G

C R E AT I V E W R I T I N G

I N S E A RC H O F A TA H R I R S Q UA R E Khaled Khalifa

٨٧ ‫ صفحة‬،‫ البّوابة التّاسعة‬،‫البحث عن ميدان للتحرير‬

131


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:44 PM Page 132

I N S E A R C H O F A TA H R I R S Q U A R E b y K H A L E D K H A L I F A

C R E AT I V E W R I T I N G

I

ammunition was fired and dozens of demonstrators dropped dead on the ground. Busloads of shabeeha parked bumper to bumper were stationed all around the square, with not a centimeter of space between them. And after the bloody scenes at Clocktower Square in Homs, Assi Square in Hama, and Tahrir (Freedom) Square in Deir El Zor, I finally realized that the dream of our own Tahrir has evaporated. Romantic dreams of revolution were over. Yes, our discussions had been absurd, but they had been a good exercise in love and peaceful revolution, which Syrians creatively enacted in myriad ways. It ended up being only a dream because Syria’s young men and women then discovered what monsters had been living in their midst all these years. Stunned bewilderment are the only words that come to mind when I think of life in Syria in the decades ahead. I will nevertheless persist in telling the story of the joyful search for our own Tahrir Square.

Politics had taken a back seat; nothing had changed for fifty years; the proverbial armchairs in homes whose doors had been flung wide open revealed nothing but a heap of bones bemoaning difficult times. The loss was personal, for all of us. And then the eighteen glory days of Cairo’s Tahrir Square rekindled the dream, and our ossified forms revived the instant Mubarak fell. Change was possible after all. We celebrated for days on end. We danced and sang fearlessly, drank to the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, and debated for hours. “Perennial dreamer,” said the dubious look on my friends’ faces as I spoke passionately about the forthcoming Syrian revolution. While we carried on heated and heady debates, Syrian society at large remained shrouded in silence. For me, it was a chance to look more closely into the cracks that had already started to appear in our political edifice. The very real risks and the many pertinent questions involved would have to wait until after the first spark was lit. The spark was up against some mightily rotten and moldy chaff, I thought, and the fire it set off would smolder rather than crackle, but once it was lit, the regime would not be able to snuff it out. Little by little, we began wading into the moldy vaults. Young men and young women who had been completely apolitical began engaging us, and we responded in kind. The dialogue was launched, and at the end of the night, in bars, cafés, and restaurants, tables would be pushed together by people who’d never met before, and all was well. In people’s eyes, in their handshakes, and their bear-hugs was a sense of exhilaration, a new vitality. Truly, a new scent filled the air. Whenever I ran into friends of an evening, they’d call out, “What’s going on?” I invariably answered, “We’re searching for Tahrir!” My buddies and I were dead serious, calculating surface areas and recruiting our architect friends to examine the suitability of Umayyad Square. “It won’t do,” they said, “it’s too open and too close to sensitive government locations. We’d pay a terrible price, and furthermore, it’s a soulless place.” I thought about how a square has a soul when it becomes a symbol of liberation. A few days later, I discovered that thousands of Syrians had been doing exactly the same thing. They too had been looking for a Tahrir Square, but they were realists. Their disappointment was tinged with sadness – they knew what this regime was capable of. Deep down, we all knew that replicating the Egyptian revolutionaries’ Tahrir Square would be tremendously costly. We just never imagined how high the the actual price would be. In mid April 2011, I witnessed with my own eyes the assault on Abbasid Square when tens of thousands of people from Douma, Jobar, Harasta, and the countryside outside Damascus converged like a swollen river in the square, only to scatter as live

132

II

My father didn’t take me by the hand to go and explore Aleppo together as fathers did with other children. My mother lived and died in her city without ever knowing how to get to her daughter’s house on the other side of town. We were left to explore on our own. My childhood friends and I would get lost in the warren of alleys that crisscrossed the city’s small residential districts. We would inevitably end up at the public park, an ideal venue that the French had designed and left for the flaneurs, passersby, and early morning walkers from Baghdad Station and Aziziyyeh. A stone pavilion sat in the middle of the glorious park: it had small, raised platforms for musicians to stand on and an arched ceiling with wonderful acoustics. I consider myself fortunate to have had the chance to hear a string quartet perform there. The gate on the southern flank of the park led straight to Saadallah Al Jabiri Square, an open plaza lined with trees and dotted with water fountains that extended all the way to Souk Al Heil south of the city center. In less than five minutes by foot, you were at Bab Antakya (Antioch Gate), and from there you could go all the way to the Citadel by walking through Aleppo’s historic souk. The famous bazaar is a richly layered, filigreed place whose memory is unlike that of any other place in the world. III

My initial taste of the place is something I carry with me to this day. The first photograph of me in the public park was taken when I was in the fifth grade: I am holding onto the reins of a mule that its owner rented out to photographers, supposedly as a horse. The mule man stood beside a lofty gateway at the entrance of the park,

133


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:44 PM Page 132

I N S E A R C H O F A TA H R I R S Q U A R E b y K H A L E D K H A L I F A

C R E AT I V E W R I T I N G

I

ammunition was fired and dozens of demonstrators dropped dead on the ground. Busloads of shabeeha parked bumper to bumper were stationed all around the square, with not a centimeter of space between them. And after the bloody scenes at Clocktower Square in Homs, Assi Square in Hama, and Tahrir (Freedom) Square in Deir El Zor, I finally realized that the dream of our own Tahrir has evaporated. Romantic dreams of revolution were over. Yes, our discussions had been absurd, but they had been a good exercise in love and peaceful revolution, which Syrians creatively enacted in myriad ways. It ended up being only a dream because Syria’s young men and women then discovered what monsters had been living in their midst all these years. Stunned bewilderment are the only words that come to mind when I think of life in Syria in the decades ahead. I will nevertheless persist in telling the story of the joyful search for our own Tahrir Square.

Politics had taken a back seat; nothing had changed for fifty years; the proverbial armchairs in homes whose doors had been flung wide open revealed nothing but a heap of bones bemoaning difficult times. The loss was personal, for all of us. And then the eighteen glory days of Cairo’s Tahrir Square rekindled the dream, and our ossified forms revived the instant Mubarak fell. Change was possible after all. We celebrated for days on end. We danced and sang fearlessly, drank to the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, and debated for hours. “Perennial dreamer,” said the dubious look on my friends’ faces as I spoke passionately about the forthcoming Syrian revolution. While we carried on heated and heady debates, Syrian society at large remained shrouded in silence. For me, it was a chance to look more closely into the cracks that had already started to appear in our political edifice. The very real risks and the many pertinent questions involved would have to wait until after the first spark was lit. The spark was up against some mightily rotten and moldy chaff, I thought, and the fire it set off would smolder rather than crackle, but once it was lit, the regime would not be able to snuff it out. Little by little, we began wading into the moldy vaults. Young men and young women who had been completely apolitical began engaging us, and we responded in kind. The dialogue was launched, and at the end of the night, in bars, cafés, and restaurants, tables would be pushed together by people who’d never met before, and all was well. In people’s eyes, in their handshakes, and their bear-hugs was a sense of exhilaration, a new vitality. Truly, a new scent filled the air. Whenever I ran into friends of an evening, they’d call out, “What’s going on?” I invariably answered, “We’re searching for Tahrir!” My buddies and I were dead serious, calculating surface areas and recruiting our architect friends to examine the suitability of Umayyad Square. “It won’t do,” they said, “it’s too open and too close to sensitive government locations. We’d pay a terrible price, and furthermore, it’s a soulless place.” I thought about how a square has a soul when it becomes a symbol of liberation. A few days later, I discovered that thousands of Syrians had been doing exactly the same thing. They too had been looking for a Tahrir Square, but they were realists. Their disappointment was tinged with sadness – they knew what this regime was capable of. Deep down, we all knew that replicating the Egyptian revolutionaries’ Tahrir Square would be tremendously costly. We just never imagined how high the the actual price would be. In mid April 2011, I witnessed with my own eyes the assault on Abbasid Square when tens of thousands of people from Douma, Jobar, Harasta, and the countryside outside Damascus converged like a swollen river in the square, only to scatter as live

132

II

My father didn’t take me by the hand to go and explore Aleppo together as fathers did with other children. My mother lived and died in her city without ever knowing how to get to her daughter’s house on the other side of town. We were left to explore on our own. My childhood friends and I would get lost in the warren of alleys that crisscrossed the city’s small residential districts. We would inevitably end up at the public park, an ideal venue that the French had designed and left for the flaneurs, passersby, and early morning walkers from Baghdad Station and Aziziyyeh. A stone pavilion sat in the middle of the glorious park: it had small, raised platforms for musicians to stand on and an arched ceiling with wonderful acoustics. I consider myself fortunate to have had the chance to hear a string quartet perform there. The gate on the southern flank of the park led straight to Saadallah Al Jabiri Square, an open plaza lined with trees and dotted with water fountains that extended all the way to Souk Al Heil south of the city center. In less than five minutes by foot, you were at Bab Antakya (Antioch Gate), and from there you could go all the way to the Citadel by walking through Aleppo’s historic souk. The famous bazaar is a richly layered, filigreed place whose memory is unlike that of any other place in the world. III

My initial taste of the place is something I carry with me to this day. The first photograph of me in the public park was taken when I was in the fifth grade: I am holding onto the reins of a mule that its owner rented out to photographers, supposedly as a horse. The mule man stood beside a lofty gateway at the entrance of the park,

