Population, poverty, and politics in Middle East cities

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Population, poverty, and politics in Middle East cities
Bonine, Michael E., 1942-
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University Press of Florida
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x, 361 p. : ill., maps ; 24 cm.


Subjects / Keywords:
Urbanization -- Middle East ( lcsh )
Urban poor -- Middle East ( lcsh )
Urban policy -- Middle East ( lcsh )
Urbanisation -- Congrès -- Moyen-Orient ( rvm )
Pauvres en milieu urbain -- Congrès -- Moyen-Orient ( rvm )
Politique urbaine -- Congrès -- Moyen-Orient ( rvm )
Stadt ( swd )
Sozialgeschichte ( swd )
Aufsatzsammlung ( swd )
Bevölkerungsentwicklung ( swd )
Armut ( swd )
Verstädterung ( swd )
Politics and government -- Middle East ( lcsh )
Social conditions -- Middle East ( lcsh )
Politique et gouvernement -- Congrès -- Moyen-Orient ( rvm )
Conditions sociales -- Congrès -- Moyen-Orient ( rvm )
Naher Osten ( swd )
Middle East -- Politics and government
Middle East -- Social conditions
Urban policy -- Middle East
Urban poor -- Middle East
Urbanization -- Middle East
bibliography ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )
conference publication ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references and index.
General Note:
A revision of papers most of which were presented at a conference held in March 1993 in Tucson, Arizona.
Statement of Responsibility:
edited by Michael E. Bonine.

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Population, Poverty, and Politics
in Middle East Cities

Population, Poverty,

and Politics in

Middle East Cities

Edited by
Michael E. Bonine

University Press of Florida
Gainesville Tallahassee Tampa Boca Raton
Pensacola Orlando Miami Jacksonville

Copyright 1997 by the Board of Regents of the State of Florida

Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper
All rights reserved

02 01 00 99 98 97 6 5 4 3 2 1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Population, poverty, and politics in Middle East Cities / [edited
by] Michael E. Bonine p. cm.
A revision of papers most of which were presented at a
conference held in March 1993 in Tucson, Arizona.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-8130-1474-3 (alk. paper)
1. Urbanization-Middle East. 2. Urban poor-Middle East.
3. Urban policy-Middle East. 4. Middle East-politics and
government. 5. Middle East-Social conditions. I. Bonine,
Michael E., 1942-
HT384.M628P66 1997 96-21377

Table 15-1 taken from Sustainable Cities: Urbanization and the
Environment in International Perspective, edited by Richard Stern,
Rodney White, and Joseph Whitney. Copyright 1992 by Westview
Press. Reprinted by permission of Westview Press.

The University Press of Florida is the scholarly publishing agency
for the State University System of Florida, comprised of Florida
A & M University, Florida Atlantic University, Florida Interna-
tional University, Florida State University, University of Central
Florida, University of Florida, University of North Florida,
University of South Florida, and University of West Florida.

University Press of Florida
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Gainesville, FL 32611


List of Illustrations vii
List of Tables viii
Preface ix

1. Population, Poverty, and Politics: Contemporary Middle East Cities
in Crisis 1
Michael E. Bonine

Part One. Municipal Government, Urban Planning, and
Conserving the Urban Past
2. Urbanization and Metropolitan Municipal Politics in Turkey 25
Metin Heper
3. Ruptures in the Evolution of the Middle Eastern City: Amman 46
Mohammad Al-Asad
4. Urban Conservation in the Old City of San'a 64
R. Brooks Jeffery

Part Two. Poverty and Marginalization in the Urban
Middle East
5. Responding to Middle Eastern Urban Poverty: The Informal
Economy in Tunis 85
Richard A. Lobban, Jr.
6. Devotion as Distinction, Piety as Power: Religious Revival and the
Transformation of Space in the Illegal Settlements of Tunis 113
Elizabeth Vasile
7. Muscat: Social Segregation and Comparative Poverty in the
Expanding Capital of an Oil State 141
Fred Scholz

Part Three. Health and Gender and the Urban Environment
8. The Crowded Metropolis: Health and Nutrition in Cairo 169
Osman M. Galal and Gail G. Harrison
9. Population, Poverty, and Gender Politics: Motherhood Pressures
and Marital Crises in the Lives of Poor Urban Egyptian Women 186
Marcia C. Inhorn
10. Gender and Health: Abortion in Urban Egypt 208
Sandra D. Lane

Part Four. Islam and Politics: War, Revolution, and Protest
in the Middle Eastern City
11. Urbanization and Political Instability in the Middle East 237
Kirk S. Bowman and Jerrold D. Green
12. Urbanization, Migration, and Politics of Protest in Iran 256
Farhad Kazemi and Lisa Reynolds Wolfe
13. Islam, Islamism, and Urbanization in Sudan: Contradictions and
Complementaries 285
John Obert Voll
14. The New Veiling and Urban Crisis: Symbolic Politics in Cairo 304
Arlene Elowe MacLeod

15. Are Cities in the Middle East Sustainable? 326
Michael E. Bonine

Contributors 343
Index 349


Introduction. Ankara, 1987 xi
Fig. 1-1. Major cities of the Middle East, 1994 8
Part One. Riyadh, 1994 23
Fig. 3-1. Central Amman and the Roman amphitheater, 1987 48
Fig. 4-1. San'a: the Old City and the western suburbs in the 1920s 68
Fig. 4-2. Tower house in the Old City 73
Part Two. Cairo, 1993 83
Fig. 5-1. Street vendor density in Tunis 95
Fig. 6-1. Unplanned or spontaneous settlements in Tunis, 1979 115
Fig. 6-2. The mosque in Mellassine (Friday service), 1990 129
Fig. 6-3. The evolution of spontaneous housing in Ettadhamen-
Douar Hicher, 1970-85 133
Fig. 7-1. Muscat about 1900 142
Fig. 7-2. Muscat, 1970 144
Fig. 7-3. Spatial expansion of the capital area of Oman 145
Fig. 7-4. Spontaneous settlement in the capital area
(Wadi Kabir in Ruwi, 1978) 146
Fig. 7-5. Development plans of the Greater Muscat area 148
Fig. 7-6. Muscat, 1982 149
Fig. 7-7. Functional areas of the Greater Muscat area 151
Fig. 7-8. Ruwi, modern center of the Omani capital area 153
Fig. 7-9. Models of social differentiation of the Omani
population of the capital area 156
Fig. 7-10. Spatial social differentiation of the capital area
population by income groups 158
Fig. 7-11. Wadi Adaj study area, 1978 and 1985 160
Part Three. Cairo, 1993 167
Part Four. San'a, 1980 235
Fig. 11-1. Hypothetical linked relationship between urbanization
and political instability 246
Fig. 12-1. Iranian cities with populations of 100,000 or more,
1986 264
Fig. 12-2. Urban war damage from the Iran-Iraq War 268
Fig. 12-3. Iraqi refugee flow: population in camps in Iran, 1991 269
Fig. 12-4. Refugee inflow to Iran and riot cities, 1991-92 277
Conclusion. Batikent, a satellite new town of Ankara, 1987 327


1-1. National and urban population data of the Middle East, 1994 4
1-2. Foreign labor force in the GCC nations, 1975 and 1990 7
5-1. An estimate of the nonagricultural informal sector in Tunisia,
1980 87
5-2. A typical dualist model of the informal sector 89
5-3. An alternative unitary model of the economy 90
5-4. A taxonomy of the Tunisian informal sector 93
10-1. Opinions of the Sunni schools of Islam on abortion 219
10-2. Use of contraception before pregnancy 223
10-3. Indigenous methods of abortion 224
11-1. Middle East basic indicators, 1965 and 1990 239
12-1. Urban and rural population in Iran, 1901-86 258
12-2. Iranian exiles in Turkey, 1987 270
15-1. Pressure points in cities 330


Cities in the Middle East are in crisis. With burgeoning urban popula-
tions that double every twelve to fifteen years, conditions of cities and
their residents continue to worsen, particularly in the large metropolises
and primate capitals. Pollution, poor sanitation, ill health, inadequate
water, sewage, and transportation systems, collapsing housing, slums
and shantytowns, and inadequate government responses are only some
of the problems they face. This collection of essays examines many of
these issues using the triad of population, poverty, and politics as its
framework. These themes encompass the essence of the urban crisis,
even though it has so many facets that a single volume cannot do justice
to the topic. However, the problems of cities and urbanites have been
ignored in the literature on the Middle East, and these essays will
contribute to an understanding of the crisis as well as provide specific
case studies and examples.
The chapters are arranged in four major sections, in addition to
introductory and concluding essays. The introductory overview places
the urbanization of the Middle East in the perspective of urbanization
in the developing world, as well as previewing subsequent chapters in
terms of the principal themes of the book. The first group of essays
concerns aspects of municipal government and urban planning, includ-
ing the problems of conserving an urban past as well as historic city
centers. The second set focuses on poverty and marginalization of the
population, although this significant theme is applicable in some ways
to most of the chapters. The third section looks at health and gender in
the urban environment, specifically nutrition, motherhood pressures,
and abortion. The last section analyzes the responses to the problems of


x Preface

the city and how protests and politics become part of the urban envi-
ronment. The concluding essay reviews the principal urban problems
and discusses the sustainability of the cities of the Middle East, provid-
ing suggestions toward that goal.
The Middle East is defined broadly here, from Morocco to Afghani-
stan, so that it includes not only the Arab World but also much of the
Persian and Turkish realm as well. Although some chapters address the
entire region (variously defined for statistical purposes), the case studies
focus on cities in Tunisia, Turkey, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Jordan, Oman,
and, especially, Egypt. The multidisciplinary approach is an expression
of the authors' various fields of expertise, which include geography,
political science, architecture, art and architectural history, anthropol-
ogy (including medical anthropology), nutrition and health sciences,
and history.
Most chapters were originally presented as papers at an international
symposium on Middle East Cities in Crisis in March 1993 in Tucson,
Arizona. All of the papers have been revised, benefiting from discus-
sions at the conference as well as comments by various individuals on
specific papers. To complement the two chapters on gender and health
issues, an essay was later commissioned from Osman Galal and Gail
Harrison to focus specifically on nutrition and health.
Major financial support for the symposium was provided by the fol-
lowing units at the University of Arizona: Center for Middle Eastern
Studies, Southwest Institute for Research on Women, Dean of Social
and Behavioral Sciences, Office of the Vice-President for Research, Of-
fice of International Programs, the national headquarters of the Middle
East Studies Association, Department of Anthropology, Environmental
Research Laboratory, Office of Arid Lands Studies, Bureau of Applied
Research in Anthropology, Interdisciplinary Graduate Programs, De-
partment of Near Eastern Studies, Program in Planning, Department of
Political Science, Department of Geography, and Udall Center for Studies
in Public Policy. The Provost's Author Support Fund has provided
funds for preparation of the index. We are grateful to all of these units
for their generous support, and we thank Mark Lowder, Laurie Beans,
and Beth Kangas of the staff of the Center for Middle East Studies for
their help.
Michael E. Bonine


.a~ '"~ 'jas~g~ ~~- fc~ ~
c "a ": x.E~r~ I,
~gk~ "~-
~ :r;~~
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~i[ 8~ "P' p~ g~ a8~8
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Ankara. 1987

Chapter /

Population, Poverty, and Politics
Contemporary Middle East Cities in Crisis

Michael E. Bonine

The contemporary Middle East is predominantly an urban society, and
it becomes more and more urbanized every year. Increasing births,
decreasing deaths (with better health conditions and medical services),
and rural-to-urban migration fuel the relentless growth of cities. Urban
areas increase their physical space and population size by engulfing
surrounding rural settlements, while some villages simply increase in
population and then are reclassified as a town or city. All of these factors
help create that statistical number and process called urbanization. The
final result is a population living in larger and larger settlements.
The Middle East, in fact, provides an excellent case study of the
process of urbanization but one in which the consequences of growth
and development are having major negative impacts. The rapid urban-
ization and burgeoning city populations, similar to most of the Third
World, have led to problems and to the decline of quality of urban life.
There are too many people, insufficient jobs, inadequate infrastruc-
tures, shortages of basic services, deficient nutrition, poor health, and a
deterioration of the physical environment. Middle East cities are in
crisis. Yet an understanding of the problems of the city and urban
society is critical for assessing the future of the Middle East and its
Many of the issues and problems of the city are characterized by the
principal themes of population, poverty, and politics. This triad is inter-
related, for poverty is often linked with population growth (as well as
with many other specific causes of poverty) while local and even state

2 Michael E. Bonine

politics are often responding to the conditions, needs, and problems of
the city and the deteriorating quality of urban life. Opposition to the
national government by numerous groups, including Islamic funda-
mentalists, often takes place in the greater anonymity of the urban
environment. The problems facing the cities of the contemporary Middle
East are extensive and complex, and these chapters provide insights into
many of those issues, enabling the reader to understand better not only
the urban environment and how the city dwellers cope with their situa-
tion and surroundings but also how they are affecting the city itself.
One reason that the Middle East is a significant region for studying
rapid urbanization and change is that it has a long tradition of urbanism
and city life. Unlike the United States or sub-Saharan Africa, where the
present urban culture is only several hundred years old, cities have been
part of-and even dominant in-this region for millennia. An extensive
premodern urban physical structure and society were present in the
Middle East, and the transformations of this traditional structure and
way of life have led to specific forms and patterns. Understanding these
changes can help us understand the problems and prospects for much
of the developing world-as well as even the developed world.

