From Bab al Bahr to Maspero


While working on a paper on the emerging movements of urban activism and protest against neoliberal urban development strategies in Egypt, I came by a paper titled Contextualizing the Arab Revolts: The Politics behind Three Decades of Neoliberalism in the Arab World by Koenraad Bogaert where he discussing that "neoliberal reform and economic restructuring since the 1980s in the Arab region was masked by the language of free market but in reality signified new forms of patronage, accumulation and exploitation in which the state apparatus changed its modes of intervention but still played a crucial role" and that "The role of the state was now to control the economy more indirectly through specific forms of market de- and re-regulation, the redistribution of resources among domestic and foreign economic elites". He sees that "The result has been a changing
role of the state and a far-reaching process of state reformation. Authority was not necessarily slipping away from the traditional power center, but state power was rather subjected to constant renegotiation and displacement by the particular actors drawn within reach who form particular ‘assemblages of power.’ This is manifested within cities, as he gives an example, in urban entrepreneurialism which "can give rise to such assemblages of power, which then radically impact upon the design of the city and the social life within its space".

He gives a real example for the above argument with the Bouregreg project in Rabat, the capital of Morocco, which he sees that "a space where such an assemblage unfolds".  He goes on to describe that "this large-scale development project within the river valley of the Bouregreg is placed under the exclusive authority of a newly established governmental agency: the Agency for the Development of the Bouregreg Valley. Within this agency, authority is shared and negotiated between state-agents and private investors, external consultants, architects and urban designers." He explains that "the design of this new urban landscape foremost is determined by private capital and worked out by prestigious architectural firms like the UK-based Foster and Partners (consultants in the Bouregreg project)" (a picture of their proposal is above right). Ironically, Foster and partners just won a second prize in the international competition for the development of Maspero triangle which sits on the river Nile in Cairo the capital of Egypt. (a picture of their proposal is above left)

ِAccording to Bogaert, Al Maabar is another partner in the Bouregreg project that Bogaert thinks that their "private interests do not necessarily correspond to the public interest." This can be clearly seen in an announcement about the development where it is titled as "Al Maabar turns Rabat's waste dump into prime property"!

This comes to confirm what Asef Bayat and Kees Biekart in in their article titled Cities of Extremes where they point out that, ‘many of the agents of change (such as global capital) are not even residents of these cities.’
As Bogaert elaborates on the relation between state and private investors, he sees that "while a project such as the Bouregreg Valley still may be largely state-controlled, the detachment and the displacement of decision-making powers open up new space for negotiation. Private investors, for example, have their own interests and the Bouregreg project would not be possible without their involvement. Both foreign capital coming from Abu Dhabi (via the company Al Maabar) and the Bouregreg state agency are conjoined on a 50–50 basis in the Bab al Bahr Development Company. This joint venture is responsible for the coordination and development of the first stage of the Bouregreg project. It has become a space where state power is (re-) negotiated between domestic and foreign elites. These new assemblages of power somehow are de-centered,
but at the same time not disconnected, from the regulatory scope of national state institutions and the institutional hierarchy within the general state apparatus." With all the gulf states funds pouring in Egypt, I wonder if Maspero's triangle development will take a similar path.

Bogaert mentions that "the ‘hopping’ of capital between ‘separately administered enclaves’ leads to situations in which some people are exploited, others ignored or even dispelled, and again others able to enrich themselves with state support." He sees that the Bouregreg Valley in Rabat is such an enclave. I can clearly see that the Maspero triangle,giving the situation of its current residents, may easily turn into such an enclave too!

In the end of my my reflection on the results of the international Maspero competition, I wondered if there can be a sort of cooperation in the near future between the stakeholders in the triangle, mainly composed of the residents and investors, that can take matters into hand to proceed with the development process. Now I wonder again if such a cooperation could turn into what Bogaert further elaborates on saying that "the development of the Bouregreg Valley is a salient example of how cities are redesigned to the desires of property owners, landlords, developers and finance capitalists by transferring particular political powers and competences into a new state agency (the Bouregreg agency) which controls the development process."

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The people from the barrio built the city twice: during the day we built the houses of the well-off. At night and at weekends, with solidarity, we built our own homes, our barrio.

  —Andrés Antillano, resident of Caracas, April 15, 2004