133


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:44 PM Page 138

C R E AT I V E W R I T I N G

C R E AT I V E W R I T I N G

B O N E S S QUA R E Fadi Tofeili

9٣ ‫ صفحة‬،‫ البّوابة التّاسعة‬،‫عظام‬

138

139 139


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:44 PM Page 138

C R E AT I V E W R I T I N G

C R E AT I V E W R I T I N G

B O N E S S QUA R E Fadi Tofeili

9٣ ‫ صفحة‬،‫ البّوابة التّاسعة‬،‫عظام‬

138

139 139


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:44 PM Page 140

BONES SQUARE by FADI TOFEILI

C R E AT I V E W R I T I N G

Since I first laid eyes on it in the mid nineties, the old Helou family house has been abandoned. Perched precariously on the eastern hill overlooking the town square, the house consisted of three rooms arranged in a rectangle. Its rough stone face was not smooth and polished to perfection; shadows played across its craggy surface. The roof was made of wooden beams, tree trunks, and sunbaked clay – parts of it had collapsed years ago. No one from the family came to clear the rubble that lay scattered throughout the rooms. We kept watch from afar, occasionally organizing incursions to the shady walnut tree, which loomed nearby, when bunches of nuts ripened in its high branches. A sense of silence and solitude filled the terraced plots and the space around the house, besieging it from all sides. Our relationship with that house, with its walls beneath the shade of the walnut tree, remained haunted and strained. Even during our raids on the tree, we never crossed the shadows it cast on the ground. Nor did we approach the house’s wooden doors or its dark windows – made darker still by the accumulated dust from the rubble of the collapsed roof – that locked nothingness inside.

the tread clotted with gravelly soil and small stones. The bulldozer, sitting between two other cars, remained in the center of the town square for a while, completely blocking it. Shaking with the roar of the engine, the exhaust pipe seemed even taller than the roof of the butcher shop. When it finally turned its attention toward the east and set out on the dirt road leading from the square to the abandoned neighborhood, the bulldozer let out another loud roar, accompanied by a dense black cloud that erupted from the top of the exhaust pipe. As the bulldozer followed the two cars down the dirt road, the cloud became mixed with the roar, dust, and soil. By the time the exhaust had cleared, leaving only traces of dried mud from the machine’s huge tires on the asphalt of the square, it had reached the eastern edge of the neighborhood, and its arm and teeth began working on the ruins of the place.

*** Between the Helou house and ours lay the town square. A slope sown with seasonal fruits and vegetables extended from its eastern side. A man lived nearby with his family; he took care of the irrigation and kept the land under constant surveillance – our otherwise unfettered exploration of the terraced plots was hindered by his watch. The square, a place for monitoring the goings-on of the different neighborhoods, was devoid of any traces of life on that moonlit night in November 1995, reminding us of the neighborhood of the empty, abandoned Helou house. The day had been dry and dusty from first light till darkness fell. For some time, SUVs had been making increasingly frequent visits to the old neighborhood, taking the road leading there from the eastern side of the square and raising thick blinders of dust and dirt as if on a battlefield. This time, they came early, before the sun had reached its full strength, and let out a roar that shook the walls of my grandfather’s house to its foundations. The sound grew louder than anything we had ever heard before, and we rushed toward the landing in front of the butcher’s shop. The tires of the bulldozer parked in the middle of the square were even higher than the landing,

140

*** The presence of the bulldozer was not – based on what we saw in the beginning – a common affair that would end with its withdrawal from the square, which had never seen more than the sleepy stirrings around the landing of the butcher’s shop. There, meat hung, and a few of the town elders and some young people who lived close to the square would gather in the evenings. These gatherings at 9:30 p.m. ended with the closing of the mute’s shop, at the beginning of the little street leading from the square to the large open courtyard of Sheikh Mahmoud’s house, which resembled a Serail, leaving the front of the shop littered with pumpkin seed husks and the air still, save for the kamikaze night raids of insects crashing against the streetlamp. The bulldozer had shaken the square to its deep roots as nothing had done before. The presence of that huge machine and its roar stirred something buried in the depths of the square and did it grave injury. Something deep at the bottom, something like viscera, had with that roar and that quaking been unable to remain dead and buried underneath the square. The years had left a dry scab waiting for someone to pick it with their fingernail. ***

141


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:44 PM Page 140

BONES SQUARE by FADI TOFEILI

C R E AT I V E W R I T I N G

Since I first laid eyes on it in the mid nineties, the old Helou family house has been abandoned. Perched precariously on the eastern hill overlooking the town square, the house consisted of three rooms arranged in a rectangle. Its rough stone face was not smooth and polished to perfection; shadows played across its craggy surface. The roof was made of wooden beams, tree trunks, and sunbaked clay – parts of it had collapsed years ago. No one from the family came to clear the rubble that lay scattered throughout the rooms. We kept watch from afar, occasionally organizing incursions to the shady walnut tree, which loomed nearby, when bunches of nuts ripened in its high branches. A sense of silence and solitude filled the terraced plots and the space around the house, besieging it from all sides. Our relationship with that house, with its walls beneath the shade of the walnut tree, remained haunted and strained. Even during our raids on the tree, we never crossed the shadows it cast on the ground. Nor did we approach the house’s wooden doors or its dark windows – made darker still by the accumulated dust from the rubble of the collapsed roof – that locked nothingness inside.

the tread clotted with gravelly soil and small stones. The bulldozer, sitting between two other cars, remained in the center of the town square for a while, completely blocking it. Shaking with the roar of the engine, the exhaust pipe seemed even taller than the roof of the butcher shop. When it finally turned its attention toward the east and set out on the dirt road leading from the square to the abandoned neighborhood, the bulldozer let out another loud roar, accompanied by a dense black cloud that erupted from the top of the exhaust pipe. As the bulldozer followed the two cars down the dirt road, the cloud became mixed with the roar, dust, and soil. By the time the exhaust had cleared, leaving only traces of dried mud from the machine’s huge tires on the asphalt of the square, it had reached the eastern edge of the neighborhood, and its arm and teeth began working on the ruins of the place.

*** Between the Helou house and ours lay the town square. A slope sown with seasonal fruits and vegetables extended from its eastern side. A man lived nearby with his family; he took care of the irrigation and kept the land under constant surveillance – our otherwise unfettered exploration of the terraced plots was hindered by his watch. The square, a place for monitoring the goings-on of the different neighborhoods, was devoid of any traces of life on that moonlit night in November 1995, reminding us of the neighborhood of the empty, abandoned Helou house. The day had been dry and dusty from first light till darkness fell. For some time, SUVs had been making increasingly frequent visits to the old neighborhood, taking the road leading there from the eastern side of the square and raising thick blinders of dust and dirt as if on a battlefield. This time, they came early, before the sun had reached its full strength, and let out a roar that shook the walls of my grandfather’s house to its foundations. The sound grew louder than anything we had ever heard before, and we rushed toward the landing in front of the butcher’s shop. The tires of the bulldozer parked in the middle of the square were even higher than the landing,

140

*** The presence of the bulldozer was not – based on what we saw in the beginning – a common affair that would end with its withdrawal from the square, which had never seen more than the sleepy stirrings around the landing of the butcher’s shop. There, meat hung, and a few of the town elders and some young people who lived close to the square would gather in the evenings. These gatherings at 9:30 p.m. ended with the closing of the mute’s shop, at the beginning of the little street leading from the square to the large open courtyard of Sheikh Mahmoud’s house, which resembled a Serail, leaving the front of the shop littered with pumpkin seed husks and the air still, save for the kamikaze night raids of insects crashing against the streetlamp. The bulldozer had shaken the square to its deep roots as nothing had done before. The presence of that huge machine and its roar stirred something buried in the depths of the square and did it grave injury. Something deep at the bottom, something like viscera, had with that roar and that quaking been unable to remain dead and buried underneath the square. The years had left a dry scab waiting for someone to pick it with their fingernail. ***

141


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:44 PM Page 148

BONES SQUARE by FADI TOFEILI

C R E AT I V E W R I T I N G

did, and they are comforted. The dense block of houses to the west was obscured by the mass exodus from the square toward the main road. The newly built “village road,” which linked all the other villages from the beginning of the main road on the coastal plain to the provincial capital, was blocked – the bones could not see it. It was like a break with time, a mirage in a lost era, and the bones remained lying there, dormant, at the eastern edge of the square until the arrival of the bulldozer that sunny November day in 1995. *** Youssef Helou’s body was closest to the surface and to the entrance of what became a hole in the earth of the cemetery, where wild grasses and thorns grew. His remains were also nearest to the square, which had become a dry scab waiting to be picked. The other dead, his family and others, were buried deeper and were therefore more difficult to reach. Getting to Youssef had been easy; his skeletal remains had not disintegrated or been destroyed. They were still lying in his wooden coffin with his name and dates of birth and death engraved on the lid – “Youssef Helou, 1895–1975” – surrounded by the rustling of insects, deafening in the dark. When the young men entered the graveyard, they found his coffin above all the others and quickly pried open the lid and divided up the bones whose slumber they had disturbed. They could no longer lie peacefully in the trembling depths, and this square, where the bones were brandished on a moonlit night, became nothing more than a parking lot for machines.

Translated by Meris Lutz

148

149


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:44 PM Page 148

BONES SQUARE by FADI TOFEILI

C R E AT I V E W R I T I N G

did, and they are comforted. The dense block of houses to the west was obscured by the mass exodus from the square toward the main road. The newly built “village road,” which linked all the other villages from the beginning of the main road on the coastal plain to the provincial capital, was blocked – the bones could not see it. It was like a break with time, a mirage in a lost era, and the bones remained lying there, dormant, at the eastern edge of the square until the arrival of the bulldozer that sunny November day in 1995. *** Youssef Helou’s body was closest to the surface and to the entrance of what became a hole in the earth of the cemetery, where wild grasses and thorns grew. His remains were also nearest to the square, which had become a dry scab waiting to be picked. The other dead, his family and others, were buried deeper and were therefore more difficult to reach. Getting to Youssef had been easy; his skeletal remains had not disintegrated or been destroyed. They were still lying in his wooden coffin with his name and dates of birth and death engraved on the lid – “Youssef Helou, 1895–1975” – surrounded by the rustling of insects, deafening in the dark. When the young men entered the graveyard, they found his coffin above all the others and quickly pried open the lid and divided up the bones whose slumber they had disturbed. They could no longer lie peacefully in the trembling depths, and this square, where the bones were brandished on a moonlit night, became nothing more than a parking lot for machines.