Urbanization in the Third World and the Middle East
The world is rapidly becoming urbanized. By the end of this century
almost half of humanity will live in cities, increasing from only 3 percent
in 1800 and 15 percent in 1900. The world's population has swelled
from 1.6 billion at the beginning of the twentieth century to 5.6 billion
in 1994, the major part of that growth taking place in cities. The
developed world of Western Europe, North America, and Japan is al-
ready predominantly urban. The majority of the world's population
growth, however, has occurred since mid-century, and the developing
world (or lesser developed world or Third World) has seen much faster
rates of increase in population growth and urbanization than the devel-
oped world. In 1950 about 285 million (16 percent) of the Third
World's population resided in cities; by 1990 this number had grown to
1.5 billion, representing 37 percent of the people of the Third World.
At present rates the population of the developing world will double
every thirty-six years-although its urban population, growing at 4.1
percent annually (three times faster than the rural increase), will double
every twelve to fifteen years! By the year 2025 it is estimated that the

Population, Poverty, and Politics 3

urbanites of the developing world will reach 4.4 billion, and four out of
every five urban dwellers in the world will be from such countries.'
Much of the developing world's urban population is also living in
larger and larger places, often in primate cities or even megacities (10
million or more persons). In 1950 there were thirty-one cities of 1
million persons or more in the Third World; by 1990 there were 180
such cities with a total of 501 million persons. It is estimated that there
will be more than 300 such cities by the turn of the century.2
As part of the Third World, the Middle East certainly conforms to
the population trends and patterns I have mentioned. If we consider
the region as encompassing the Arab world (in Southwest Asia and
North Africa) plus Israel, Cyprus, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Iran, then
in 1994 there were 401 million persons in these twenty-six countries
plus Gaza and the West Bank (table 1-1).3 Slightly more than half (203
million, or 51 percent) lived in cities-double the urban percentage in
1950.4 In 1994, seventeen of twenty-six nations were urbanized (with
at least 50 percent of their populations concentrated in urban areas).
The small Gulf states of Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and United Arab Emir-
ates, whose cities hold between 81 and 96 percent of their total popula-
tions, are some of the most urbanized states in the world (as are Leba-
non and Israel, with 86 and 90 percent of their populations urbanized,
respectively). Of the three most populous nations, Turkey and Iran are
61 and 57 percent urbanized, respectively, and Egypt, 45 percent ur-
banized in 1994, soon will become predominantly urban.5 In fact, by
the year 2000 only Afghanistan, Yemen, Oman, Sudan, and Somalia
will remain mostly rural.
Table 1-1 also shows a number of demographic patterns and trends
that should be emphasized. Comparisons (in table 1-1) with several
other major world regions, nations, and "more developed" and "less
developed" countries place the Middle East in proper demographic
perspective. What becomes apparent is that the Middle East has one of
the most rapidly growing populations of the world (with only some of
sub-Saharan Africa being comparable). Whereas the developing world
is increasing annually at 1.9 percent (2.2 percent without China), the
rates in the Middle East are almost always higher: thirteen states or
areas have rates of 3.0 or more. Iran, with a huge population already,
will double in nineteen years at its current 3.6 percent rate. Iraq and
Syria at 3.7 percent, Oman at 4.9 percent, and Gaza at 5.0 percent
(which doubles in fourteen years) have some of the highest growth

Table 1-1. National and urban population data of the Middle East, 1994a

Country/area Total Natural Doublin

(ranked by
1994 pop.)

Saudi Arabia
West Bank

World 5,607.0 1.6
More developed 1,164.0 0.3
Less developed 4,443.0 1.9
U.S.A. 260.8 0.7
Japan 125.0 0.3
W. Europe 180.0 0.1
E. Africa 221.0 3.1
S. America 331.0 1.9

a. 1994 mid-year estimates.


g Total Birth rate Death rate
fertility per/1,000 per/1,000

pop. increase time
(mil.) (annual %) (yrs.)

61.8 2.2 32
61.2 3.6 19
58.9 2.3 31
28.6 2.3 30
28.2 3.1 22
27.9 2.5 28
19.9 3.7 19
18.0 3.2 22
17.8 2.8 25
14.0 3.7 19
12.9 3.4 20
9.8 3.2 22
8.7 1.9 36
5.4 1.5 47
5.1 3.4 21
4.2 3.3 21
3.6 2.0 34
3.5 2.6 27
2.3 2.9 24
1.9 4.9 14
1.7 1.9 36
1.4 4.0 17
1.3 3.3 21
0.7 1.1 62
0.7 5.0 14
0.6 2.4 29
0.6 3.0 23
0.5 1.0 67






b. Average number of children born to a woman during her lifetime.
Sources: Population Reference Bureau, 1994 World Population Data Sheet (Washington: Popula-
tion Reference Bureau, 1994); Civil Society in the Middle East Project, "Composite Information
Chart on the Middle East, 1993."



Table 1-1.-continued

% population Urban pop. % urban Urban Projected 1992
under age 15 (mil.) growth rate, total pop., per capital
1960-91 2010 GNP (U.S.$)




37.70 61
34.88 57
26.51 45
13.44 47
6.49 23
13.95 50
13.93 70
14.22 79
3.20 18
7.14 51
4.00 31
2.35 24
5.13 59
4.86 90
3.88 76
2.94 70
3.10 86

.90 39
.23 12
1.26 83

1.25 96
.44 62

.49 81
.46 77
.46 91
203.21 51

2411.10 43
861.36 74
1,555.05 35
195.60 75
96.25 77
145.80 81
44.20 20
233.25 75


4.9 81.3
5.0 100.4
3.1 80.7
4.3 38.1
5.4 43.0
4.7 38.2
5.2 34.5
7.6 30.5
4.5 24.2
5.8 22.1
5.8 15.9
3.6 11.1
2.1 6.9
8.1 8.9
4.5 6.6
3.8 5.0
9.8 3.5
7.5 3.4
12.5 2.9
7.9 2.3
4.1 0.8
7.3 0.9
8.0 0.6












6 Michael E. Bonine

rates in the world (and the urban rates are even higher). The extremely
high fertility rate (6.6 children on average born to women in Iran, 7.0
in Iraq, 7.6 in Yemen, 6.4 in Libya, 6.9 in Oman) and the birth rate per
1,000 (49 in Afghanistan, 56 in Gaza) also confirm that the Middle
East's population is growing rapidly. A few states, such as Israel and
Cyprus, have considerably lower rates that approach at least the world
averages (but are still distant from the more developed world averages).
The proportion of the population under age fifteen is a telling num-
ber for the Middle East. Whereas one-third of the world's population
and one-fifth of the more developed world's population are under fif-
teen, in seventeen Middle East states or areas 40 percent or more of the
population is under fifteen, including over half of the population in
Yemen, West Bank, and Gaza. This young population will continue to
reach maturity, marry, and have children-and the Middle East's popu-
lation will continue to increase. Most demographers, however, predict
that the total fertility rate of the Middle East should decrease consider-
ably over the next decades-for instance, from an average of 5.2 chil-
dren in 1990 to 4.3 in 2000, 3.6 in 2010, and 2.9 in 2025.6
Urban growth rates in individual nations of the Middle East are
always greater than their national population growth averages, with
urban areas of many countries averaging over 4.0 percent and some-
times even over 5.0 percent annual growth rates (see table 1-1, show-
ing the 1960-91 urban growth rates). This difference in urban and
national rates reflects especially the effects of internal rural-urban mi-
gration and the fact that most foreign migrants end up in the cities. In
fact, the cities of the oil-rich states have even more extreme rates of
annual growth, with averages of 7.5 percent for Oman, 7.9 for Kuwait,
8.1 for Libya, 7.6 for Saudi Arabia, and even 12.5 for the United Arab
Emirates. Although internal migration and high birth rates contribute
to these percentages, it is predominantly the influx of foreign laborers
that has fueled the growth of these oil-rich and people-poor nations.
For instance, the number of foreign workers increased fivefold in the six
Gulf Cooperation Council states from 1975 to 1990 (from 1.1 million
to 5.2 million; see table 1-2). It is the foreigners' percentage of the
workforce that is the more telling number, ranging in 1990 from 51
percent in Bahrain to 92 percent in Qatar and averaging 68 percent for
all six countries (table 1-2). Whereas the earlier migrant workers had
been principally Arabs, the majority for the region are now "Asians,"
especially from South Asia.

Population, Poverty, and Politics 7

Table 1-2. Foreign labor force in GCC nations, 1975 and 1990

Foreign labor Foreigners as percent
force (1,000s) of total labor force

Country 1975 1990 1975 1990

Bahrain 39 132 46 51
Kuwait 218 731 70 86
Oman 103 442 54 70
Qatar 57 230 83 92
Saudi Arabia 475 2,878 32 60
UAE 234 805 84 89
Total 1,125 5,218 47 68
Source: Abdel R. Omran and Farzaneh Roudi, "The Middle East Population Puzzle,"
Population Bulletin 48, no. 1 (July 1993), 24.

The relatively high degree of urbanization in the Middle East is
reflected also by the large number of cities, as well as the sizes of many
of these settlements. There are at least forty-nine cities in the Middle
East with a population of 500,000 or more and twenty-nine cities with
1 million or more (including metropolitan areas) (see fig. 1-1). Many
of these larger cities are in fact primate cities, which is the case when
one specific city is much larger than any of the other settlements within
a particular country. Cairo, the largest city in the Middle East (and all of
Africa for that matter) with estimates from 12 to 15 million people for
the metropolitan area, is at least four times larger than Alexandria, the
second-largest Egyptian city.7 Tehran, the primate city of Iran, has a
population of 10-12 million (and some say considerably more); Istanbul,
the metropolis on two continents, has 8-10 million; and Baghdad, the
primate city of Iraq, has 4.5 million. Besides Alexandria and Baghdad,
other cities with 2.5 to 5 million inhabitants include Casablanca, Algiers,
Izmir, and Ankara.
The rapid urbanization of the Middle East has created a condition
in most cities that is seen as a problem of "overpopulation" and
"overurbanization."' It is, in fact, the great absolute increase in popula-
tion of both cities and nations that is part of most of the problems of
the cities (as throughout the globe). Certainly, the quality of life in the



S> 10 Million

* 5 Million < 10 Million

* 2.5 Million < 5 Million

* 1 Million < 2.5 Million

* 500,000 < 1 Million

Fig. 1-1. Major cities of the Middle East, 1994. City sizes include metropolitan area populations. Compiled by the

author from various sources.

Population, Poverty, and Politics 9

urban environment, particularly one perceived to be declining by its
inhabitants, is of great concern to the leaders of these nations. The
decline of the cities even becomes a threat to the stability of govern-
A number of critical issues are indeed affecting the cities of the
Middle East. Some of these are common to all large (and growing)
cities, especially Third World cities; others are more specifically related
to the Middle East, or at least have a particularly Middle Eastern slant.
Most problems are interrelated, and collectively they have created a
crisis in the cities of the contemporary Middle East.

