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Transgressive Urbanisms in the Middle East: Between Governance and Violence, Inequalities and Insurgencies

Muna Güvenç and Nat Marom

This stream interrogates the 21st century urban condition in the Middle East, characterized by enduring structures of inequality and processes and practices of insurgency. Middle East cities have long played a crucial role in 19-20th century histories of imperialism, colonialism and nationalism. Yet the 9/11 attacks, subsequent wars and the eruption of the ‘Arab Spring’ in 2010 have thrust many cities onto a redrawn map of regional and global engagements and disruptions while opening new political spaces. From the ‘Green Wave’ in Tehran, the ‘Jasmine Revolution’ of Tunis, the Tahrir Square uprisings in Cairo, to the protest encampments in Tel Aviv and the Gezi Park contestations in Istanbul – people around the Middle East have been turning to urban spaces and everyday practices of encroachment and transgression to protest and contest various forms of grievances, political oppression, sociospatial inequalities, and the polarizing effects of urban neoliberalism. Other cities have been exposed to more militarized campaigns, from the civil wars shattering countless lives in Aleppo, Benghazi, Damascus and Tripoli, the recurrent wars in Gaza, to the rise of the Islamic State in Raqqa and elsewhere. Thus, contemporary Middle East urbanisms, perhaps to a greater extent than other urbanisms around the globe, overlay wide political transformations with sharp violent confrontations. Further, state boundaries cannot contain these events and processes, and they reverberate in cities around the world – from the perilous exodus of Middle East refugees towards safer lives in European cities to terrorist attacks such as the recent events in Paris. Yet despite this global reach, Middle East urbanisms are still ‘underrepresented’ in global urbanism research. Middle East urbanisms, therefore, cannot be debated only in the context of conventional oppressive political regimes and their discontents but also of contemporary experiments of neoliberal governance, new forms of urban social movements and realignment of state-society relations. We are interested in papers that explore contemporary urban processes and events in the Middle East through the lens of insurgency and transgression, paying attention to everyday practices and tactics, mobilizations, social and political movements, and wider issues of urban governance. How do urban space and its sociospatial divisions play out in experiencing and exposing inequalities, challenging existing political structures and engendering alternative urban and political visions? How do different forms of antagonism and violence shape Middle East urbanisms and, in return, are shaped by these urbanisms? What are the particular relations between ‘civil society’ and ‘political society’ in Middle East cities, and how do they form bonds and alliances and devise strategies that reach beyond the realm of everyday lived experience? What transactions and flows link Middle East cities to their counterparts in other parts of the world and how do these shape their own trajectories of urban development? Finally, what insights can the research on Middle East cities offer to the growing debates on Global South urbanism? We would like to include papers that offer both in-depth case studies of cities throughout the Middle East, as well as comparisons within and beyond the region.