Translated by Meris Lutz

148

149


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:44 PM Page 150

DISCO by SABA INNAB

SKETCHBOOK

In their attempts to reject the utilitarian logic of consumer society and to imagine what a “just” space might look like, a few radical Italian architects of the 1960s deserted public space as a site of experimentation in favor of the underground city: they built discos.

١2٧ ‫ صفحة‬،‫ البّوابة التّاسعة‬،‫ديسكو‬

150

151


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:44 PM Page 150

DISCO by SABA INNAB

SKETCHBOOK

In their attempts to reject the utilitarian logic of consumer society and to imagine what a “just” space might look like, a few radical Italian architects of the 1960s deserted public space as a site of experimentation in favor of the underground city: they built discos.

١2٧ ‫ صفحة‬،‫ البّوابة التّاسعة‬،‫ديسكو‬

150

151


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:44 PM Page 152

G AT E W AY T O T H E P E R I L O U S F U T U R E : H I R O S H I M A P E A C E P A R K b y Y U K I S U M N E R

REVIEWS AND CRITIQUE

GATEWAY TO THE PERILOUS FUTURE: HIROSHIMA PEACE PARK Yuki Sumner ١١٧ ‫ صفحة‬،‫ البّوابة التّاسعة‬،‫هريوشيام متنّزﮦ السﻼم‬

(Above) Photograph of the original model of the Hiroshima Peace Center submitted by Kenzo Tange in the 1949 competition. Photograph by Chuji Hirayama. Courtesy of Tange Associates (Below) Doves fly over the Peace Memorial Park with a view of the gutted atomic-bomb dome at a ceremony in Hiroshima on August 6, 2012, to mark the 67th anniversary of the atomic bombing on the city. Photograph by Kyodo Kyodo. Courtesy of Reuters.

152

Proposal drawing for Hiroshima Peace Center Competition by Kenzo Tange (1949) Image courtesy of Tange Associates Image Source: Terunobu Fujimori and Kenzo Tange, Kenzo Tange (Tokyo: Shinkenchikusha, 2002).

Can an architect or urban planner dictate the type of experience the public will have with a particular square? We are often led to believe that public squares are open to all and that their design encourages various ways of interaction and engagement. Yet what happens if an architect or urban planner tries to prescribe how people experience a public square? What if, as a result, the public square loses its convivial atmosphere and becomes empty and desolate, even dangerous, such that security guards are called in to protect it? Can it still truly be deemed “public?” A public space cannot afford to lose touch with its people or its sense of locality. By definition, a public square must remain porous. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was the first public square of its kind in the history of Japan. As the park’s architect, Kenzo Tange, would later stress in numerous interviews and articles, the park was built to be central, visible, and most importantly, open to all people. In the wake of the atomic bombing by the United States in 1945 near the end of World War II, the city of Hiroshima, mostly built in timber, was razed to the ground. Only a few clear traces of the bombing remained, including the ruined Prefectural Industrial Hall, now referred to as the “A-Bomb Dome.” After the war and the bombing, the fate of A-Bomb Dome was uncertain. In his submission to the Memorial Park Design Competition in 1949, Tange

153

daringly proposed that the ABomb Dome be assigned centrality and prominence in the new park. He did so despite the competition allowing all entrants to work from a completely clean slate. In Tange’s vision, the structure would become the okumiya (inner shrine) of the park, of the city, and of the world. In Nurturing Dreams: Collected Essays on Architecture and the City (2012), Fumihiko Maki, the Japanese architect who studied under Tange, writes that the okumiya of towns and villages were placed outside populated areas. Traditionally, the most sacred sites lay hidden in the recesses of mountains, places considered off-limits to mortals. Mountains were where kami (the spirits) roamed or where social outcasts scraped for a living. Houses were not built up in the mountains; instead, villages and towns developed along the narrow plains between mountains and sea. To reach okumiya, people had to prepare for a long and arduous journey. Only those who were healthy and able had access to these sites. Unlike the villages and towns visibly marked by the verticality of church spires in the West or the centrality of the open plazas next to mosques in North Africa and the Middle East, traditional Japanese villages and towns are characterized by an absence of centrality and verticality, according to Maki. Thus, Tange boldly abandoned the traditional meandering path to okumiya and made


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:44 PM Page 152

G AT E W AY T O T H E P E R I L O U S F U T U R E : H I R O S H I M A P E A C E P A R K b y Y U K I S U M N E R

REVIEWS AND CRITIQUE

GATEWAY TO THE PERILOUS FUTURE: HIROSHIMA PEACE PARK Yuki Sumner ١١٧ ‫ صفحة‬،‫ البّوابة التّاسعة‬،‫هريوشيام متنّزﮦ السﻼم‬

(Above) Photograph of the original model of the Hiroshima Peace Center submitted by Kenzo Tange in the 1949 competition. Photograph by Chuji Hirayama. Courtesy of Tange Associates (Below) Doves fly over the Peace Memorial Park with a view of the gutted atomic-bomb dome at a ceremony in Hiroshima on August 6, 2012, to mark the 67th anniversary of the atomic bombing on the city. Photograph by Kyodo Kyodo. Courtesy of Reuters.

152

Proposal drawing for Hiroshima Peace Center Competition by Kenzo Tange (1949) Image courtesy of Tange Associates Image Source: Terunobu Fujimori and Kenzo Tange, Kenzo Tange (Tokyo: Shinkenchikusha, 2002).

Can an architect or urban planner dictate the type of experience the public will have with a particular square? We are often led to believe that public squares are open to all and that their design encourages various ways of interaction and engagement. Yet what happens if an architect or urban planner tries to prescribe how people experience a public square? What if, as a result, the public square loses its convivial atmosphere and becomes empty and desolate, even dangerous, such that security guards are called in to protect it? Can it still truly be deemed “public?” A public space cannot afford to lose touch with its people or its sense of locality. By definition, a public square must remain porous. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was the first public square of its kind in the history of Japan. As the park’s architect, Kenzo Tange, would later stress in numerous interviews and articles, the park was built to be central, visible, and most importantly, open to all people. In the wake of the atomic bombing by the United States in 1945 near the end of World War II, the city of Hiroshima, mostly built in timber, was razed to the ground. Only a few clear traces of the bombing remained, including the ruined Prefectural Industrial Hall, now referred to as the “A-Bomb Dome.” After the war and the bombing, the fate of A-Bomb Dome was uncertain. In his submission to the Memorial Park Design Competition in 1949, Tange

153

daringly proposed that the ABomb Dome be assigned centrality and prominence in the new park. He did so despite the competition allowing all entrants to work from a completely clean slate. In Tange’s vision, the structure would become the okumiya (inner shrine) of the park, of the city, and of the world. In Nurturing Dreams: Collected Essays on Architecture and the City (2012), Fumihiko Maki, the Japanese architect who studied under Tange, writes that the okumiya of towns and villages were placed outside populated areas. Traditionally, the most sacred sites lay hidden in the recesses of mountains, places considered off-limits to mortals. Mountains were where kami (the spirits) roamed or where social outcasts scraped for a living. Houses were not built up in the mountains; instead, villages and towns developed along the narrow plains between mountains and sea. To reach okumiya, people had to prepare for a long and arduous journey. Only those who were healthy and able had access to these sites. Unlike the villages and towns visibly marked by the verticality of church spires in the West or the centrality of the open plazas next to mosques in North Africa and the Middle East, traditional Japanese villages and towns are characterized by an absence of centrality and verticality, according to Maki. Thus, Tange boldly abandoned the traditional meandering path to okumiya and made


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:44 PM Page 156

T I M E S H A V E N ’ T R E A L LY C H A N G E D b y M A L U H A L A S A

REVIEWS AND CRITIQUE

TIMES HAVEN’T REALLY CHANGED Malu Halasa ١2١ ‫ صفحة‬،‫ البّوابة التّاسعة‬،‫اﻷزمنة مل تتبّدل ﰲ الحقيقة‬

Sanrizuka, photographer Katai Kazuo’s indictment of the destruction of the Japanese countryside during the 1970s, is one of five photo books included in The Protest Box, published in 2011. The collection’s editor and Magnum photographer Martin Parr believes that the investigative nature of these visually-led books counters the consumerism and advertising inherent in the single image.

156

The Protest Box (2011) edited by Martin Parr with an essay by Gerry Badger. Includes the following books: Algerien/ L’Algerie by Dirk Alvermann; Sanrizuka by Kitai Kazuo; Para verte major, América Latina by Paolo Gasparini and Edmundo Desnoes; América: un Viaje a traves de la injustica by Enrique Bostelmann and Immagini del No by Paola Mattioli and Anna Candiani. Steidl Verlag, $500.00

In Steidl’s lavishly produced The Protest Box (2011), photo historian Gerry Badger identifies two images emblematic of modern protest. The first, captured by college journalism student John Paul Filo using a Nikkormat camera with Tri-X film, pictured an anguished runaway teenager, Mary Ann Vecchio, hysterical over the body of twenty-year-old Jeffery Miller, who was shot by National Guardsmen during the 1970 anti–Vietnam War demonstration on the campus of Kent State University, Ohio. The second, in a video that went viral after its initial posting on Facebook, documented the dying moments of twenty-six-year-old Neda Agha-Soltan, gunned down by a pro-regime Basiji supporter in Tehran. Neda and her friends were disputing the outcome of the 2009 Iranian presidential elections. Filo’s photograph and the anonymous internet video clip illustrate that despite advances in technology, the struggle of the weak against the powerful has not significantly changed in forty years. Ironically, Martin Parr, a Magnum photographer, renowned photography collector, and the editor of The Protest Box, is deeply suspicious of all photographs. Parr’s own work is garish: highly colorized, oftentimes fly-on-the-wall pictures of mainly European rich and poor. He is a prolific British photographer and author of compendi-

ums that feature his own sometimes kitsch work. Yet he maintains that the plethora of images in an increasingly visual world is tantamount to “propaganda.”1 He is in good company. Susan Sontag, too – as quoted by Badger in his essay, “The Times They Were A-Changin’,” in the box set’s accompanying book of essays and English translations – is also critical of the unreliability of the single image: “The camera’s rendering of reality must always hide more than it discloses .... Photography both loots and preserves, denounces and consecrates.”2 At the same time, Badger readily acknowledges the “evidential” function of the photograph. For too long, the problem of the single image’s unreliability has dominated the history of photography. Parr and Badger’s first attempt to redress the balance was the two-volume collection they coedited, The Photobook: A History,3 which surveyed early examples of the photographic book from its nineteenth-century inception to present-day artists’ books. As Parr states in the prologue to The Protest Box, “One of my long term aims is to piece together another history of photography by placing the photographic book as the central player in this revisionist history.” He and Badger believe it is the photobook, not the single image, that has provided a creative

1 As identified by Thomas Weski, professor of curatorial cultures at the Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig, on Parr’s website. See www.martinparr.com. 2 Quoted by Badger from Susan Sontag, On Photography (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux Inc., 1977), 23. 3 Martin Parr and Gerry Badger, eds., The Photobook: A History, 2 vols. (London: Phaidon, 2004 and 2006).

