Beware of small cities

Deen Sharp writes: The physical spaces of the Arab uprisings emerged as powerful political tools in the course of the revolts for both protesters and regimes. Protestors in streets and squares affirmed that power also exists in real exchanges, in real places between real people. Tahrir Square experienced a metamorphosis from a denied political space to a metonym for revolution, a symbol of the Egyptian and Arab uprisings. The spatial dynamics of the uprisings, however, are not only in the streets and public squares of the major metropolises. Indeed, the protests antedate the move to public squares in capital cities.

Despite urban spaces outside the major metropolises remaining almost invisible in discourses surrounding the Arab uprisings, small cities played a critical role in the revolts in 2011, the year that changed the Middle East. Normatively, it is the spaces of the largest cities that are deemed to produce the region’s history. Cairo, Beirut and Baghdad, and their ilk, do not form the realities for the majority of inhabitants in the Arab region, however. Urban morphologies of small cities, such as Sidi Bouzid, Suez and Dera’a, are closer to the everyday spatial realities of the majority of the regions inhabitants. The Arab uprisings have articulated how the neglect of areas outside the major metropolises hindered our understanding of human patterns of social life.

To differentiate and comprehend the morphologies of small cities, towns, peri-urban areas and villages, and thus engage with the daily spatial realities of the majority of inhabitants in the region, a correction to the under theorizing of areas outside big cities needs to be undertaken. The uprisings have brought to the fore the urgency of establishing a small cities research agenda for the region. Engagement with space beyond the metropolis would not only introduce new avenues to analyze the historical contexts and undetermined futures of the Arab uprisings but also engender an improved understanding of social life in the region more broadly. It took a fruit and vegetable vendor to instigate a region-wide revolution and depose the big men – Ben Ali, Mubarak and Saleh. It took small cities to awaken the larger metropolis. [Continue reading…]

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