Municipal Government, Urban Planning, and Conserving
the Urban Past

The administration of cities, particularly those that are continuously
expanding and growing, is always a difficult task. Rapid physical expan-
sion puts a major strain on any municipality's ability to provide electric-
ity, water, sewage systems, and public transport. In fact, the lack of
funds and the use of facilities and equipment that often are not only
outdated but also poorly maintained mean that the city cannot even
provide proper services for the existing urban areas much less to newly
emerging neighborhoods. Power blackouts are common in many cities
of the region, and some urban areas have regularly scheduled outages.
Water shortages occur. In the early 1990s, for instance, drought condi-
tions around Istanbul had created such water deficiencies that the ma-
jority of its inhabitants were without water for most of each day, and in
poorer districts there was no public water supply for many days and
even weeks.
Modern municipalities in the Middle East generally have inadequate
authority and funds to administer their cities properly, or to plan and
direct rational future growth. Part of the problem is conflict between
local-level power and the provincial or national authority, a problem
certainly not unique to the Middle East. Most nation-states in the
region are centrally controlled, and weak municipal authority is part of
the wider centralized political system. In chapter 2, Metin Heper dis-
cusses the relationship between municipalities and national authority in
Turkey from late Ottoman times until the present. Massive urbaniza-
tion took place in Turkey following World War II, and its overwhelmed

10 Michael E. Bonine

municipalities were unable to cope with population growth and its
attendant problems.
The revenues of the Turkish municipalities were insufficient, and by
the 1970s their problems had reached crisis proportions. The plight of
some cities could be exacerbated if their mayors happened to represent
political parties different from that controlling the central government.
Then, by the mid-1980s, municipalities had adequate financial resources
for the first time, and major strides were made in improving services for
cities. But this progress slowed somewhat in 1989, when most of the
mayors' seats of both the district and metropolitan levels were captured
by the Social Democratic Populist Party, leading again to major squabbles
between the municipalities and the national Motherland Party govern-
ment. Heper's analysis shows that even when there were (almost, fi-
nally) sufficient resources for the cities, politics could quickly threaten
the gains.
Another great issue affecting Middle Eastern cities is the conflict
between change and tradition. Urban planning in the Middle East has
been predominantly based on Western concepts of design and plan-
ning, where British or American planners and architects especially have
helped change existing areas as well as design new neighborhoods and
cities. Mohammad Al-Asad shows in chapter 3 how rapid development
and destruction of the old has led to the loss of an urban identity in
Amman, Jordan. A town of only 5,000 in 1920, the metropolitan area
now has over 1 million persons. Particularly within the last several
decades, land speculation and the lack of any coherent urban policies
have led to unchecked growth and urban sprawl, resulting in the loss of
thousands of acres of arable land and forests. Old buildings have been
razed, and avenues cut through previously coherent neighborhoods
have destroyed preexisting urban fabrics. The quality of life also has
been lessened by the dominance of the automobile.
So much of Amman has been destroyed, and so much is new (includ-
ing much of the population), that little visual urban memory remains;
the city's past has basically been erased. Al-Asad emphasizes that there
must be public debate and an increased sense of civic responsibility
before effective planning can take place in Amman. He stresses that
planners and government administrators in all cities of the Middle East
must preserve urban memories and help create a sense of place.
Although the problem of Amman is to preserve something of the
past, the problem is even greater in those cities that actually have major

Population, Poverty, and Politics 11

surviving old cities. Cairo, Aleppo, Fez, Istanbul, and other cities in the
Middle East have attempted to conserve major historic areas, a difficult
task in the face of technological changes-and speculators. One of the
greatest old cities left in the Middle East is San'a, a subject addressed by
R. Brooks Jeffery in chapter 4. He discusses some of the goals and
problems of conservation, emphasizing that conserving on an urban
scale (in contrast to preserving specific monuments) requires a greater
understanding of the history and society of a city.
Jeffery gives a brief history of San'a, putting the Yemeni capital in its
proper historical context. He analyzes the traditional urban elements of
the Old City, including the importance of subterranean water channels
(ghayls) and the verticality of the tower houses characteristic of San'a
(and the rest of Yemen). A significant conservation program began in
San'a in 1984, and at this time the preservation of the Old City became
part of a major UNESCO-sponsored project. Jeffery stresses the need
to redefine the boundaries of the historic area in order to conserve
important historic (and different) architecture outside the Old City
walls. Finally, he notes that conservation can be seen as part of a foreign
imposition of development and urges that the ethical issues of conserva-
tion be understood by both the foreign "donors" and the Yemenis.

Poverty and Marginalization in the Urban Middle East
Most problems of the cities of the Middle East (and of the Third World
in general) are in some way manifestations of poverty.9 Although over-
population is one of the underlying causes, it is specifically poor eco-
nomic conditions that result in the marginalization of a substantial part,
if not a majority, of an urban population. Without sufficient incomes,
people cannot afford housing, medical care, or the amenities that may
have attracted them (or their forebears) to the city in the first place.
Illegal shantytowns, slums, malnutrition, health problems, and many
other difficulties and hardships are the consequences of the impover-
ished condition of urbanites, and such a marginalized population repre-
sents vast numbers and substantial percentages of almost every Middle
Eastern city.
Richard A. Lobban, Jr., provides fresh insights into the informal
economic sector (sometimes known as the nonstructured economy,
invisible economy, or spontaneous economy) with a case study of Tunis
in chapter 5. He notes the high rates of unemployment in Tunisia and

12 Michael E. Bonine

its large informal sector. His study is based upon a 1990 field survey,
which included 3,547 individuals in the informal sector, although these
were limited to unlicensed street merchants with impermanent facilities
occupying public space. His study emphasizes how the informal sector
is an adaptation or survival mechanism for the urban poor.
Overpopulation and poverty manifest themselves most dramatically
and visibly in the housing conditions of the cities in the Middle East.
Those unable to afford regular housing, or to purchase undeveloped
land, congregate in illegal or squatter settlements (shantytowns), espe-
cially around the major metropolises. The extensive bidonvilles of Casa-
blanca, gourbivilles of Tunis, and gecekondu of Ankara and Istan-
bul are home to hundreds of thousands and even millions of poor
Elizabeth Vasile focuses in chapter 6 on several of the illegal
shantytowns of Tunis. She documents the growth of gourbivilles around
this capital area, showing how the first illegal, "spontaneous" settle-
ments emerged in the 1930s as temporary camps for the nomads and
seminomads seeking refuge in Tunis during periods of famine. She
examines what happened to the shantytowns beginning in the 1960s,
when there was a move away from a centrally planned, state capitalist
economy to extroversion and privatization. She notes that there was
then a distinctive qualitative difference between the new neighborhoods
and the older gourbivilles. They were no longer rural houses but decid-
edly urban in appearance, reflecting a marginal urbanity rather than a
displaced rurality. This change in appearance also represented real shifts
in the identity of the occupants. Now these included significant num-
bers of middle-level administrative workers and other regularly em-
ployed persons, and the income range of residents was much wider.
Hence, by the 1980s inhabitants of illegal neighborhoods were often
less marginal to urban society than their predecessors had been.
Poverty is not usually associated with the oil-rich states of the Ara-
bian Peninsula, although the condition of the vast numbers of foreign
workers is often problematic. In chapter 7, Fred Scholz examines the
impact of massive growth in the last several decades on Omani society.
He discusses the historical growth of the city of Muscat, documenting
the extensive planning and rapid physical expansion of the capital area,
whose population mushroomed from 5,000-6,000 in 1970 to 226,000
in 1980 and then doubled to an estimated 500,000 in 1990. After he
examines in detail the specific areas of expansion, his main focus be-

Population, Poverty, and Politics 13

comes the social changes and the social segregation of the capital
Oman has been transformed in one generation (or less) from a basi-
cally tribal society to one in which economics and other values influence
social standing and the location of residence. Economic independence
of individual families has taken place, and the separation-segregation-
of the population by materialistic criteria has begun. Residence has
become so determined by income categories that both Omanis and
non-Omanis may be living together. And related to these neighbor-
hoods, there is developing a vertical, classlike segregation of society.
Scholz analyzes in detail the marginalization of the lower-income resi-
dential areas. He discusses the example of Wadi Adaj, a lower-class
neighborhood about six kilometers from Muscat, based on social sur-
veys he carried out in 1978 and 1985. He concludes that these resi-
dents have not yet reached "absolute poverty" (as have many of the
urban poor of Egypt and Tunis, for instance),'0 but they are in a condi-
tion of "comparative poverty" in relation to the majority of the Omani
population. He stresses that this is an unstable social and economic
situation, one with increasing differences. Further, in an economy that
is oil-based and dependent upon international forces, a sudden change
for the worse could quickly transform comparative poverty into abso-
lute poverty. As the "triggering mechanism" for dissension and riots
(see below and the chapter by Bowman and Green), a critical political
situation could suddenly turn explosive, creating major socioeconomic
problems as well as jeopardizing the existence of the state itself.

Health and Gender and the Urban Environment
Whereas in developed Western cities a growing environmental ethic
and new policies and laws attempt to increase the quality of life by
promoting recycling, water conservation, and measures against pollu-
tion, this frame of mind is only beginning to be developed in the urban
Middle East." For instance, air pollution is considerably greater in
many cities than recommended international standards, the result of
unregulated burning of rubbish and, in particular, the masses of auto-
mobiles, trucks, and buses that choke streets and avenues. Vibrations
from heavy traffic also damage older buildings, many of which repre-
sent the cultural heritage of these cities. Open sewers are common, and
mounds of garbage may be piled in streets and open lots.

14 Michael E. Bonine

Water supplies are often contaminated or contribute to problems in
other ways. In Cairo, for instance, leaking water pipes and sewer lines
contribute to a rising groundwater table, which then causes, especially
the salts, the deterioration of buildings and monuments. Similarly, in
San'a a new pipe system brings water into the Old City, but there is no
system to drain excess water. Damage to the masonry walls and founda-
tions of the seven- and eight-story tower houses has occurred from the
resulting dampness.
Although urban medical facilities and services are almost always su-
perior to those in the countryside, there are still major and often severe
health problems in the urban areas of the Middle East. Poverty again
plays a major role, for not everyone has equal access to doctors and
adequate medical treatments. The environmental conditions of shanty-
towns and slums-open sewers (or broken and leaking sewer lines), lack
of piped water, and prevalence of surface garbage-contribute to the
spread of communicable diseases. Meager incomes and often large fami-
lies mean inadequate food budgets, resulting in nutritional deficiencies
and even malnutrition.
In chapter 8, Osman M. Galal and Gail G. Harrison examine many
of these issues in the context of Cairo and urban Egypt, although their
observations and concerns apply not just to most of the Middle East
but also to much of the developing world. They discuss the impact of
urbanization, emphasizing that living in the city has both positive and
negative consequences-and that even though data generally show bet-
ter health and nutritional status in urban areas, aggregated data often
mask critical health problems among the urban poor, particularly among
high-risk groups such as the homeless. In the slums and shantytowns
inhabitants may be in poorer health than even the population of the
rural areas.
Galal and Harrison examine the extensive growth and dominance of
Cairo, emphasizing the problems in housing and sanitation that have
developed. Overcrowded and dilapidated housing creating sanitary haz-
ards, unsafe and insufficient water, and inadequate sewerage result in
diminished health conditions. Using their own study in a crowded
neighborhood of Giza (part of the metropolitan area of Cairo), they
show that children's health and infant growth rates are affected by these
conditions. They focus in detail on the problems of malnutrition among
children. They point out the problems of food insecurity for the poor-
est urban families and how the inability to secure a consistent supply of

Population, Poverty, and Politics 15

food of reasonable nutritional value affects Egypt's urban population
much more than inhabitants of rural areas.
Finally, they focus on the largely unstudied effects of lead contami-
nation on the population of Cairo and Egypt. This environmental pol-
lutant is a long-term hazard to health, for lead levels continue to accu-
mulate in the body over a lifetime. This toxin can come from lead-based
solder used in auto body and radiator manufacture and repair as well as
from ingested chips and dust from lead paint, which is still used in
Egypt. However, lead in urban Egypt comes particularly from the com-
bustion of leaded gasoline by motor vehicles. With no control of emis-
sions, no attempt to promote unleaded gas, and increasing numbers of
vehicles, the fumes-and lead-spread. In conclusion, Galal and Harrison
stress that health challenges in the city are enormous, and that, in
particular, the health problems of the urban poor must receive increas-
ing priority.
The poverty that affects the urban poor is particularly felt by women,
whose health and psyches are closely tied to their roles as wives and
mothers in the Islamic Middle East. Hence, marital relations, childbear-
ing, and other family matters are central to their lives. Marcia C. Inhorn
focuses in chapter 9 on the reproductive struggles of impoverished
married women in urban Egypt. She begins with the problems of over-
population in Egypt and the role of family planning. She then examines
the reproductive dilemmas of infertility-or excessive fertility-for poor
Egyptian urban women. The author analyzes these issues in detail by
means of case studies of almost two hundred women in Alexandria.
Inhorn stresses the "reproductive double bind" of Egyptian women,
who may be blamed, stigmatized, and even divorced if they do not bear
children-and who may similarly be punished for having too many. The
poverty of the city exacerbates these problems, creating even greater
stresses for the urban poor of Egypt.
The second chapter on women focuses on another important topic
related to motherhood and health: the methods, circumstances, and
safety of abortion. Sandra D. Lane addresses this controversial and
emotional subject in chapter 10, examining societal factors that bear on
the issue and presenting a detailed study of eighteen women. She dis-
cusses the magnitude of abortion-related mortality, emphasizing that a
considerable number of deaths are caused by unsafe induced abortions
with figures that are certainly higher than the official statistics. What
also becomes apparent is that women are willing to take great risks in

16 Michael E. Bonine

order to have an induced abortion. Because of the legal prohibition
against abortion, based on a 1937 law derived from the Napoleonic
Code, and the fact that poorer women generally cannot afford the price
of an illegal private abortion, they have used various-often danger-
ous-indigenous methods. Yet women continue to induce abortions
despite the legal and the health hazards entailed; and it is the poor
women who cannot afford safe abortions and often risk their health-or
may even pay with their lives.