157


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:44 PM Page 156

T I M E S H A V E N ’ T R E A L LY C H A N G E D b y M A L U H A L A S A

REVIEWS AND CRITIQUE

TIMES HAVEN’T REALLY CHANGED Malu Halasa ١2١ ‫ صفحة‬،‫ البّوابة التّاسعة‬،‫اﻷزمنة مل تتبّدل ﰲ الحقيقة‬

Sanrizuka, photographer Katai Kazuo’s indictment of the destruction of the Japanese countryside during the 1970s, is one of five photo books included in The Protest Box, published in 2011. The collection’s editor and Magnum photographer Martin Parr believes that the investigative nature of these visually-led books counters the consumerism and advertising inherent in the single image.

156

The Protest Box (2011) edited by Martin Parr with an essay by Gerry Badger. Includes the following books: Algerien/ L’Algerie by Dirk Alvermann; Sanrizuka by Kitai Kazuo; Para verte major, América Latina by Paolo Gasparini and Edmundo Desnoes; América: un Viaje a traves de la injustica by Enrique Bostelmann and Immagini del No by Paola Mattioli and Anna Candiani. Steidl Verlag, $500.00

In Steidl’s lavishly produced The Protest Box (2011), photo historian Gerry Badger identifies two images emblematic of modern protest. The first, captured by college journalism student John Paul Filo using a Nikkormat camera with Tri-X film, pictured an anguished runaway teenager, Mary Ann Vecchio, hysterical over the body of twenty-year-old Jeffery Miller, who was shot by National Guardsmen during the 1970 anti–Vietnam War demonstration on the campus of Kent State University, Ohio. The second, in a video that went viral after its initial posting on Facebook, documented the dying moments of twenty-six-year-old Neda Agha-Soltan, gunned down by a pro-regime Basiji supporter in Tehran. Neda and her friends were disputing the outcome of the 2009 Iranian presidential elections. Filo’s photograph and the anonymous internet video clip illustrate that despite advances in technology, the struggle of the weak against the powerful has not significantly changed in forty years. Ironically, Martin Parr, a Magnum photographer, renowned photography collector, and the editor of The Protest Box, is deeply suspicious of all photographs. Parr’s own work is garish: highly colorized, oftentimes fly-on-the-wall pictures of mainly European rich and poor. He is a prolific British photographer and author of compendi-

ums that feature his own sometimes kitsch work. Yet he maintains that the plethora of images in an increasingly visual world is tantamount to “propaganda.”1 He is in good company. Susan Sontag, too – as quoted by Badger in his essay, “The Times They Were A-Changin’,” in the box set’s accompanying book of essays and English translations – is also critical of the unreliability of the single image: “The camera’s rendering of reality must always hide more than it discloses .... Photography both loots and preserves, denounces and consecrates.”2 At the same time, Badger readily acknowledges the “evidential” function of the photograph. For too long, the problem of the single image’s unreliability has dominated the history of photography. Parr and Badger’s first attempt to redress the balance was the two-volume collection they coedited, The Photobook: A History,3 which surveyed early examples of the photographic book from its nineteenth-century inception to present-day artists’ books. As Parr states in the prologue to The Protest Box, “One of my long term aims is to piece together another history of photography by placing the photographic book as the central player in this revisionist history.” He and Badger believe it is the photobook, not the single image, that has provided a creative

1 As identified by Thomas Weski, professor of curatorial cultures at the Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig, on Parr’s website. See www.martinparr.com. 2 Quoted by Badger from Susan Sontag, On Photography (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux Inc., 1977), 23. 3 Martin Parr and Gerry Badger, eds., The Photobook: A History, 2 vols. (London: Phaidon, 2004 and 2006).

157


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:45 PM Page 164

A C C O M M O D AT I N G E G Y P T ’ S E M E R G I N G A R T S C E N E b y D A N I E L L A R O S E K I N G

Maryam Jafri, Global Slum, Beirut, opening reception, 2012. Photograph courtesy of Beirut

From Labour in a Single Shot, a workshop led by filmmaker Harun Farocki and curator Antje Ehmann. Photograph courtesy of Beirut

Rifky in Spike Art Magazine. “Spaces [in Egypt] will need to continue negotiating the relationship between our curatorial models and the evolving needs and desires of local artists and the wider community as well.” The upheaval has interfered with the day-to-day operations of art spaces in Cairo. For instance, in November 2012, both Beirut and Artellewa halted their scheduled programs indefinitely when President-elect Mohamed Morsi moved to extend powers awarded to him by the constitution and when tens of thousands of Egyptians rallied to protest. Beirut and Artellewa insist upon engaging with these conditions as a way of dealing with the event, with trauma – as a way of articulating, sometimes through indirect mechanisms, the tangled politics of the situation.

164

One such mechanism is food. At Artellewa, The Non-Egyptian Restaurant, a project by artist Asunción Molinos Gordo, aimed to tackle the problem of food security and sovereignty in informal settlements such as Ard El Lewa. She installed a restaurant in the gallery, and supplies for the restaurant were sourced according to weekly guidelines instituted by Gordo. For example, one week, Gordo obtained her ingredients exclusively from an expanding perimeter, including rooftops and private gardens, around the art center. Another week, the menu drew only from unaffordable Egyptian agricultural products made for export. Gordo describes this project as a political act intended to draw residents’ attention to the state of food production: What ingredients are even available on a local and national level? Do we have the liberty to decide what to produce and how to consume? By camouflaging the exhibition as a restaurant that wouldn’t look out of place in Ard El Lewa, the organizers sought to lure the community into the space and facilitate shared meals. This form of trickery blurred the boundaries between audience/visitor and customer – the meals produced were indeed for sale and sold out within minutes – and also between the aesthetic principles of museum-space and restaurant. The curator Amira Hanafi insists that the artist fooled no one and that the exhibition created a sociable space that put people at ease. The NonEgyptian Restaurant enabled

REVIEWS AND CRITIQUE

conversations more fruitful than would have been generated by simply asking visitors to look at inanimate objects hung on a wall. The model of the restaurant was successful: Cairo art audiences and local residents both flocked to Artellewa in large numbers. But what happens when the restaurant closes? How can these debates be sustained after the event? And, in an area like Ard El Lewa, where the primary audience has shifted in the past year from the arts community in Cairo to the residents of the local area, why is it necessary to subvert models of contemporary museum display in the first place? Particularly if the target audience is, as the curator says, “intimidated” by art? Perhaps a restaurant as an alternative context for staging art holds longterm potential as a model through which to engage audiences and sustain these shifting debates. A space that does not need to define itself by a contemporary art idiom has the potential to house structures as diverse as a café, library, gallery, cinema, safe house, and meeting place simultaneously rather than merely to adopt the appearance of one or more of them for fleeting exhibition periods. Such continuous multimodality might be the key to longevity in a volatile socio-political environment. On the other side of the city, Beirut was inaugurated with Labour in a Single Shot, a workshop led by the filmmaker Harun Farocki and curator Antje

Ehmann. Participants were tasked with capturing the specificities of a city, focusing on labor in a single take. This workshop has taken place in fifteen cities across the globe, from Bangalore to Mexico City. Each city, with their population of low-wage workers, has been chosen on the basis of its role in the so-called Global South and for its ability to speak directly to the inequities of globalization. After the workshop, Beirut showed Global Slum, a re-presentation of documentary images pulled from archives across four continents by artist Maryam Jafri. The exhibition and workshop are concerned with sites of physical and immaterial work. Both explore the interplay of imagined and real economic, physical, and psychological characteristics of a place. By virtue of its location in a working-class neighborhood, the art space Beirut is bound to questions of labor. Unlike Artellewa, Beirut’s intellectually rigorous programming and decidedly contemporary art language resonate little with the people who actually live in the neighborhood. Beirut’s audience comes less from the community than from the broader art scene. The diversity of programs – on and off-site screenings to publications – reflects a multidisciplinary ethos that unites the sometimes disparate communities of creative individuals in the city. Beirut also defines itself as an institution that interrogates

165

what an institution can be. Indeed, the romantic postulation that it can be a space that “take[s] care of, do[es] things with, and sublet[s] rooms to art and its discourses,” as co-directors Rifky and Maier-Rothe wrote in an inaugural email announcement, may remain a dream if the institution does not effectuate this ideal, catering not only to the café revolutionaries and intellectuals but also those local audiences who feel alienated by contemporary art. The cases of Beirut and Artellewa provide insight into the charged conversation between environment and art space. The opportunistic, flexible approaches of curators and artists operating in a context of state-controlled cultural institutions are shaping and reshaping, appropriating and reappropriating the landscape of the city. And the city of Cairo, it seems, can be endlessly accommodating.


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:45 PM Page 164

A C C O M M O D AT I N G E G Y P T ’ S E M E R G I N G A R T S C E N E b y D A N I E L L A R O S E K I N G

Maryam Jafri, Global Slum, Beirut, opening reception, 2012. Photograph courtesy of Beirut

From Labour in a Single Shot, a workshop led by filmmaker Harun Farocki and curator Antje Ehmann. Photograph courtesy of Beirut

Rifky in Spike Art Magazine. “Spaces [in Egypt] will need to continue negotiating the relationship between our curatorial models and the evolving needs and desires of local artists and the wider community as well.” The upheaval has interfered with the day-to-day operations of art spaces in Cairo. For instance, in November 2012, both Beirut and Artellewa halted their scheduled programs indefinitely when President-elect Mohamed Morsi moved to extend powers awarded to him by the constitution and when tens of thousands of Egyptians rallied to protest. Beirut and Artellewa insist upon engaging with these conditions as a way of dealing with the event, with trauma – as a way of articulating, sometimes through indirect mechanisms, the tangled politics of the situation.

164

One such mechanism is food. At Artellewa, The Non-Egyptian Restaurant, a project by artist Asunción Molinos Gordo, aimed to tackle the problem of food security and sovereignty in informal settlements such as Ard El Lewa. She installed a restaurant in the gallery, and supplies for the restaurant were sourced according to weekly guidelines instituted by Gordo. For example, one week, Gordo obtained her ingredients exclusively from an expanding perimeter, including rooftops and private gardens, around the art center. Another week, the menu drew only from unaffordable Egyptian agricultural products made for export. Gordo describes this project as a political act intended to draw residents’ attention to the state of food production: What ingredients are even available on a local and national level? Do we have the liberty to decide what to produce and how to consume? By camouflaging the exhibition as a restaurant that wouldn’t look out of place in Ard El Lewa, the organizers sought to lure the community into the space and facilitate shared meals. This form of trickery blurred the boundaries between audience/visitor and customer – the meals produced were indeed for sale and sold out within minutes – and also between the aesthetic principles of museum-space and restaurant. The curator Amira Hanafi insists that the artist fooled no one and that the exhibition created a sociable space that put people at ease. The NonEgyptian Restaurant enabled

REVIEWS AND CRITIQUE

conversations more fruitful than would have been generated by simply asking visitors to look at inanimate objects hung on a wall. The model of the restaurant was successful: Cairo art audiences and local residents both flocked to Artellewa in large numbers. But what happens when the restaurant closes? How can these debates be sustained after the event? And, in an area like Ard El Lewa, where the primary audience has shifted in the past year from the arts community in Cairo to the residents of the local area, why is it necessary to subvert models of contemporary museum display in the first place? Particularly if the target audience is, as the curator says, “intimidated” by art? Perhaps a restaurant as an alternative context for staging art holds longterm potential as a model through which to engage audiences and sustain these shifting debates. A space that does not need to define itself by a contemporary art idiom has the potential to house structures as diverse as a café, library, gallery, cinema, safe house, and meeting place simultaneously rather than merely to adopt the appearance of one or more of them for fleeting exhibition periods. Such continuous multimodality might be the key to longevity in a volatile socio-political environment. On the other side of the city, Beirut was inaugurated with Labour in a Single Shot, a workshop led by the filmmaker Harun Farocki and curator Antje

Ehmann. Participants were tasked with capturing the specificities of a city, focusing on labor in a single take. This workshop has taken place in fifteen cities across the globe, from Bangalore to Mexico City. Each city, with their population of low-wage workers, has been chosen on the basis of its role in the so-called Global South and for its ability to speak directly to the inequities of globalization. After the workshop, Beirut showed Global Slum, a re-presentation of documentary images pulled from archives across four continents by artist Maryam Jafri. The exhibition and workshop are concerned with sites of physical and immaterial work. Both explore the interplay of imagined and real economic, physical, and psychological characteristics of a place. By virtue of its location in a working-class neighborhood, the art space Beirut is bound to questions of labor. Unlike Artellewa, Beirut’s intellectually rigorous programming and decidedly contemporary art language resonate little with the people who actually live in the neighborhood. Beirut’s audience comes less from the community than from the broader art scene. The diversity of programs – on and off-site screenings to publications – reflects a multidisciplinary ethos that unites the sometimes disparate communities of creative individuals in the city. Beirut also defines itself as an institution that interrogates

165

what an institution can be. Indeed, the romantic postulation that it can be a space that “take[s] care of, do[es] things with, and sublet[s] rooms to art and its discourses,” as co-directors Rifky and Maier-Rothe wrote in an inaugural email announcement, may remain a dream if the institution does not effectuate this ideal, catering not only to the café revolutionaries and intellectuals but also those local audiences who feel alienated by contemporary art. The cases of Beirut and Artellewa provide insight into the charged conversation between environment and art space. The opportunistic, flexible approaches of curators and artists operating in a context of state-controlled cultural institutions are shaping and reshaping, appropriating and reappropriating the landscape of the city. And the city of Cairo, it seems, can be endlessly accommodating.


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:45 PM Page 166

HASSAN KHAN: HALF A LIFE IN ART REVIEWED by HG MASTERS

REVIEWS AND CRITIQUE

HASSAN KHAN: HALF A LIFE IN ART REVIEWED Salt Beyo˘glu, Istanbul September 21, 2012–January 6, 2013

HG Masters

،‫معرض شامل لحسن خان ﰲ اسطنبول‬ ١٠9 ‫ صفحة‬،‫البّوابة التّاسعة‬

Banque Bannister (2010), from Hassan Khan exhibition, Salt Beyo˘glu, 2012 Photograph by Serkan Taycan

The Twist (2012), from Hassan Khan exhibition, Salt Beyo˘glu, 2012, Photograph by Serkan Taycan

166

Do you know those people who never say hello or goodbye because they are already midsentence by the time you are close enough to hear them, and later, as they turn away to leave, their voice simply trails off with them? And how, because you are perpetually entering and exiting something that is already underway, you find yourself lost in the discussion at hand? That’s how it felt at Hassan Khan’s survey exhibition at Salt Beyo˘glu in Istanbul, which ran from September 2012 to January 2013. Regardless of which of the three floors at Salt Beyo˘glu you began on, you found yourself abruptly entering into the artist’s fervent conversation with the world, one that he has conducted in numerous media, from still and moving imagery to text, objects, and sound since the mid-1990s. Since you found yourself joining a dialogue already underway, you had to pick things up as they unfolded. You quickly noticed that in Khan’s hands everything undergoes significant amounts of processing. Found material is transformed and retransformed as in the room-sized sound installation Dom Tak Tak Dom Tak (2005). For this piece, Khan took six classics of shaabi (popular) music, rerecorded their beats, had street musicians improvise over them, and then remixed them together. In the gallery, this was presented as six thirty-second excerpts played with interludes of a ticking metronome, followed by a wash of red floodlights.

167

Khan’s work attempts to process and reflect upon his personal experience to an almost tedious level of intricacy. For example, in order to create 17 and in AUC (2003), Khan spent four hours each evening over a period of two weeks in April 2003 in a one-way-mirrored glass box, drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and ranting, unable to see his audience. At one revealing point in the monologue, viewable at Salt on a small monitor accompanied by a volume that transcribes a nearly unpunctuated stream of consciousness, Khan recounts walking to university while stoned, growing more paranoid along the way. Self-consciousness emerges as an important component of Khan’s practice in Insecure (2002), consisting of eleven phrases printed in minute text on the wall. Among them: “Look at yourself in the mirror and try to imagine you are someone you are meeting for the first time”; “In the morning act out something embarrassing you did the night before in front of the mirror”; and “Wonder what you really want from the closest person to you.” Moving through the exhibition, you begin to sense that Khan has two broad artistic concerns: the process of artistic creation and the position of the artist in relation to society as a maker of meaning. There is often a flat-out refusal to play the latter role, as in Lust (2008), which comprises fifty digital cell phone pictures showing, among many vignettes, a disused piano,


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:45 PM Page 166

HASSAN KHAN: HALF A LIFE IN ART REVIEWED by HG MASTERS

REVIEWS AND CRITIQUE

HASSAN KHAN: HALF A LIFE IN ART REVIEWED Salt Beyo˘glu, Istanbul September 21, 2012–January 6, 2013

HG Masters

،‫معرض شامل لحسن خان ﰲ اسطنبول‬ ١٠9 ‫ صفحة‬،‫البّوابة التّاسعة‬

Banque Bannister (2010), from Hassan Khan exhibition, Salt Beyo˘glu, 2012 Photograph by Serkan Taycan

The Twist (2012), from Hassan Khan exhibition, Salt Beyo˘glu, 2012, Photograph by Serkan Taycan

166

Do you know those people who never say hello or goodbye because they are already midsentence by the time you are close enough to hear them, and later, as they turn away to leave, their voice simply trails off with them? And how, because you are perpetually entering and exiting something that is already underway, you find yourself lost in the discussion at hand? That’s how it felt at Hassan Khan’s survey exhibition at Salt Beyo˘glu in Istanbul, which ran from September 2012 to January 2013. Regardless of which of the three floors at Salt Beyo˘glu you began on, you found yourself abruptly entering into the artist’s fervent conversation with the world, one that he has conducted in numerous media, from still and moving imagery to text, objects, and sound since the mid-1990s. Since you found yourself joining a dialogue already underway, you had to pick things up as they unfolded. You quickly noticed that in Khan’s hands everything undergoes significant amounts of processing. Found material is transformed and retransformed as in the room-sized sound installation Dom Tak Tak Dom Tak (2005). For this piece, Khan took six classics of shaabi (popular) music, rerecorded their beats, had street musicians improvise over them, and then remixed them together. In the gallery, this was presented as six thirty-second excerpts played with interludes of a ticking metronome, followed by a wash of red floodlights.