Islam and Politics: War, Revolution, and Protest in the
Middle Eastern City

Violence, calamity, and fear have become part of the life of many urban-
ites in the Middle East in recent decades. Wars between nations, civil
wars, revolutions, riots, and protests have all complicated life in the
cities and compounded already pressing urban problems. Depending
on the specific country, numbers ranging from dozens to hundreds of
thousands of persons have died as the result of violent conflicts. Even
more have been injured, and millions have become displaced persons,
either internally or as official international refugees. In fact, there are
about 11 million refugees in the Middle East, more than any other
region in the world (a figure that does not include the millions dis-
placed within countries).12 Certainly the major catastrophes affect both
rural and urban populations, but it is often the cities that feel the major
impact of these hostilities.
The struggle for power and control of governments is one of the
most prominent issues-and conflicts-facing the Middle East today.
Headed by monarchies and dictatorships, and only a few democracies,
the region's political systems are anachronistic compared to those in
much of the world; and the people want a greater voice in their own
destinies. In most cases opposition to the government is led by specific
groups, especially within cities and particularly in the national capitals.
Political ideologies, such as communism or Arab socialism, may provide
the rationale for opposition. Islamic-and more recently what have
been termed Islamic fundamentalist-groups have led the opposition
against specific governments (see below). Most protests against the
government-including its policies, police, and even military-are cen-
tered in urban areas.
In chapter 11, Kirk S. Bowman and Jerrold D. Green look at why

Population, Poverty, and Politics 17

such dissension and protests may cause riots and political violence in the
cities. Examining a number of factors of urbanization, they emphasize
that it is not simply urban growth and huge population increases that
cause political unrest. Rather, specific grievances or sharp declines in
the status quo (food prices or availability of employment opportunities
in particular) are more significant. Bowman and Green focus on factors
that may cause higher levels of "relative deprivation." Finally, they
suggest what factors will lead either to amelioration of problems, sim-
mering (no improvement but no violence), or the outbreak of political
The 1978-79 Iranian Revolution is certainly one of the major in-
stances of political violence and revolution of this century, and Farhad
Kazemi and Lisa Reynolds Wolfe provide a comprehensive analysis of
the urban areas of Iran in chapter 12, concentrating on both revolu-
tionary and postrevolutionary developments. In a major section of their
chapter, they examine the impact of migration on Tehran and note that
by the time of the revolution there were over 1 million poor migrants in
the capital. Many were squatters whose conditions had been deteriorat-
ing since the mid-1970s, and when the government began to enforce a
new policy of eradicating their settlements they were left homeless and
bitter. Along with other poor urbanites of South Tehran, the migrants
joined the popular movements and street demonstrations mobilized by
the clergy against the shah that eventually led to the fall of the Pahlavi
After 1979 a number of policies and events have had a considerable
effect on Iranian cities. Migration continued unabated, fueled initially
by the new government's promises of land and housing in the cities. An
extremely high rate of natural population growth also spurred the ur-
ban expansion. Several million Afghan refugees and the dislocation of
2.5 million Iranians as a result of the Iran-Iraq War exacerbated condi-
tions in the cities. Kazemi and Wolfe discuss the urban riots and pro-
tests in many Iranian cities in the early 1990s, concluding that the
government has clearly lost the support of its urban poor, who repre-
sent a potentially serious problem for the Iranian regime.

Islamic Fundamentalism and the City'3
The Iranian Revolution of 1978-79 was a stunning shock to the West,
escalating the fear and misunderstanding of Islam and Muslims that

18 Michael E. Bonine

already existed, particularly in the media and among U.S. government
policy makers. It is nevertheless true that the "Islamic opposition" is
becoming one of the most potent ideological forces in the Middle East
today. And the principal arena for its expression is the city. Islam has
provided the vehicle for major segments of society to confront and defy
a government that is not addressing their needs-their inadequate hous-
ing, lack of employment, unsanitary environment, and the many other
conditions that have plagued the urban areas in particular. The rhetoric
of politicized Islam has blamed a secular government whose support
and values are seen as coming from the West. The fact that Islamic
groups do offer needed aid attracts substantial support from the popu-
Although John Obert Voll provides a specific case study of Sudan in
chapter 13, he also offers valuable insights into the relationships of
religion and modernity as well as Islamism and urbanization. He points
out that despite the recognition of the weaknesses of the old modern-
ization theory, many people still equate modern cities with secular cities
and believe that industrialization and urbanization create societies that
are secular and civil rather than theocentric or religious. He notes that
the rapid rise of Islamic fundamentalism was not expected because the
resurgence of religion ran counter to what had become a standard
understanding of the relationship between secularization and modern-
Even before the twentieth century popular Islam was active in the
rural areas of Sudan, while reformers, Islamic brotherhoods, and the
Mahdist movement were creating urban centers around their schools
and mosques. In the twentieth century major Muslim organizations
continued to increase and strengthen in the cities. Secular parties devel-
oped in the urban areas after independence, and then some of the older
urban Islamic organizations began to receive increasing support from
rural areas. However, by the 1960s fundamentalistic Islamic move-
ments began to emerge and gain strength in Khartoum and other cities,
where they were particularly attractive to educated Sudanese. Thus Voll
provides evidence for a strong historical link between Islam and urban-
ization in Sudan, one that helped create towns in the first place and
then made them into principal centers for the emergence of Islamic
fundamentalism during the decades since the sixties.
Another expression of the Islamic resurgence has been an increase in
the wearing of the veil, or hijab, by women. Arlene Elowe MacLeod
analyzes the complexities of motive and consequence for lower-middle-

Population, Poverty, and Politics 19

class Cairene women donning the higab (Egyptian Arabic for hijab) in
chapter 14. She emphasizes that wearing the veil is not just revealingg"
but a creative way of providing Islamic dress for women caught in a
changing society. A changed urban economy has required that, in order
for a family to meet even its basic needs, the current generation of
women must work for wages outside of the home. Yet traditional val-
ues, including Islamic views, maintain that the woman's place is at
home taking care of her family. Women thus find themselves in a con-
flict between the workplace (and their desire for an increased standard
of living) and the home (with their expected role as wife and mother).
Veiling by lower-middle-class women then becomes a way of attempt-
ing to survive with respect in the new socioeconomic conditions of
MacLeod notes, however, that whereas the adoption of Islamic dress
was largely a personal decision by individual women in the past, the rise
of Islamic fundamentalist rhetoric in the 1990s is altering the situation.
Muslim clergymen are calling for Islamic dress, and husbands are begin-
ning to insist on their wives' donning the veil. Pressures to stay at home
are also increasing, despite inadequate family incomes. Life gets more
and more complicated and difficult for the typical lower-middle-class
(and poor) woman of Cairo.

Urbanization and city growth in the Middle East will continue un-
abated. Pressures for housing, jobs, water, and sewers-and a voice-in
the cities will intensify. In the concluding chapter, Michael E. Bonine
asks, "Are cities in the Middle East sustainable?" He examines the idea
of sustainability and discusses various "pressure points" related to the
quality of life in the urban environment. He emphasizes that there must
be both a top-down and a bottom-up approach to improve (or prevent
further decline in) the cities. Central governments must begin to pro-
vide major resources for their cities, and local populaces must mobilize
to make their urban environments livable. Otherwise, the crisis of the
cities will only deepen, and any government in the Middle East will find
it more and more difficult to survive.

1. John D. Kasarda and Allan M. Parnell, "Introduction: Third World De-
velopment Issues," in Third World Cities: Problems and Prospects, ed. John D.

20 Michael E. Bonine

Kasarda and Allan M. Parnell (Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage Publications,
1993), 9.
2. Ibid., 10; Sally E. Findley, "The Third World City: Development Policy
and Issues," in Kasarda and Parnell, Third World Cities, 6.
3. This work uses the term Middle East to encompass both Southwest Asia
and North Africa, as well as some of "Arab" Islamic East Africa, a wider defini-
tion of the region than usual but one that is becoming more common in
American scholarship. Yet when statistics, tables, and "facts" about the Middle
East are quoted by individual authors, the reader must be aware that these may
originate in published sources and works with different notions of what coun-
tries are encompassed by the term.
4. To illustrate the point made in note 3, when the definition of the Middle
East is only Southwest Asia (minus Afghanistan and Cyprus) plus Egypt, the
percentage of the population that was urbanized in 1990 becomes 57 percent.
This definition of the Middle East is used in Abdel R. Omran and Farzaneh
Roudi, "The Middle East Population Puzzle," Population Bulletin 48, no. 1
(July 1993).
5. Other estimates place Egypt's urban population at 47 or even 48 percent
of the total, which may be more accurate; but for the sake of comparability,
the percentages given in the 1994 World Population Data Sheet are used in
table 1-1.
6. Estimates from the World Bank, 1992.
7. The official total population of Cairo is always considerably lower, reflect-
ing the fact that only certain defined municipal units are included. Hence, Giza
with several million persons, and other outlying suburban areas, should be
counted to arrive at the metropolitan population of Cairo.
8. Overurbanization is the idea that urbanization in the Third World is often
characterized by "growth without development." Urban growth outstrips the
pace of industrialization, leading to inequality and massive unemployment and
underemployment. The original ideas were based upon assumptions that rural-
to-urban migration resulted from the push from the countryside rather than
from demand for labor by increased urban economic activity. For example, see
the classic article by N. V. Sovani, "The Analysis of 'Over-Urbanization,'"
Economic Development and Cultural Change 12 (1964): 113-22.
9. Defining poverty is not an easy task, and there are various definitions of
the concept, most related to some minimum income level. See the discussion of
"Income Distribution and Poverty" in the context of the Middle East in Alan
Richards and John Waterbury, A Political Economy of the Middle East (Boulder,
Colo.: Westview Press, 1990), 277-87.
10. Absolute poverty is considered a baseline in which the population below
that level is malnourished. Scholz uses the World Bank definition and figure of
$390 per capital annually as that level. The problems in defining and measuring

Population, Poverty, and Politics 21

absolute poverty are also discussed in Richards and Waterbury, A Political
Economy of the Middle East, 278-79.
11. The Arab world's first Green Party was founded in Egypt in April 1990,
with a particular interest in dealing with the environmental problems of Cairo.
See Jeffery Phillips, "Green Party Joins the Battle in Egypt," Christian Science
Monitor, May 17, 1990.
12. Omran and Roudi, "The Middle East Population Puzzle," 27-28.
13. The term Islamic fundamentalism is misunderstood and misused. See
John Voll's discussion in chapter 13 of this volume.

Part One

AMunicipa[l government,
Urban 'PLanninM, anb
Conservinq the Urban Past

Riyabh, 1994

Chapter 2

Urbanization and
Metropolitan Municipal Politics in Turkey

Metin Heper

Turkey has a historical legacy of an overly centralized system of govern-
ment that left virtually no scope for local government. Against this
background, Turkey experienced in the post-World War II period rapid
urbanization and an industrialization that has not kept pace with the
urbanization in question. The consequence was the increasing inad-
equacy of municipal services. In order to cope with this problem, two-
tier municipalities were set up in the early 1980s in some selected urban
centers; and these municipalities were delegated a good deal of author-
ity and provided with substantially greater amounts of revenues. Yet
Turkey's urban problems were not quickly resolved. One major reason
was the disharmony between the district and metropolitan municipali-
ties, which basically derived from the fact that metropolitan municipali-
ties remained jealous of their prerogatives and have not trusted district
mayors; consequently they have not provided adequate powers and
resources to district municipalities. A second reason was the generally
conflictual relationship both between the district and metropolitan mu-
nicipalities and between the metropolitan municipalities and the central
government. This state of affairs was a consequence of such factors as
personality clashes, the tendency on the part of each level of govern-
ment to perceive its powers as absolute, the inclination of some metro-
politan mayors to challenge the central government on purely political
grounds, and the like. Further, particularly in the 1989-91 period, the
central government and municipalities were usually headed by individu-


26 Metin Heper

als belonging to different political parties. Despite these obstacles, Tur-
key has made significant progress in coping with its urban problems.