167

Khan’s work attempts to process and reflect upon his personal experience to an almost tedious level of intricacy. For example, in order to create 17 and in AUC (2003), Khan spent four hours each evening over a period of two weeks in April 2003 in a one-way-mirrored glass box, drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and ranting, unable to see his audience. At one revealing point in the monologue, viewable at Salt on a small monitor accompanied by a volume that transcribes a nearly unpunctuated stream of consciousness, Khan recounts walking to university while stoned, growing more paranoid along the way. Self-consciousness emerges as an important component of Khan’s practice in Insecure (2002), consisting of eleven phrases printed in minute text on the wall. Among them: “Look at yourself in the mirror and try to imagine you are someone you are meeting for the first time”; “In the morning act out something embarrassing you did the night before in front of the mirror”; and “Wonder what you really want from the closest person to you.” Moving through the exhibition, you begin to sense that Khan has two broad artistic concerns: the process of artistic creation and the position of the artist in relation to society as a maker of meaning. There is often a flat-out refusal to play the latter role, as in Lust (2008), which comprises fifty digital cell phone pictures showing, among many vignettes, a disused piano,


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:45 PM Page 172

N E W A R T O R G A N I Z AT I O N S O C C U P Y L E B A N O N ’ S E N D A N G E R E D B U I L D I N G S b y R AY YA B A D R A N

REVIEWS AND CRITIQUE

NEW ART ORGANIZATIONS OCCUPY LEBANON’S ENDANGERED BUILDINGS Rayya Badran ،‫مشاريع فنّّية ﰲ أبنية لبنانيّة مهّددة‬ portal9journal.org

Outside view from the main gate of Art Residence Aley toward Damascus Main Road. Photograph by Mario Razzouk

View from inside Art Residence Aley toward the main entrance. Photograph by Mario Razzouk

172

Three burgeoning institutions, established to provide accessible work spaces for artists and to prevent – or at least stave off – demolition of the structures they occupy, are contributing to the cultivation of a creative environment in Lebanon, a country that, despite its prominence on the international art scene, still lacks serious governmental support for the arts. Mansion, Batroun Projects, and Art Residence Aley (ARA) reflect an effort to repurpose vacant, dilapidated structures, battered by the Lebanese Civil War, in order to carve out spaces for residencies and artistic production across the country. “Lebanon itself is quite unique in light of the quantity of urban dead points,” says former architect Ghassan Maasri, co-founder of Mansion with Sandra Iché of Batroun Projects. “Such structures … present some substantial possibilities for art production, artistic encounters, and accessibility.” What are the unique possibilities that arts initiatives unleash in the process of architectural reclamation? Inaugurated in December 2012, Mansion is located in Zouqaq Al Blatt, one of Beirut’s oldest neighborhoods, and had not been inhabited since the 1980s. It is a beautiful, two-story, Ottoman-era residence, surrounded by a verdant garden and tall trees. Maasri came across the house and managed to convince the owner over a period of six months to lend him the property at no cost in order to transform it into a polyvalent space for artist studios, film screenings,

173

performances, and exhibitions. Drawing from his own architectural background and relying on the help of collaborators and experts, he took on the challenge of restoring and rehabilitating the edifice. Mansion is a shared working and production space, with each artist in the building holding responsibility for the upkeep of her own studio. The community seeks to “achieve an internal economy to sustain the costs for maintenance and servicing of the space as an experiment,” says Maasri. “We would like to build up partnerships with new technologies and environmental companies that could make Mansion a place for experimentation: solar heating, roof gardening, insulation.” Maasri, who has long had an interest in “communal activity and its urban impact,” was one of the people behind the project Artists’ International Workshop: Aley (AIW:A), which invited eighteen artists to work and produce within a specific context in the hills overlooking Beirut in 2008. Like AIW:A, Batroun Projects and ARA are situated outside the capital. Located on the shore of the northern coastal town of Batroun, about 54 kilometers from Beirut, Batroun Projects is an 800-square-meter, two-story house, built sometime during the mid 1980s and abandoned since. The house’s interior was left unfinished; the stones of its walls “are sourced from destroyed old houses,” says Nora Razian, a curator and writer liv-


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:45 PM Page 172

N E W A R T O R G A N I Z AT I O N S O C C U P Y L E B A N O N ’ S E N D A N G E R E D B U I L D I N G S b y R AY YA B A D R A N

REVIEWS AND CRITIQUE

NEW ART ORGANIZATIONS OCCUPY LEBANON’S ENDANGERED BUILDINGS Rayya Badran ،‫مشاريع فنّّية ﰲ أبنية لبنانيّة مهّددة‬ portal9journal.org

Outside view from the main gate of Art Residence Aley toward Damascus Main Road. Photograph by Mario Razzouk

View from inside Art Residence Aley toward the main entrance. Photograph by Mario Razzouk

172

Three burgeoning institutions, established to provide accessible work spaces for artists and to prevent – or at least stave off – demolition of the structures they occupy, are contributing to the cultivation of a creative environment in Lebanon, a country that, despite its prominence on the international art scene, still lacks serious governmental support for the arts. Mansion, Batroun Projects, and Art Residence Aley (ARA) reflect an effort to repurpose vacant, dilapidated structures, battered by the Lebanese Civil War, in order to carve out spaces for residencies and artistic production across the country. “Lebanon itself is quite unique in light of the quantity of urban dead points,” says former architect Ghassan Maasri, co-founder of Mansion with Sandra Iché of Batroun Projects. “Such structures … present some substantial possibilities for art production, artistic encounters, and accessibility.” What are the unique possibilities that arts initiatives unleash in the process of architectural reclamation? Inaugurated in December 2012, Mansion is located in Zouqaq Al Blatt, one of Beirut’s oldest neighborhoods, and had not been inhabited since the 1980s. It is a beautiful, two-story, Ottoman-era residence, surrounded by a verdant garden and tall trees. Maasri came across the house and managed to convince the owner over a period of six months to lend him the property at no cost in order to transform it into a polyvalent space for artist studios, film screenings,

173

performances, and exhibitions. Drawing from his own architectural background and relying on the help of collaborators and experts, he took on the challenge of restoring and rehabilitating the edifice. Mansion is a shared working and production space, with each artist in the building holding responsibility for the upkeep of her own studio. The community seeks to “achieve an internal economy to sustain the costs for maintenance and servicing of the space as an experiment,” says Maasri. “We would like to build up partnerships with new technologies and environmental companies that could make Mansion a place for experimentation: solar heating, roof gardening, insulation.” Maasri, who has long had an interest in “communal activity and its urban impact,” was one of the people behind the project Artists’ International Workshop: Aley (AIW:A), which invited eighteen artists to work and produce within a specific context in the hills overlooking Beirut in 2008. Like AIW:A, Batroun Projects and ARA are situated outside the capital. Located on the shore of the northern coastal town of Batroun, about 54 kilometers from Beirut, Batroun Projects is an 800-square-meter, two-story house, built sometime during the mid 1980s and abandoned since. The house’s interior was left unfinished; the stones of its walls “are sourced from destroyed old houses,” says Nora Razian, a curator and writer liv-


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:45 PM Page 176

N E W A R T O R G A N I Z AT I O N S O C C U P Y L E B A N O N ’ S E N D A N G E R E D B U I L D I N G S b y R AY YA B A D R A N

REVIEWS AND CRITIQUE

Mansion, located in Zokak el Blat. Inside view showing the events space toward the back area facing Spears street. Photograph by Mario Razzouk

Batroun Projects: Inside view of exhibition space. Photograph by Mario Razzouk

176

177


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:45 PM Page 176

N E W A R T O R G A N I Z AT I O N S O C C U P Y L E B A N O N ’ S E N D A N G E R E D B U I L D I N G S b y R AY YA B A D R A N

REVIEWS AND CRITIQUE

Mansion, located in Zokak el Blat. Inside view showing the events space toward the back area facing Spears street. Photograph by Mario Razzouk

Batroun Projects: Inside view of exhibition space. Photograph by Mario Razzouk

176

177


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:45 PM Page 178

D O C U M E N T S/ A R A B I C I N S E R T

E P I S O D E S/ A R A B I C I N S E R T

W H E N L I O N D E F E AT E D A L M A A N D A N TA R

PUBLIC DIVERSIONS

George Arbid

Liane Al-Ghusain

٣5 ‫ صفحة‬،‫ البّوابة التّاسعة‬،‫عندما هزم اﻷسد أﳌا وعنﱰ‬

١٠٧ ‫ صفحة‬،‫ البّوابة التّاسعة‬،‫الفضاء العام وتحّوﻻته‬

My recent discovery of two competing architectural design projects for the National Museum of Antiquities and Fine Arts in Beirut triggered a renewed interest in the building and the circumstances surrounding the competition of 1928.1 Many are familiar with the winning scheme, submitted under the pseudonym “Lion” by Pierre Leprince-Ringuet and Antoine Nahas, who designed what is known today as the National Museum.2 An article published in 1931 by René Huyghe, an authoritative source about the competition, briefly mentions the two other competing projects selected by the evaluation committee and includes the names of their authors but gives no substantive information about the projects.3 “Alma” and “Antar,” code-names for the competing designs, resonated in my mind for several years, but I did not have a hint of what they looked like. However, with the fortunate discovery of the original drawings, we now know more about the two schemes that almost made it to the execution phase. The winning scheme, in Art Deco style with Egyptian revival connotation, was preferred to the Persian arcs proposed by Alma and the Mount Lebanon characteristics of Antar’s design. Besides the Pharaonic lotiform columns and capitals of the entrance colonnade and the Egyptian gorge cornice capping the building, the rest of the museum is fairly unadorned. It was in line with the new style of the day, a trend firmly established since the 1925 Exposition des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. The straightforward layout was tailored to the shape of the site, and the building size made it extremely economical in comparison with the other selected entries. It can claim to be the most functional of the three designs. The relatively modernist style of the chosen design was more likely to please the jury than the historicist schemes of the other competitors. The jury that met on February 4, 1928, under the Presidency of Bechara El Khoury, then Prime Minister and Minister of Education and Fine Arts, was composed of the intellectual elite close to the French and, more importantly, to the ideological concept of Phoenician Lebanon. The project code-named Alma, designed by Marcel Hanemoglou and Jean Germain, resembles a Persian khan, or caravanserai. Its basic layout follows the classical museum model, with forced circulation traversing rows of rooms located around a large central courtyard.4 The proposed building occupies the museum site without negotiating its massive presence in relation to the plot shape, nor does it suggest an active use of the courtyard at its core. The Antar project designed by Alexandre Boevivald is the most versatile of the three designs, notwithstanding the undeniably historicist vocabulary of its references to the palatial architecture found in the Lebanese mountains, namely Beiteddine. It accommodates various room sizes and orientations, astutely adapting to the directions coming from the site configuration. It is organized like a cluster of wings around two courtyards, a large rectangular one and a smaller trapezoidal one. The building successfully addresses two scales: the monumental scale dictated by the national nature of the building and the human, visitor-friendly scale responding to a variety of exhibition conditions. The two levels of the building are brought together in several instances through mezzanines that open up on to vistas of the displayed artifacts. On the street side, the design offers a public interface with small garden terraces accessible from the sidewalks. Eighty years later, it is now possible to compare the three competition entries. In addition to enabling a retrospective examination of architectural proposals, the discovery of the drawings reminds us of the importance of preserving archives. In this particular case, the newly found documents invite an insight into the Lebanon of the late 1920s, a time of a difficult search for identity, with architecture being one of its manifold manifestations.

Despite the fact that Kuwait’s population is fragmented and its people insulated, the capital’s residents are reclaiming communal spaces for gathering and exchange. Conversations about civic engagement are also taking place through international art and design biennials, on social media platforms, and by way of groundbreaking architectural initiatives. Not only does the law forbid large groups from convening, but Kuwait’s built environment and harsh climate are also rather inhospitable to public gathering. The country’s outdoor squares, courtyards, and parks are sparsely populated throughout the year. Functional sidewalks are virtually non-existent, and the great distance between places makes it difficult to move around the city as a pedestrian. Residential areas are completely isolated from commercial ones by uncrossable highways, thanks to an urban master plan designed by the British in 1952, featuring impractical roundabouts and a fanning grid system of roads that was merciless in demolishing the traditional mud houses of old Kuwait. Today, the capital’s skyscrapers glitter, gleam, and flash with lavish lighting on national holidays – a dubious promise of a better future. The concern about this shortsighted vision, which results from an eagerness to build vertically as opposed to horizontally, is that it privileges commercial ventures and foreign investments over the preservation of cultural heritage in Kuwait, to say nothing of the unique diversity of its built environment. Kuwait’s activists and artists are seeing past this constructed horizon and intervening in the vision for the country’s future. Activists on the ground doggedly persisted in their protests in Sahat Al Erada (Square of Will) as Kuwait’s sky lit up apocalyptically for the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of its constitution. Pedestrians are taking back public spaces by staging acts of rebellion in them: using parks and exercise walkways to overturn the country’s conservative dating norms, staging flash mobs in the shopping malls, and dancing publicly despite the law against such forms of expression. Artists, architects, and intellectuals are also asserting their right to participate in public space. By proposing contemporary interpretations of the diwaniya (a weekly forum for political discussion and community gathering) at international design festivals, architects and their creative counterparts are involving the rest of the world in the preservation of Kuwait’s traditions. By the same token, they are also reinterpreting the foundations of political engagement in the oldest Gulf nation. Academics are pushing to archive and analyze the different phases of Kuwait’s urban development as well as the impact of these ongoing changes on the public consciousness. In imagining Kuwait governed by surreal physics and fictional topographies, artists such as Alia Farid and Aseel Al Yagoub propose a world so impossible that it invites new forms of participation in public space.

1 The two architectural design projects are held in the National Library of Lebanon. All rights reserved by the National Library. 2 Construction began in 1930. Although it opened to the public in 1938, it was not officially inaugurated until 1942. 3 René Huyghe, “Musée National d’Antiquités et des Beaux-Arts à Beyrouth,” L’Architecture (Paris) no. 44 (1931): 41–48 (reprinted in National Museum News no. 6 (1997): 2–11). The author mentions that three projects were “particularly” appreciated by the jury, suggesting that more entries were presented. Records of the other projects have yet to be found. 4 The design is in the tradition of the paradigmatic “ideal museum” set out by Durand. See Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand, Précis des Leçons d’architecture données à l’École Royale Polytechnique, Paris, 1809. It may be that the caravanserai typology was in Hanemoglou’s mind because he was renovating one in Aleppo at the same time as he was designing his proposal for the museum.

179 178


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:45 PM Page 178

D O C U M E N T S/ A R A B I C I N S E R T

E P I S O D E S/ A R A B I C I N S E R T

W H E N L I O N D E F E AT E D A L M A A N D A N TA R

PUBLIC DIVERSIONS

George Arbid

Liane Al-Ghusain

٣5 ‫ صفحة‬،‫ البّوابة التّاسعة‬،‫عندما هزم اﻷسد أﳌا وعنﱰ‬

١٠٧ ‫ صفحة‬،‫ البّوابة التّاسعة‬،‫الفضاء العام وتحّوﻻته‬

My recent discovery of two competing architectural design projects for the National Museum of Antiquities and Fine Arts in Beirut triggered a renewed interest in the building and the circumstances surrounding the competition of 1928.1 Many are familiar with the winning scheme, submitted under the pseudonym “Lion” by Pierre Leprince-Ringuet and Antoine Nahas, who designed what is known today as the National Museum.2 An article published in 1931 by René Huyghe, an authoritative source about the competition, briefly mentions the two other competing projects selected by the evaluation committee and includes the names of their authors but gives no substantive information about the projects.3 “Alma” and “Antar,” code-names for the competing designs, resonated in my mind for several years, but I did not have a hint of what they looked like. However, with the fortunate discovery of the original drawings, we now know more about the two schemes that almost made it to the execution phase. The winning scheme, in Art Deco style with Egyptian revival connotation, was preferred to the Persian arcs proposed by Alma and the Mount Lebanon characteristics of Antar’s design. Besides the Pharaonic lotiform columns and capitals of the entrance colonnade and the Egyptian gorge cornice capping the building, the rest of the museum is fairly unadorned. It was in line with the new style of the day, a trend firmly established since the 1925 Exposition des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. The straightforward layout was tailored to the shape of the site, and the building size made it extremely economical in comparison with the other selected entries. It can claim to be the most functional of the three designs. The relatively modernist style of the chosen design was more likely to please the jury than the historicist schemes of the other competitors. The jury that met on February 4, 1928, under the Presidency of Bechara El Khoury, then Prime Minister and Minister of Education and Fine Arts, was composed of the intellectual elite close to the French and, more importantly, to the ideological concept of Phoenician Lebanon. The project code-named Alma, designed by Marcel Hanemoglou and Jean Germain, resembles a Persian khan, or caravanserai. Its basic layout follows the classical museum model, with forced circulation traversing rows of rooms located around a large central courtyard.4 The proposed building occupies the museum site without negotiating its massive presence in relation to the plot shape, nor does it suggest an active use of the courtyard at its core. The Antar project designed by Alexandre Boevivald is the most versatile of the three designs, notwithstanding the undeniably historicist vocabulary of its references to the palatial architecture found in the Lebanese mountains, namely Beiteddine. It accommodates various room sizes and orientations, astutely adapting to the directions coming from the site configuration. It is organized like a cluster of wings around two courtyards, a large rectangular one and a smaller trapezoidal one. The building successfully addresses two scales: the monumental scale dictated by the national nature of the building and the human, visitor-friendly scale responding to a variety of exhibition conditions. The two levels of the building are brought together in several instances through mezzanines that open up on to vistas of the displayed artifacts. On the street side, the design offers a public interface with small garden terraces accessible from the sidewalks. Eighty years later, it is now possible to compare the three competition entries. In addition to enabling a retrospective examination of architectural proposals, the discovery of the drawings reminds us of the importance of preserving archives. In this particular case, the newly found documents invite an insight into the Lebanon of the late 1920s, a time of a difficult search for identity, with architecture being one of its manifold manifestations.

Despite the fact that Kuwait’s population is fragmented and its people insulated, the capital’s residents are reclaiming communal spaces for gathering and exchange. Conversations about civic engagement are also taking place through international art and design biennials, on social media platforms, and by way of groundbreaking architectural initiatives. Not only does the law forbid large groups from convening, but Kuwait’s built environment and harsh climate are also rather inhospitable to public gathering. The country’s outdoor squares, courtyards, and parks are sparsely populated throughout the year. Functional sidewalks are virtually non-existent, and the great distance between places makes it difficult to move around the city as a pedestrian. Residential areas are completely isolated from commercial ones by uncrossable highways, thanks to an urban master plan designed by the British in 1952, featuring impractical roundabouts and a fanning grid system of roads that was merciless in demolishing the traditional mud houses of old Kuwait. Today, the capital’s skyscrapers glitter, gleam, and flash with lavish lighting on national holidays – a dubious promise of a better future. The concern about this shortsighted vision, which results from an eagerness to build vertically as opposed to horizontally, is that it privileges commercial ventures and foreign investments over the preservation of cultural heritage in Kuwait, to say nothing of the unique diversity of its built environment. Kuwait’s activists and artists are seeing past this constructed horizon and intervening in the vision for the country’s future. Activists on the ground doggedly persisted in their protests in Sahat Al Erada (Square of Will) as Kuwait’s sky lit up apocalyptically for the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of its constitution. Pedestrians are taking back public spaces by staging acts of rebellion in them: using parks and exercise walkways to overturn the country’s conservative dating norms, staging flash mobs in the shopping malls, and dancing publicly despite the law against such forms of expression. Artists, architects, and intellectuals are also asserting their right to participate in public space. By proposing contemporary interpretations of the diwaniya (a weekly forum for political discussion and community gathering) at international design festivals, architects and their creative counterparts are involving the rest of the world in the preservation of Kuwait’s traditions. By the same token, they are also reinterpreting the foundations of political engagement in the oldest Gulf nation. Academics are pushing to archive and analyze the different phases of Kuwait’s urban development as well as the impact of these ongoing changes on the public consciousness. In imagining Kuwait governed by surreal physics and fictional topographies, artists such as Alia Farid and Aseel Al Yagoub propose a world so impossible that it invites new forms of participation in public space.