Historical Legacy
The Ottoman-Turkish polity did not have a tradition of local govern-
ment, if by that term one essentially implies self-government. The Ot-
toman political system evinced characteristics neither of patrimonialism
(civil society imposing its value system upon the state) nor of different
versions of feudalism (the state's powers being checked by various in-
termediary structures). The system had unmistakable signs of bureau-
cratic centralism-domination, if not a smothering, of civil society by
the state.'
From the very beginning the Ottoman center was faced with power-
ful local notables (Turkoman gazis). Their descendants, who formed
the old Ottoman aristocracy, threatened the very foundations of the
state.2 In response to this threat, the Ottoman rulers set out to subju-
gate their local rivals, which they succeeded in doing. Thus, during the
Ottoman classical age (ca. 1300-1600)-following the abrogation of
all feudal rights that had limited the state's control over land, and after
the state had confiscated a large part of the land held by religious
foundations-the bureaucratic center came to dominate the polity.3
During these earlier centuries the center controlled the periphery through
its agents-fief holders-who ensured that peasants kept their assigned
lands under cultivation and collected taxes on behalf of the state.4 Each
fief holder was given a small plot of land from which he extracted his
salary as long as he kept his post.
Between the second half of the sixteenth century and the nineteenth
century, the fief system ceased to be effective and was replaced by a tax-
farming system-that is, nonstate agents collected taxes and kept a
portion of the revenues for their own income. Local notables who acted
as tax farmers came to have power and influence among the polity, yet it
derived from their exercise of state power and had no independent
socioeconomic base. The center even developed an official description
of a local notable: "A person competent, well-known, honest, and
wealthy, and whose words are listened to by the people." One, in fact,
became a local notable in this sense by a special imperial decree issued
by the sultan.
That local notables in the Ottoman Empire always remained in a

Urbanization and Politics in Turkey 27

dependent status to the state was due to the fact that they had no
interest in becoming agricultural entrepreneurs. As a consequence they
could not build autonomous power vis-a-vis the central authority. They
competed among themselves for official posts in the localities. Under
the circumstances, they could not develop horizontal ties; instead they
maintained individual, vertical relationships with the state. Each local
notable tried to use his delegated powers to enrich himself as much as
possible at the expense of both the state and peasants. The upshot was
that, in the eyes of the Ottoman center, minimum central control al-
ways combined with "local irresponsibility." As a result, as far as the
center was concerned, the involvement of local notables in local affairs
was nothing more than a stopgap measure.
During these centuries, the supervision of markets and artisans along
with other municipal and police functions were carried out by kadis,
religious functionaries of the state who had judicial powers. No differ-
ence was perceived between the administrative functions of the central
government and municipal functions. When during the 1820s and 1830s
the kadi's judicial functions were differentiated from his administrative
(including municipal) functions and the latter taken away from him, the
municipal functions were distributed among a number of central minis-
tries and not to a local governmental body.
The basic rationale behind the Tanzimat (Reform) Period of 1839-
76 was to strengthen the center itself. The primary motive behind the
provincial and local councils established as part of the "decentraliza-
tion" policy was really to improve tax collection, for these councils were
formed by an imperial edict that aimed specifically at improving tax
collection within the empire. In any case, in these councils bureaucrats
appointed by the center constituted more than half the membership.
During the nineteenth century, decentralization in the Ottoman
Empire did not go beyond deconcentration-handing over some amount
of administrative authority to lower levels within central government
ministries and agencies.5 In fact, in 1852, the discretionary powers of
the provincial governors were increased. In 1858, the powers delegated
to the local representatives of the central government were designated
in greater detail. Yet it was not until 1913 that provincial administration
in the Ottoman Empire was endowed with a corporate status.
The first municipality in Turkey was established in Istanbul in 1855.
The head of the municipality and the members of its "urban council,"
however, were appointed by the central government. With the rapid

28 Metin Heper

growth of the city, a district municipality was established in the Pera
section of Istanbul, where mostly foreigners and non-Muslim minori-
ties resided. The director of the district municipality and the members
of the municipal council were again appointed by the central govern-
ment. In 1869, thirteen additional district municipalities were created
in Istanbul. Now the members of the municipal council were elected,
but the "mayor" was appointed by the central government from among
the council members.6
The emergence of municipalities in the Turkish region beginning in
the second part of the nineteenth century was to some extent a response
to pressure from the Great Powers aimed at bolstering the status of
religious minorities in the Ottoman Empire. The government, how-
ever, did not trust the non-Muslim merchant entrepreneurs who con-
stituted the bulk of the economic middle classes. (Muslims preferred
other walks of life.) It suspected them of having consistently supported
separatist movements in the empire. The government therefore op-
posed the development of the newly born municipality into a powerful
societal institution.
Thus the first district municipality in the Pera section of Istanbul was
established as an "agency of the central government charged with the
responsibility for public works."7 In 1912, the district municipalities
were abolished; they were converted into nine branch municipalities of
one citywide municipality.
It follows that the republic established in 1923 hardly inherited a
tradition of local government; the republic in turn had its own reasons
for maintaining the centralized system of government: the country's
physical and human resources were limited; a cultural revolution substi-
tuting a secular republic for a Muslim empire was to be started; the
country was located in a perennially unstable part of the world; and
Turkey did not have cordial relations with most of its neighbors. Con-
sequently, a centralized system of government was maintained. The
local government system, consisting of provincial local administration
(an extension of the office of centrally appointed provincial government
responsible for certain local functions), municipalities, and villages, was
based on the principle of delegation, and not devolution, of authority.
The duties of the local governmental units were delineated in great
detail by numerous laws. The central government also had close control
of the financial resources of the local governmental units. The Minis-
tries of Internal Affairs and of Reconstruction and Resettlement in
particular supervised these governments closely.

Urbanization and Politics in Turkey 29

Under the circumstances, local government in Turkey, including
municipalities, was no more than "local administration commis-
sioned and largely financed by the central government."8 The center
still adhered to the notion that the central and local governments to-
gether formed a "unified entity." Local governments were subject to
the administrative direction of a number of ministries, which developed
their programs in line with their own policy preferences and in total
disregard of overall strategies or general plans of urban development
and change.

Post-World War II Developments
Following World War II, Turkey experienced massive urbanization.
From 1945 to 1989, the average rate of urbanization was 7 percent.9
Furthermore, growth was concentrated in only a few urban centers.
The rate of industrialization could not keep pace with that of urbaniza-
tion. Push rather than pull factors were more important in drawing
migrants to the cities. Although they came from rather traditional rural
environments, their expectations quickly rose under the influence of
mass media. The growth of the private sector also worked to heighten
urban needs and ambitions. It led to demands, among other things, for
new facilities for marketing and distribution of goods, communications,
and transport. Added to these was the urbanites' increased exposure to
the outside world by means of books, foreign-made movies, and travel
Municipalities could not cope with these developments. Their rev-
enues always lagged far behind what was needed. Turkey's municipali-
ties have essentially had two broad categories of revenues: local shares
of certain national taxes, and direct municipal revenues such as user
charges, fees, and taxes. Local shares of national taxes were not substan-
tial-5 percent of the income tax and corporations tax, 2 percent of the
tax on state monopolies, 8 percent of the fuel consumption tax, and 15
percent of customs and excise duties. Municipalities received only 45
percent of the property tax, which in many countries makes up the
major part of local revenues. Income from fees, license taxes, fines,
municipally owned enterprises, and user charges remained low basically
because the sources of revenue left to the municipalities were not the
most productive ones. Their base was narrow and their rates were low,
and the revenues obtained from these sources were vulnerable to infla-
tion." Moreover, some of these direct revenues, such as the betterment

30 Metin Heper

tax and the duty for street cleaning, were difficult to collect. It must
also be noted that mayors and other elected municipal officials often
seemed unenthusiastic about enforcing revenue-generating rules and
regulations for fear of antagonizing voters.
To make things worse, central governments did not automatically
transfer to the municipalities the latter's share of the national taxes;
there were delays and sometimes not all the amounts due were trans-
ferred. Also, the central governments did not always use their discretion
in an equitable and bipartisan manner. Often larger municipalities did
not receive funds proportional to their size, and municipalities led by
mayors who belonged to the opposition parties were discriminated
against. To compound these problems, central governments sometimes
unilaterally increased municipal expenditures-for example, through
centrally imposed salary and wage increases. (In 1977, for example,
personnel costs of local governments were as high as 40 percent of total
expenditures.) Conversely, they might decrease municipal revenues by,
for instance, appropriating some traditionally local source of operating
It was, therefore, not surprising that at least compared to many
industrialized countries, in Turkey the share of local government in
total public expenditure remained quite low. For instance, in 1975
while the share of local governments in total public expenditure was
62.9 percent in Austria, 79.1 in the Federal Republic of Germany, 51.0
in Belgium, 54.6 in France, 71.8 in the Netherlands, 43.7 in the United
Kingdom, 60.1 in Italy, 64.6 in Japan, and 61.7 in the United States, it
was only 8.8 percent in Turkey.'" Over the years, the system of munici-
pal revenue generation remained the same despite substantial increases
in population-which geometrically increased needs-and in the num-
ber of municipalities, which further reduced the share each received
from the national tax revenues. While from 1927 to 1975 the portion
of Turkey's population living within municipalities rose from 23 to 57
percent, and the number of municipalities increased from 460 to 1,654,
during the same period the ratio of municipal revenues to public rev-
enues as a whole remained the same.14
Indeed, at least until the early 1960s, the central governments pre-
ferred to ignore the mounting problems facing municipalities. From
the 1960s onward, central governments were interested only in what
the local governments could contribute to national developmental ef-
forts. The local governments were to lighten somewhat the heavy load

Urbanization and Politics in Turkey 31

of the central governmental agencies.'" This was clearly spelled out in
both the First (1961) and Second (1966) Five-Year Development Plans.
Beginning in the mid-1970s, urban problems in Turkey reached
crisis proportions. During the early 1970s in such major urban centers
as Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir, mayors of the left-of-center-oriented
Republican People's Party captured offices. However, from 1975 to
1980 Turkey was ruled at the national level largely by right-of-center
coalitions. These center-right governments used all the means at their
disposal to deprive the Republican mayors of resources necessary for
effective governance. Whereas the central governments were formerly
very much preoccupied with their own concerns and largely ignored the
local problems, now a direct confrontation had begun.
In reaction, a number of mayors began demanding devolution rather
than delegation of powers to the municipalities. Their motto, sup-
ported by the leftist intellectuals, was "full participation of all social
classes in decision making." Their notion of municipality emphasized
autonomy and democracy. Municipalities were to levy their own taxes
and initiate economically productive activities. Citizens were to partici-
pate in decision making at all levels.'6
In January 1978, a Republican People's Party-dominated coalition
government came to power. That government attempted to restructure
the municipalities along the lines of the model just described. In the
economic sphere the government tried to set up a "municipal sector,"
the objective of which was to remove the retailers operating between
producers and consumers and thus to cut costs and lower prices. The
project, however, ended up in complete failure. Conflicts with civil
servants in the central ministries and bureaucratic bottlenecks blocked
an efficient flow of goods. Municipalities were frequently in arrears in
paying the producers; they used the money thus "saved" for other
purposes. In the end the municipal sector turned out not to be produc-
tive but rather redistributive. The government also attempted to sim-
plify the bureaucratic procedures at the municipal level and to render
municipalities more responsive to citizens. Here, too, no notable suc-
cess was achieved.17
Faced with ever-increasing urban problems, inadequate resources,
and domineering central governments, municipalities had no option
but to engage in the politics of survival. They tried to play off central-
government ministries and agencies against each other. They created
faits accomplish in their dealings with the central government. For in-

32 Metin Heper

stance, they made long-term commitments they could not honor and
then put political pressure on the central government to bail them out.
Under the circumstances, the viability of the municipalities very much
depended on the political skills of individual mayors.'8

Post-1980 Municipal Politics

Transfer of Resources and Authority to Municipalities
The 1980s in Turkey started with the further centralization of govern-
ment, including the municipalities. Because Turkish politics had be-
come overly fragmented and polarized during the 1970s, when the
military took over the government in 1980 it placed primary emphasis
on law and order. Military officials appointed the mayors of the major
urban centers and suspended the municipal councils. The duties of the
municipal councils were taken over by the executive committees at the
municipalities, which were staffed by the appointed officials of the mu-
nicipalities. Some functions previously carried out by the branch mu-
nicipalities of the city halls were now concentrated in the city halls
On the other hand, during the 1980-83 military interregnum, the
central government increased the municipal share of national tax rev-
enues. As a consequence, between 1980 and 1984 the revenues of the
municipalities coming from this source increased close to threefold.19
Steps were also taken to bolster the revenues of the municipalities from
their own resources. The bases and rates of municipal taxes were modi-
fied to increase their productivity; new local taxes were introduced, and
the residents of areas adjacent to the municipal boundaries were made
subject to municipal taxes.
With the coming to power in 1983 of the Motherland Party, which
aimed at decreasing the central bureaucracy's role in the economy in
particular and in sociocultural life generally, the municipalities were
provided with even greater resources and, additionally, significant pow-
ers were delegated to them. In 1984, two-tiered municipal govern-
ments were created in some selected urban centers. Their numbers
increased in the following years. They consisted of a metropolitan mu-
nicipality and a number of district municipalities. Initially, the district
municipalities were granted extensive powers because the Motherland
Party government did not expect Motherland candidates for mayor to

Urbanization and Politics in Turkey 33

capture the mayoralties in the major urban centers; they figured that
Motherland candidates could be elected mayor at least in some districts.
When, however, the Motherland candidates won at metropolitan as
well as district levels in all major cities, the hand of the metropolitan
municipal mayors was significantly strengthened.20 In effect, the metro-
politan municipality began to exercise over the district municipalities
many of the tutelage powers that had earlier been used by the ministries
in Ankara. The tutelage of the Ministry of Internal Affairs was now
restricted to approving the appointment of the secretary-general of
metropolitan municipalities and to creating new civil servant posts in
that municipality. Also, the Ministry of Public Works and Resettlement
(formerly the Ministry of Reconstruction and Resettlement) was lim-
ited to providing technical aid and extending some funds on a project
As already noted, with the coming to power of the Motherland Party
in 1983, resources at the disposal of municipalities began to increase
substantially. The index of municipal revenues in 1985 turned out to be
five times the 1981 figure.21 While in 1983 the municipal share in the
national budget was 3.7 percent, in 1985 it rose to 4.6 percent. Fur-
ther, all the revenues from the property tax now went to the municipali-
In Turkey of the mid-1980s, as compared with the earlier decades,
both the metropolitan and district mayors at major urban centers had
ample resources at their disposal. Municipalities could thus provide an
ever-increasing volume of services. In April 1986, officials at the Minis-
try of Internal Affairs told this author that what had been achieved since
the two-tiered metropolitan municipal systems were created in 1984
had been two to three times what had been done before in a similar
time period. Ministry officials thought that to a great extent district
mayors were responsible for these high levels of performance.