1 The two architectural design projects are held in the National Library of Lebanon. All rights reserved by the National Library. 2 Construction began in 1930. Although it opened to the public in 1938, it was not officially inaugurated until 1942. 3 René Huyghe, “Musée National d’Antiquités et des Beaux-Arts à Beyrouth,” L’Architecture (Paris) no. 44 (1931): 41–48 (reprinted in National Museum News no. 6 (1997): 2–11). The author mentions that three projects were “particularly” appreciated by the jury, suggesting that more entries were presented. Records of the other projects have yet to be found. 4 The design is in the tradition of the paradigmatic “ideal museum” set out by Durand. See Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand, Précis des Leçons d’architecture données à l’École Royale Polytechnique, Paris, 1809. It may be that the caravanserai typology was in Hanemoglou’s mind because he was renovating one in Aleppo at the same time as he was designing his proposal for the museum.

179 178


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:45 PM Page 180

CONTRIBUTORS

Tarek Abi Samra, born in Beirut in 1983, received a Bachelor in Psychology at Univerité Saint-Joseph where he is currently preparing for a masters degree. He writes short stories. Khaled Adham is an architect and planner currently working as an associate professor at the Department of Architectural Engineering, United Arab Emirates University, Al Ain. Liane Al-Ghusain is a PalestinianKuwaiti writer based in Beirut. George Arbid is an architect and scholar. He is an associate professor at the American University of Beirut and a founding member and director of the Arab Center for Architecture. Rayya Badran is a writer based in Beirut. Adem O’Byrne is pursuing a Masters of Architecture at the University of Toronto, and holds a Bachelors degree in Fine Arts from the University of Calgary. Aziza Chaouni is an assistant professor at the Daniels School of Architecture, Landscape and Design, and principal of Aziza Chaouni Projects, a design office based in Toronto, Canada, and Fez, Morocco. Laryssa Chomiak is a political scientist and director of the Centre d'Etudes Maghrébines à Tunis. Ziyah Gafi´c is a photographer from Sarajevo who has covered major events in more than forty countries. His images have been exhibited in fine art galleries in Europe and the United States and printed in some of the world’s leading publications. Malu Halasa, Portal 9’s editor-at-large, writes books on Middle Eastern visual culture and recently co-curated Syria’s Art of Resistance for Rundetaarn, Copenhagen. Gretchen Head holds a PhD in Arabic literature from the University of Pennsylvania and is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the department of comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley.

Saba Innab is a Palestinian-Jordanian artist, architect, and urban researcher based between Amman and Beirut. Innab’s solo exhibitions include Agial Gallery in Beirut and Darat Al Funun in Amman (2011). Recently the artist participated in Home Workspace Project at Ashkal Alwan - Beirut 2011–2012. Jamal Jubran is a writer and journalist from Yemen. Khaled Khalifa is a novelist and screenwriter living in Damascus. His 2006 novel, Madeeh Al Karahiyyah (In Praise of Hatred) was shortlisted for the 2008 International Prize for Arabic Fiction. The 2010 translation by Lori Price is on this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist.

Deen Sharp is a doctoral candidate in geography at the City University of New York. His research focuses on the intersection of urban geography, architecture, anthropology, and Middle East studies. Yuki Sumner is an architecture critic, writer, lecturer, and curator with a special interest in the history of Japanese architecture. Mani Tabrizi is a junior architect at Aziza Chaouni Projects. He received a Master of Architecture from University of Toronto, Bachelor of Architectural Science from Ryerson University, and Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering from Iran, where he was born and raised.

Daniella Rose King is a writer and curator based in London.

Fadi Tofeili is a Lebanese writer, poet, and translator. He is the editorin-chief of Portal 9.

HG Masters is a writer and editor with a focus on artists from across Asia. He is editor-at-large for ArtAsiaPacific magazine and Director of the 7th Global Art Forum.

Gorana Vuˇci´c-Shepherd is an architect and an urbanism professional, trained at the Architectural Association and the London School of Economics.

Bachir Mefti is an Algerian journalist and novelist living in Algiers. His latest novel is Ghosts of a Murdered City (2012). Todd Reisz is editor of the Urbanography section of Portal 9 and the Daniel Rose visiting assistant professor in Urbanism at the Yale School of Architecture. Wissam Saade is a Lebanese author and journalist. He studied political science at the Université Saint-Joseph and philosophy at the Lebanese University. He graduated with a Diplôme d’Etudes Approfondies in political sciences with an emphasis on political thought. His philosophical articles have been published in various periodicals, including Al Fikr Al Arabi Al Muaser (Journal of Contemporary Arab Thought). Mario Sabino, born in São Paulo in 1962, is editor-in-chief of Veja, Brazil’s most influential weekly magazine.

180


New Portal9 - JUNE 5-2013_Portal9 - #2 1/8/13 12:45 PM Page 180

CONTRIBUTORS

Tarek Abi Samra, born in Beirut in 1983, received a Bachelor in Psychology at Univerité Saint-Joseph where he is currently preparing for a masters degree. He writes short stories. Khaled Adham is an architect and planner currently working as an associate professor at the Department of Architectural Engineering, United Arab Emirates University, Al Ain. Liane Al-Ghusain is a PalestinianKuwaiti writer based in Beirut. George Arbid is an architect and scholar. He is an associate professor at the American University of Beirut and a founding member and director of the Arab Center for Architecture. Rayya Badran is a writer based in Beirut. Adem O’Byrne is pursuing a Masters of Architecture at the University of Toronto, and holds a Bachelors degree in Fine Arts from the University of Calgary. Aziza Chaouni is an assistant professor at the Daniels School of Architecture, Landscape and Design, and principal of Aziza Chaouni Projects, a design office based in Toronto, Canada, and Fez, Morocco. Laryssa Chomiak is a political scientist and director of the Centre d'Etudes Maghrébines à Tunis. Ziyah Gafi´c is a photographer from Sarajevo who has covered major events in more than forty countries. His images have been exhibited in fine art galleries in Europe and the United States and printed in some of the world’s leading publications. Malu Halasa, Portal 9’s editor-at-large, writes books on Middle Eastern visual culture and recently co-curated Syria’s Art of Resistance for Rundetaarn, Copenhagen. Gretchen Head holds a PhD in Arabic literature from the University of Pennsylvania and is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the department of comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley.

Saba Innab is a Palestinian-Jordanian artist, architect, and urban researcher based between Amman and Beirut. Innab’s solo exhibitions include Agial Gallery in Beirut and Darat Al Funun in Amman (2011). Recently the artist participated in Home Workspace Project at Ashkal Alwan - Beirut 2011–2012. Jamal Jubran is a writer and journalist from Yemen. Khaled Khalifa is a novelist and screenwriter living in Damascus. His 2006 novel, Madeeh Al Karahiyyah (In Praise of Hatred) was shortlisted for the 2008 International Prize for Arabic Fiction. The 2010 translation by Lori Price is on this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist.

Deen Sharp is a doctoral candidate in geography at the City University of New York. His research focuses on the intersection of urban geography, architecture, anthropology, and Middle East studies. Yuki Sumner is an architecture critic, writer, lecturer, and curator with a special interest in the history of Japanese architecture. Mani Tabrizi is a junior architect at Aziza Chaouni Projects. He received a Master of Architecture from University of Toronto, Bachelor of Architectural Science from Ryerson University, and Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering from Iran, where he was born and raised.

Daniella Rose King is a writer and curator based in London.

Fadi Tofeili is a Lebanese writer, poet, and translator. He is the editorin-chief of Portal 9.

HG Masters is a writer and editor with a focus on artists from across Asia. He is editor-at-large for ArtAsiaPacific magazine and Director of the 7th Global Art Forum.

Gorana Vuˇci´c-Shepherd is an architect and an urbanism professional, trained at the Architectural Association and the London School of Economics.

Bachir Mefti is an Algerian journalist and novelist living in Algiers. His latest novel is Ghosts of a Murdered City (2012). Todd Reisz is editor of the Urbanography section of Portal 9 and the Daniel Rose visiting assistant professor in Urbanism at the Yale School of Architecture. Wissam Saade is a Lebanese author and journalist. He studied political science at the Université Saint-Joseph and philosophy at the Lebanese University. He graduated with a Diplôme d’Etudes Approfondies in political sciences with an emphasis on political thought. His philosophical articles have been published in various periodicals, including Al Fikr Al Arabi Al Muaser (Journal of Contemporary Arab Thought). Mario Sabino, born in São Paulo in 1962, is editor-in-chief of Veja, Brazil’s most influential weekly magazine.

180

Profile for Portal 9

Portal 9 Issue #2 The Square English  

From Hiroshima to Cairo, history coalesces and shatters in public squares. In the new Portal 9, an Arabic-English journal about the city, a...

Portal 9 Issue #2 The Square English  

From Hiroshima to Cairo, history coalesces and shatters in public squares. In the new Portal 9, an Arabic-English journal about the city, a...

Profile for portal9
Advertisement