District versus Metropolitan Municipalities
Despite the fact that within the post-1984 metropolitan system the
metropolitan mayors had the upper hand both in legal and financial
terms, district mayors who came to office in 1984 brought a new phi-
losophy and dynamism to the municipal life of Turkey. This came out
quite clearly in the author's interviews with Istanbul district mayors in
the January-April 1986 period.23 In the judgment of these mayors, as

34 Metin Heper

well as of the metropolitan mayor (all of whom belonged to the Moth-
erland Party), municipalities in Turkey had not served their residents
for years; but now, for the first time, Turkish citizens had municipalities
intent on serving them well and to which they had easy access.
These mayors, the majority of whom came from the private sector,
noted that serving people well requires a municipality to function effi-
ciently. This means costs should be brought down; the municipality
should not be overstaffed. The municipality should not collect many
unproductive taxes, but only a few productive ones. The mayors were
critical of the nontechnical civil servants in their municipalities who
could not keep pace with their own dynamism and disapproved of
bureaucrats at the metropolitan level who, according to the mayors,
"did their own thing"-that is, were unresponsive to the people and
tried to dominate the district mayors. In reaction, district mayors often
attempted to jump echelons and to communicate directly with higher
authorities, including the ministries in Ankara. The district mayors,
however, could not get a response from the hierarchy-conscious
superordinate agencies and in the process alienated the metropolitan
All this frustrated the district mayors. Because they had been elected,
they saw themselves as primarily responsible for furnishing services to
the people in the manner they judged best. They thus rejected outright
this author's (gentle) suggestion that in order to deal with the inevi-
table fiscal shortfall, the number of functions piled upon the munici-
palities could be reduced in number. On the contrary, they wished to
offer the people an even greater number of services because, they thought,
only a "people's municipality can give people what the state had never
given them." Besides, they argued, only they had all the facts about
their districts at their fingertips.
On the same issue, officials at the metropolitan municipality pointed
out to this author that if all the municipal services within the metropoli-
tan area were carried out by the district municipalities, a uniform provi-
sion of services would be impossible. These officials also doubted that
district municipalities had an adequate number of qualified personnel
to carry out even the services for which they were then responsible, let
alone additional ones. District mayors agreed that they needed more
specialized personnel, but they were confident that in the near future
they would have such personnel. District mayors insisted that they should
be responsible for a greater range of services for another reason: they

Urbanization and Politics in Turkey 35

pointed out that they had been quite successful in increasing their
revenues from their own resources. Because they knew their districts
"inside out" and thus "tax evasion remained] at a minimum," and
because "people [were] now willing to pay their taxes since they [were]
getting their money's worth in municipal services," they had increased
their revenues from 300 to 500 percent from taxes directed to the
Despite these points of disagreement between the district munici-
palities and the metropolitan municipality, in the 1984-89 period on
the whole (except in Izmir and particularly Ankara), relations between
district and metropolitan mayors were fairly harmonious. During the
period in question the district and metropolitan municipalities in all
major urban centers in Turkey, including Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir,
were governed by Motherland mayors. What distinguished Istanbul
from Ankara in particular was that in the former city the majority of the
mayors had a private-sector background (and thus shared a similar phi-
losophy) while the Istanbul metropolitan mayor (Bedrettin Dalan)
seemed to have a particular skill in human relations. Many of the district
mayors in Istanbul this author talked to proudly mentioned that, to-
gether with the metropolitan mayor, they constituted "a team with an
entrepreneurial drive." It seems that the metropolitan mayor always
tried to unify the district mayors around the idea of "service to the
people." For instance, the metropolitan municipality in Istanbul placed
emphasis on administrative rather than legal supervision over district
municipalities. It established general standards and criteria for efficient
and effective services and urged district municipalities to consult with
the metropolitan municipality before submitting their major projects to
it for approval. Thus many district mayors felt confident that if they
"developed their projects carefully," they could secure approval for
them. Consequently they did not need to confront the metropolitan
municipality with faits accomplish, as was once the case. They chose to
act as "reasonable and responsible businessmen" rather than as "politi-
cians." They did not wish to initiate projects they could not complete,
which might tarnish their reputations in the eyes of the people.
This account of relations between the district mayors and the metro-
politan mayor should not suggest that there were no conflicts and
tensions between the two sets of municipalities. As already noted, some
district mayors objected to the condescending attitude of bureaucrats at
the metropolitan level. They sought even greater autonomy from the

36 Metin Heper

metropolitan municipality, and they complained that, in the last analy-
sis, the metropolitan municipality monopolized power: "from one day
to the next the metropolitan municipality decided which functions the
district municipalities should carry out and which functions they should
not." District mayors wished to see a clear division of labor between the
district municipalities and the metropolitan municipality.
Officials of the metropolitan municipality thought differently. They
were of the opinion that services should be provided efficiently and
effectively; it was not important which level of municipality furnished
them. They did not oppose decentralization but thought it should take
place in stages. Too rapid decentralization would lead to ineffective and
inefficient government. To prove their mettle, district municipalities
should first undertake such basic services as street cleaning, the supervi-
sion of markets, and the repair of local roads; later they might take on
new and greater responsibilities. The metropolitan municipality should
exercise close and "benevolent" administrative supervision over the dis-
trict municipalities and have the last word on significant projects. The
division of labor between it and district municipalities should not be
drawn too strictly because that would not leave adequate space for the
district municipality to maneuver.
For their part, the district municipalities preferred legal to adminis-
trative supervision; they wished to decide by themselves what functions
to carry out and how to do so. In their opinion, the metropolitan
municipality should come into the picture and review the legality of
their actions after the fact. However, they judged the provision of social
and cultural services to be beyond their means. They acknowledged
that other services of a certain magnitude, perhaps involving more than
one district or requiring the use of advanced technology, should be
furnished by the metropolitan municipality. Yet the district municipali-
ties also did not wish to have some three hundred unimportant func-
tions crowded upon them. They preferred to provide only the vote-
catching functions in the manner they saw fit, and they resented the fact
that the metropolitan municipality tended to monopolize those func-
Despite the differences of opinion and a fair amount of tension be-
tween the district municipalities and the metropolitan municipality,
during the 1984-89 period, particularly in such urban centers as Istanbul
and Izmir (but not in Ankara), there was a basic harmony between the

Urbanization and Politics in Turkey 37

two categories of municipalities. The differences between them were
largely the consequence of their competing to provide effective services
and garner votes.
This situation changed after 1989 when most of the mayoralties at
both the district and metropolitan levels were captured by individuals
belonging to the Social Democratic Populist Party. During that period,
"high politics" rather than the administering of services dominated the
agenda of municipal politics. Conflicts between the district and metro-
politan municipalities revolved around basic policy issues and were,
therefore, often difficult to resolve. This was apparent in February 1990,
for instance, when Istanbul metropolitan mayor Nurettin Sozen held a
special meeting with district mayors to seek solutions to problems be-
tween the two sets of municipalities. Some district municipality mayors
did not even participate at the meeting, where it was stressed that these
officials should not come up with different conceptions of a social demo-
cratic municipality.24 The following month district mayors from Istanbul,
Ankara, Izmir, and Kayseri met in Ankara and discussed problems they
had in common arising from their relations with their respective metro-
politan governments.25 The district mayors stressed two points. First,
they argued that democratic principles entitled them, as elected offi-
cials, to more authority than they currently enjoyed vis-a-vis the metro-
politan municipality. Significantly, they did not link that notion to their
ability to provide services efficiently and effectively or be responsive to
citizens' needs. For them, democracy meant autonomy from metro-
politan mayors and the freedom to implement social democratic poli-
cies (such as providing free milk to the needy) as they themselves inter-
preted those policies. This was apparent from their call to the Social
Democratic Populist Party to act as an arbitrator in their ideological
differences with their metropolitan mayors.26
In the post-1989 period, with the coming to power of the Social
Democratic Populist mayors, Turkey's municipalities became overly
politicized. Providing efficient and effective services became a second-
ary concern. It was claimed that in Istanbul metropolitan mayor Sozen
had not gotten along well even with those district mayors who were
relatively more effective than others in providing services. S6zen also
discriminated among recipients of municipal services on the basis of
class. On one occasion he said that his municipality would demolish
illegally built villas but that it was up to the state to demolish illegally

38 Metin Heper

constructed squatter houses.27 Another time he warned that if the bet-
ter-off neighborhoods did not receive water because it had been di-
verted to poorer neighborhoods, the former should not complain.
As this state of affairs makes clear, the consequence of the social
democratic approach in question was populism, particularly in Istanbul.
When S6zen became Istanbul's metropolitan mayor, he raised the wages
of the workers in Istanbul's municipalities by 200 percent. He also
engaged in extensive political patronage, appointing many party stal-
warts to the municipalities in Istanbul. In due course, the municipali-
ties' coffers dried up. In the summer of 1992, refuse collectors in the
municipalities of Istanbul, Ankara, Adana, and Trabzon went on strike.
Municipalities, however, could not commit themselves to pay the very
high pay raises demanded by the workers' unions. Finally, the central
government had to intervene to end the strike.28
In the post-1989 period, as a consequence of the developments
outlined above, municipalities in Turkey again became overly depen-
dent on the central government. S6zen, who earlier had very harsh
words for the Motherland Party government, now had to go to Ankara
and plead with then-president Turgut Ozal, former Motherland prime
minister, that the government should extend a helping hand to his
municipality. Other Social Democratic Populist metropolitan mayors
did not have such hard times. Ankara's Murat Karayalmin, for instance,
turned out to be a quite successful mayor.

Intergovernmental Relations
Turkey has had a strong state tradition, and, as I have elaborated else-
where, in recent decades the state-centered polity came gradually to be
replaced by a party-centered polity.29 Not unlike the intellectual-bu-
reaucratic-military state elites and their allies among the politicians, the
political elites too gave short shrift to civil societal elements and institu-
tions, including the municipalities.
Despite their extensive transfer of authority and funds to the munici-
palities, the Motherland politicians also expected the municipalities to
be "extensions" of the national government, and they sent detailed
instructions as to how the municipal services should be provided. In a
speech made in January 1989 in an eastern province of Turkey, then
Prime Minister Ozal said that he considered the municipalities to be
part of a unified governmental system.30

Urbanization and Politics in Turkey 39

Just as metropolitan municipalities wished to use district municipali-
ties in order to have municipal services performed the way they thought
best, central governments too wanted metropolitan municipalities to
function in the pattern set for them at the national level. If the metro-
politan municipality was led by a mayor who belonged to a party in the
opposition, the mayor had to be quite skillful simply to keep his munici-
pality afloat and extraordinarily skillful to enjoy a successful term in
Thus, even during the 1984-89 period, when the metropolitan may-
ors belonged to the governing Motherland Party, the central govern-
ment was not always cooperative. Among other things, municipalities
found it very difficult to obtain authorization to hire qualified person-
nel. When the government did cooperate, the bureaucrats in Ankara
could still pose problems. For instance, at times the Treasury staff de-
layed the transfer of authorized funds because of their concern over
rising inflation.
Still, in the 1984-89 period, some Motherland metropolitan mayors
attempted to pursue policies different from those of the national gov-
ernment. For instance, despite the government's emphasis on market
forces, Izmir's metropolitan mayor, Burhan Ozfatura, for a while con-
tinued operating the municipal department stores, where prices were
subsidized; Samsun's metropolitan mayor, Vehbi Gul, lowered the wa-
ter rates and bus fares below their costs. However, most mayors could
not go on challenging the government for long. One exception was
Istanbul's metropolitan mayor, Bedrettin Dalan, who had a dynamic
personality and an entrepreneurial spirit. He managed to raise ample
funds over and above what he received from Ankara by leasing the real
estate owned by the municipality, obtaining foreign loans at low inter-
est rates, and establishing three municipal foundations that received
large grants from various sources.
His successes, however, made him too bold, at least for Turkish
politics. He began to make forays into national politics, for instance
mobilizing some leaders of the Motherland Party to prevent religiously
oriented members from holding important party and government posts.
His political activities elicited strong criticism, and Dalan was asked by
many in the party to get on with his work "as a mayor." Disappointed,
Dalan became openly critical of his party. In 1989, he lost the Istanbul
metropolitan mayoralty to S6zen.
Even before winning the mayoralty, S6zen had indicated that, if

40 Metin Heper

elected, he would function primarily as a politician rather than as an
administrator. Specifically, he said that his mission would be "getting
rid of the anti-democratic Motherland Party government." He began
his stint as mayor by preventing the prime minister from inaugurating a
renovated stadium in Istanbul because the "relevant legal paperwork
had not yet been completed." He went on to investigate "past corrup-
tion and illegality on the part of the previous Motherland municipal-
ity," placing emphasis on the "cultural development of the people"
and, as already noted, adopting a partisan stance. As mayor he staffed
his municipality with people who had "dependable political views."
The Istanbul populace soon began to be frustrated that basic services
were not provided on time and sometimes not at all. They complained
about dirty streets and contaminated food in the markets. In a survey
carried out in early December 1989 the inhabitants were asked, "If
there was an election for mayor today, whom would you have voted
for?"; 60.2 percent of the respondents said "Dalan" and 23.1 percent
answered "S6zen."31
The situation was exacerbated by the Motherland government's un-
cooperative attitude toward the Social Democratic Populist municipali-
ties. On the eve of the 1989 local elections, the Motherland govern-
ment had given clear signals about its likely policy if the municipalities
were captured by mayors belonging to the opposition parties: in adver-
tisements sponsored by the Motherlanders was a man whose hands and
feet were tied. The man represented the municipalities led by an oppo-
sition mayor; he was unable to move because he could not get help
(from the government).
When most of the mayoralties were in fact won by opposition may-
ors, the government's stance toward them was mixed but on balance
seemed unfavorable. It is true that, as then Minister of Finance and
Customs, Adnan Kahveci, later claimed (which was not challenged),
the funds that the Social Democratic Populist Party-led mayoralties
received from the government during their first one and one-half years
was much higher than what the Motherland municipalities had received
during their last one and one-half years. The comparative figures are
581 billion versus 370 billion liras in Istanbul, 249 billion versus 151
billion liras in Ankara, and 86 billion versus 45 liras in Izmir.32 On the
other hand, the comptroller of the Bank of the Provinces reported that
his bank made cuts amounting to 100 percent from the Social Demo-
cratic Populist municipalities' shares of national taxes, while the bank

Urbanization and Politics in Turkey 41

acted quite generously toward the Motherland municipality in Malatya.33
The government made life difficult for the municipalities in other ways
as well. The censuses that were previously taken every five years were
now to be taken every ten years; this adversely affected the municipali-
ties because their shares of the national taxes depended upon the num-
bers of people living in their municipality.34 Governments almost always
deferred the deadline for paying the property tax until the last possible
legal day.35
S6zen's harsh attitude toward the Motherland government did not
improve the situation. In fact, Sozen's penchant for confrontation and
the resulting deficiencies in municipal services prompted the Social
Democratic Populist Party to intervene, fearing that Sozen's nonperfor-
mance would cost the party votes in future elections. Then secretary-
general of the party Deniz Baykal pointedly stated that municipalities
were not "political organizations" and that their function was to furnish
public services.36 S6zen, however, did not get the message. Five months
later, on the instructions of the secretary-general, a project to solve the
water problem in Istanbul was prepared and sent to S6zen. The mayor,
however, remained cool toward the project. Consequently, the chair-
man of the party, Erdal In6nii, felt obliged to be blunt in telling the
party's mayors that he would himself "criticize the President and that
municipalities should preoccupy themselves with their own tasks.""37 In
August 1992, Stileyman Demirel, then prime minister of the coalition
government of the True Path Party and the Social Democratic Populist
Party, also felt the need to take an active interest in the affairs of the
Istanbul metropolitan municipality. When S6zen demanded funds for
his several very expensive projects, Demirel reminded him that he should
stop the process of demolishing what was already built. Demirel ad-
monished S6zen to think about the future and to come up with well-
thought out projects backed by careful feasibility studies.38 The coali-
tion partners, however, must have lost all confidence in S6zen, for it
was reported that experts in the coalition government had been in-
structed to prepare "a plan to save Istanbul."
In contrast to S6zen, Ankara's metropolitan mayor, Murat Karayalmn,
has taken a sensible and balanced approach to the responsibilities of
local government. From the very beginning he made it perfectly clear
that, as a Social Democrat, he would pay attention to sociocultural
issues but at the same time he would run the existing system success-
fully. He also pledged to serve all Ankara citizens without discrimina-

42 Metin Heper

tion and not to come up with excuses if he failed.39 Karayalcin carefully
avoided becoming embroiled in day-to-day partisan politics and quickly
established cordial relations with the Motherland Party government. In
his efforts to solve the water problem in Ankara, he called on all mem-
bers of Parliament from Ankara for their support.40
Karayalcin also managed to obtain funds over and above the munici-
palities' usual sources of revenue. For example, for his subway project
Karayalcin initially resorted to the formula of build-operate-transfer,41
but later he contracted out the project. Both initiatives were supported
by the central government. Then, for the first time in Turkish munici-
pal history, he issued bonds for partially financing a sewerage project.
For the latter project Karayalcn also obtained loans from the World
Bank and Germany, with the support of the central government.42
Not surprisingly, Karayalin became a very popular mayor. He was
well respected in Social Democratic Populist Party circles, and in Sep-
tember 1993 he became chairman of the party and remained in that
post until March 1995.

Turkey came face to face with mounting urban problems while it still
had an overly centralized government. For close to three decades Turk-
ish politicians overlooked the municipal problems or tried to tackle
them with inappropriate measures-either by holding all powers at the
center or abruptly devolving extensive powers to the localities, at least
for some limited types of activities. Beginning in the early 1980s, Turkey's
rulers recognized the seriousness of the problem and took steps to deal
with it. Substantial authority and resources were transferred to the lo-
calities. This led to significant increases in the volume of municipal
Some problems lingered, however. One was the continuing salience
of the centralist ethos, despite the extensive delegation of authority and
resources. Both at the governmental and metropolitan municipality
levels the attitude on the whole was: "I provide you with powers and
revenues so that you, instead of me, will carry out certain functions that
I see fit in the manner that I tell you." Most district mayors could not
do much about it, but skillful metropolitan mayors such as Dalan and
Karayalin could create for themselves some space to maneuver. A sec-
ond problem was the ever-present probability of a political clash be-

Urbanization and Politics in Turkey 43

tween municipalities and the central government. Prudent mayors such
as Karayalign, however, could prevent such a clash from developing into
unmanageable proportions.
In the early 1980s, new resources were transferred to the localities.
While initially these were adequate, later, with their needs geometrically
increasing, many municipalities again faced shortfalls. Yet mayors such
as Dalan and Karayalmn, who could create new resources while avoid-
ing populistic personnel policies, managed to keep their municipalities
Until recently Turkey has had an overly centralized governmental
system. In little over a decade, however, the municipalities became a
significant part of the government-displaying dynamism, in some cases
proving capable of maintaining good relations with the central govern-
ment, demonstrating skill in creating new resources, and delivering new
and expanded services. The central government for its part has gradu-
ally shed its earlier attitudes and on the whole has become supportive of
municipalities. Problems remain, but capable people with the right atti-
tudes seem to be able to solve them.

1. The definitions here of patrimonialism, feudalism, and bureaucratic cen-
tralism are taken from S. N. Eisenstadt, "Strong and Weak States: Some Recon-
siderations," in The State and Public Bureaucracies: A Comparative Perspective,
ed. Metin Heper (New York: Greenwood Press, 1987).
2. Stanford J. Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, vol.
1: Empire of the Gazis: The Rise and Decline of the Ottoman Empire, 1280-1800
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976), chap. 2.
3. Halil Inalcik, The Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age, 1300-1600, trans.
Norman Itzkowitz and Colin Imber (New York: Praeger, 1973).
4. On the characteristics of the Ottoman government from the sixteenth
through the end of the nineteenth centuries, unless otherwise indicated, I draw
upon Metin Heper, "Center and Periphery in the Ottoman Empire with Special
Reference to the Nineteenth Century," International Political Science Review 1
(1980): 81-105.
5. For this definition of deconcentration, see Dennis A. Rondinelli, John R.
Nellis, and G. Shabbir Cheema, Decentralization in Developing Countries: A
Review of Recent Experience, Working Paper No. 581 (Washington: World
Bank, 1984), 10.

44 Metin Heper

6. S. T. Rosenthal. "Foreigners and Municipal Reform in Turkey," Interna-
tional Journal of Middle East Studies 11 (1980): 125-33.
7. Ali Erkan Eke, Anakent iinetimi ve Yinetimlerarasz Ilizkiler [Metropoli-
tan governance and intergovernmental relations] (Ankara: Ankara Universitesi
Siyasal Bilgiler Fakiiltesi, 1984), 116.
8. Michael N. Danielson and Rusen Keles, "Allocating Public Resources in
Urban Turkey," in The Political Economy of Income Distribution in Turkey, ed.
Ergun Ozbudun and Aydin Ulusan (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1980),
9. Rusen Keles, Tiirkiye'de Kent Yinetimi [Urban governance in Turkey]
(Ankara: Turk Sosyal Bilimler Dernegi, 1988), 9.
10. These developments are studied in detail in Walter F. Weiker, Decentral-
izing Government in Modernizing Nations: Growth Center-Potential of Turkish
Provincial Cities (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage, 1972).
11. Danielson and Keles, "Allocating Public Resources in Urban Turkey,"
320; Rugen Keles, "Belediye Gelirleri Dizgesi ve Son Yasal (allmalar" [Mu-
nicipal revenues and recent legislative initiatives], in XII. Iskdn ve 3ehircilik
Haftast Konferanslar (Haziran 1979-Ocak 1980): Terel Yonetimlerde Giincel
Sorunlar (Ankara: Ankara Universitesi Siyasal Bilgiler Fakiiltesi, 1981).
12. Eke, Anakent Ydnetimi, 135-36; Sami Giiven, "Belediyelerin Akcali
Sorunlan" [The fiscal problems of municipalities], Amme Idaresi Dergisi (An-
kara) 10 (1977): 27.
13. Bilal Eryilmaz, "1980'den Sonra Merkezi Idare ile Mahalli Idareler
Arasindaki Iliskiler" [The relations between the central government and local
governments in the post-1980 period], Akademik Araqtirmalar Dergisi (Izmir)
2 (1988): 35-58.
14. Ilhan Tekeli and Yigit Guil6ksuz, "Belediye Sorunlan" [The problems of
municipalities], Amme Idaresi Dergisi 9 (1976): 17.
15. 5eref G6ziibuiyiik, Tiirkiye'de Mahalli Idareler [Local governments in
Turkey] (Ankara: Tiirkiye ve Orta Dogu Amme Idaresi Enstittisti, 1967), ix.
16. Korel Gdymen, "Donemin Yerel Yonetim Anlayiim Belirleyen Etmenler"
[Factors that shaped the period's philosophy of local government and plan-
ning], in Bir Terel Yinetim Oykiisii: 1977-1980 Ankara Belediyesi, ed. Korel
Goymen (Ankara: Ozgiin Matbaacilik, 1983), 20.
17. Erhan Karaesmen, "Yerel Yonetim Bakanligmn ISlevleri ve Kapanmasinin
Yarattigi Sorunlar Uzerine G6rtiiler" [The functions of the Ministry of Local
Government and some notes on the problems the dissolving of the ministry
created], in XII. Iskan ve ehircilik Haftast Konferanslarn, 82-83; Fikret Toksoz,
"Belediyelerin Ekonomik Faaliyetleri ve TANSA Projesi" [Economic initiatives
of municipalities and the TANSA Project], ibid., 74-75; Osman Merit, "Yerel
Yonetimler ve Vesayet" [Local governments and tutelage], ibid., 35.
18. Ayse Oncti, "The Potentials and Limitations of Local Government Re-
form in Solving Urban Problems: The Case of Istanbul," in Dilemmas ofDecen-

Urbanization and Politics in Turkey 45

tralization: Municipal Government in Turkey, ed. Metin Heper (Bonn: Friedrich-
Ebert-Stiftung, 1986), 62 ff. Also see S. T. Rosenthal, The Politics of Depen-
dency: Urban Reform in Turkey (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980).
19. Rusen Keles, "Municipal Finance in Turkey with Special Reference to
Istanbul," in Heper, Dilemmas of Decentralization, 39-40.
20. For an elaboration, see Metin Heper, "Introduction," in Democracy and
Local Government: Istanbul in the 1980s, ed. Metin Heper (Walkington, U.K.:
The Eothen Press, 1987), 7.
21. Rusen Keles, "Recent Developments in Istanbul Municipal Finance,"
ibid., 43.
22. Ibid.
23. Reported in greater detail in Metin Heper, "Municipal Government in
Istanbul: A Grassroots Perspective," in Democracy and Local Government, chap.
24. Giine (Istanbul), February 10, 1990.
25. Tempo (Istanbul), March 4-10, 1990.
26. Hiirriyet (Istanbul), June 20, 1990.
27. Milliyet(Istanbul), December 16, 1989.
28. Milliyet, August 1, 1992.
29. Metin Heper, "The State, Political Party and Society in Post-1983 Tur-
key," Government and Opposition 25 (1990): 321-33.
30. Milliyet, January 25, 1989.
31. Hiirriyet. December 28, 1989.
32. Milliyet, September 1, 1990.
33. Hiirriyet, June 22, 1990.
34. Milliyet, December 28, 1989.
35. Cumhuriyet (Istanbul), June 30, 1990.
36. Hiirriyet, January 19, 1990.
37. Hiirriyet, July 21, 1990.
38. Milliyet, August 19, 1992.
39. Tempo, December 10-16, 1989.
40. Ibid.; Hiirriyet, November 14, 25, 1989; Cumhuriyet, April 13, 1992.
41. According to this formula the project is completed by a private enter-
prise, run by it for a period of time, and then transferred to the public agency.
42. Tempo, December 10-16, 1989; Hiirriyet, October 24, 28, 1989.

Chapter 3

Ruptures in the Evolution
of the Middle Eastern City


Mohammad Al-Asad

Those who visit Amman after a few years' absence are usually quick to
comment about how much the city has changed during the interim.
Such remarks are true of Amman today as much as they have been
during most of the twentieth century. Now a city of over 1.25 million
inhabitants, Amman in 1920 was a small town of only about 5,000
people. Thus, in the period of an average human lifespan, the city's
population has multiplied by about 250 times. This chapter addresses
the physical manifestations of the modern city's remarkable growth. It
does not specifically aim at documenting the evolution of Amman but
focuses more on analyzing some of the factors responsible for its forma-
tion. It consequently approaches the city as the tangible manifestation
of a complex mix of cultural, social, political, economic, and techno-
logical influences. It discusses the impact on the city's development of
public planning policies, land speculation, population increases, politi-
cal conditions in the region, and the arrival of modern technologies.
In order to understand fully the formation of this modern metropo-
lis, the chapter also addresses issues of a more theoretical nature such as
public definitions of visual aesthetics and understandings of the past. It
also discusses how such definitions and understandings have shaped
Amman's private and public areas, affected attitudes toward the city's
older architectural and urban features, and influenced outlooks for its
future growth. Although some of the issues discussed here are unique


Ruptures in the Middle Eastern City: Amman 47

to Amman, many apply to other cities in the Middle East. Therefore, in
addition to contributing to a better understanding of the evolution of
modern Amman, the chapter aims at helping to define an overall meth-
odological framework for analyzing and evaluating the contemporary
Middle Eastern city.

Amman's Growth and Expansion
Although available archaeological information indicates that Amman
was settled at least by the seventh millennium B.C., the city has been
continuously inhabited in more recent times only since the 1870s.
Amman was the site of urban settlements of varying importance in the
pre-Islamic and medieval Islamic periods. It flourished during the Ro-
man and Byzantine eras, and its good fortunes continued during the
early Islamic period, especially under the Umayyad dynasty whose capi-
tal was in nearby Damascus. The city began gradually to decline with
the advent of the Abbasid dynasty and the transfer of the capital of the
Muslim empire to Baghdad. By the end of the thirteenth century, it had
fallen into ruins. It was not until the late nineteenth century that Amman
again became the site of a permanent human settlement, when, in the
1870s, the Ottoman authorities settled Muslim Circassian families from
the Caucasus in Amman and its environs. This first wave of settlers was
followed by other Circassian immigrants, the last major group of which
arrived in 1912. During this period, Arabs from surrounding areas, and
from Palestine and Syria, also settled in Amman, and by 1920 its popu-
lation is estimated to have reached 5,000 inhabitants. In 1921 the
Emirate of Transjordan was established, and its first ruler, Abdallah ibn
al-Husayn, selected Amman as his capital, a choice partly attributable to
its central location and its proximity to the Hijaz Railroad line, which
had reached the city by 1903. As a result of Amman's new political and
administrative importance, its population quickly increased to surpass
60,000 inhabitants by 1948.1
The 1948 Arab-Israeli war was an important turning point in the
history of Amman. The conflict resulted in the expulsion of 800,000-
900,000 Palestinians from their homeland, and about 240,000 of those
settled in Amman and surrounding areas during the following decades.2
Unfortunately, this was not the last political crisis to affect the growth
of the city. An additional 180,000 refugees flocked to Amman as a
result of the 1967 Arab-Israeli Six-Day War.3 Most recently, over 170,000

48 Mohammad Al-Asad

Fig. 3-1. Central Amman and the Roman amphitheater, 1987 (Said Nuseibeh

refugees are estimated to have settled in Amman following the 1990-
91 Gulf crisis.4 Because of these events, coupled with high rates of
natural population growth, increased levels of governmental centraliza-
tion, and migration from the countryside, the population of greater
Amman has grown at a remarkably fast pace to surpass 1.25 million
inhabitants in 1991.5
Considering the unusual political circumstances with which Amman
has had to cope since the middle of the twentieth century, and the
limited economic resources available to Jordan as a whole, Amman
remains a relatively efficiently run city. This is true even after the ab-
sorption of the latest influx of immigrants resulting from the 1990-91
Gulf crisis. Although its population has multiplied many times during
the past few decades, the city so far remains a manageable medium-
sized one. It still does not suffer from the traffic gridlocks endemic in
other developing world capitals. It is relatively clean and well serviced.
The use of stone as a sheathing material for many of its buildings gives
it a unique and distinctive look, and since stone requires little mainte-
nance, Amman does not show the dilapidation characteristic of many

Ruptures in the Middle Eastern City: Amman 49

other developing world cities where concrete is the primary sheathing
material. Although the city has been continuously inhabited only since
the second half of the nineteenth century, it has a number of prominent
and relatively well-preserved historical monuments, such as the Roman
amphitheater (figure 3-1) and the citadel. It has a moderate climate; its
hilly terrain provides an element of visual variety; and panoramic views
are available from many parts of the city.
A number of Amman's poorest neighborhoods have even experi-
enced marked improvements during the past few years. This is evident
in the East Wihdat upgrading program, much of which was completed
in 1980, and which was one of the recipients of the 1992 Aga Khan
Award for Architecture. The neighborhood, which is primarily inhab-
ited by Palestinian refugees, originally consisted of poorly built struc-
tures made of corrugated iron sheets tacked onto wooden frames. It
lacked health and educational facilities. The upgrading project, which
was administered by the Jordanian Urban Development Department,
consisted of buying the land from those who owned it before the refu-
gee camp was set up, and reselling it to the inhabitants of the neighbor-
hood by means of affordable monthly payments. The preexisting dwell-
ings of the neighborhood were torn down, and new structures were
individually designed and built in concrete. Running water, electricity,
and sewage lines now serve the neighborhood, which also has a health
clinic, a park, a community center, paved roads, and parking spaces.
The project has been conceived and implemented in cooperation with
the residents of the neighborhood rather than being imposed from
above by planners and bureaucrats. It has been highly successful, and
provides a model for dealing with the problems of poverty, over-
crowdedness, and general urban blight characterizing neighborhoods
throughout the developing world.6

Modern Urban Policies and Planning

The Context of the Developing World and the Middle East
Like other cities throughout the world, however, Amman has suffered
from the disastrous effects of certain modern urban planning policies.
In the eastern Arab world, modern urban planning policies are con-
nected to processes of modernization and Westernization whose roots
date back to the Napoleonic invasion of Egypt in 1798. These processes
affected the various cities of the region at different times. While Cairo

50 Mohammad Al-Asad

began to show physical signs of modernization in the first half of the
nineteenth century, cities such as San'a and Riyadh remained immune
from these developments until the second half of the twentieth century.
The processes have dramatically altered the built environment on both
the architectural and urban levels. Transformations resulted from the
introduction of new technologies, legal codes, and administrative sys-
tems. New administrative bodies such as the municipality introduced
higher levels of centralization to the cities of the region, which previ-
ously consisted of relatively autonomous neighborhoods. Municipali-
ties also participated in the introduction of services such as piped water,
electricity, and telephone connections, and they possessed the legal
authority to enforce zoning laws imported from the West. These laws
regulated issues that the occupants of a given neighborhood had tradi-
tionally determined, such as land use.7 In addition, newly introduced
construction materials such as reinforced concrete and steel joists began
to replace traditional load-bearing brick and stone. Of extreme impor-
tance is the introduction of new transportation methods. The wheeled
carriage initially replaced pack animals, and the motor vehicle has now
replaced the carriage.8
The newly imported legal and administrative systems, building mate-
rials, construction techniques, and services had far-reaching effects on
the built environment. New construction materials and techniques al-
lowed for the completion of structures in relatively little time. The
availability of heating oil, gas, electricity, telephone lines, and piped
water gave buildings a higher degree of spatial autonomy. Buildings no
longer needed to be located in proximity to sources of water and shops,
or to each other. The introduction of the motor vehicle made the
traversing of large distances a relatively easy and quick task and thus
greatly accelerated the process of loosening the premodern city's com-
pact fabric. The motor vehicle also required wide, straight, and smoothly
paved roads, which began to replace the narrow and winding streets
characteristic of premodern cities in the Middle East.
As a result of these developments, the compactness of the premodern
city was no longer imperative, and the constraints that had prevented
the city from expanding horizontally and vertically ceased to exist. These
transformations have also meant that preexisting balances between so-
cial conditions and technological systems were shattered, and new bal-
ances needed to be formulated. Building forms and techniques can be
seen as the outcome of a dialectic interaction between the needs of a
given society and the technologies available to it. In the premodern era,

Ruptures in the Middle Eastern City: Amman 51

available technologies were manual ones based on a direct cybernetic
relationship between the human hand and raw matter. In the Western
world, the modern period introduced a machine-based technology that
minimized this direct relationship.
In most of the developing world, attempts at incorporating indus-
trial and postindustrial technologies have not been very successful, partly
because these technologies have been imported as finished products
from the West and have not emerged from autonomous developments.
Further, there is insufficient understanding of the theoretical scientific
foundations of such technologies, and of the economic, social, and
cultural factors that have made them possible. During the premodern
period, builders in the developing world dealt with the clearly defined
and autonomous aesthetic systems associated with traditional building
methods. In the modern period, however, the widespread accessibility
of information has bombarded them with a multiplicity of imported
aesthetic vocabularies. Traditional craftsmen were generally not able to
adapt to the imported technological and aesthetic systems. Traditional
aesthetic systems consequently collapsed, but new indigenous ones in-
corporating modern technological developments have yet to develop.9

Modernization and Planning in Amman

By the 1880s, while Cairo, the Arab world's largest metropolis, was
being completely transformed on the architectural and urban levels,
Amman had just emerged as a settlement of a few hundred inhabit-
ants.'0 Signs of modernization did not begin to affect Amman until the
early twentieth century, when the Hijaz Railroad line reached the city
and the administrative body of the municipality was established. More-
over, it was not until the 1920s and 1930s that most of the other
manifestations of modernization (piped water, electricity, telephones,
and the motor vehicle) began to become commonplace in the city. By
1925, about 130 motor vehicles could be found in the whole of
Transjordan. The first telephone connections were introduced to Amman
in 1927, and piped water became available in 1928. The electricity
company was established in 1938, although some neighborhoods al-
ready had access to electricity through privately owned and operated
The slow introduction of modern technology to Amman and its
small population during the first half of the twentieth century meant
that the preexisting balances between social needs and available tech-

52 Mohammad Al-Asad

nologies in the city were not subjected to any sudden or excessive
pressures. Instead, Amman underwent a process of gradual transforma-
tion that allowed for a relatively successful accommodation of imported
technologies. The new changes even provided an injection of fresh
ideas into a tradition that had suffered from stagnation for a number of
The buildings of Amman that survive from the 1920s and 1930s
show the gradual transformations of that period. The extroverted West-
ern-style villa (consisting of a free-standing residence surrounded by a
garden that is, in turn, surrounded by a wall) was introduced and began
to replace the traditional, more introverted courtyard house. In the new
villas, the traditional courtyard was transformed into a covered central
hall flanked by a row of rooms on two sides. Western-influenced ele-
ments usually reached Amman through the intermediacy of the then
less provincial cities of the region such as Damascus, Beirut, and Jerusa-
lem, and even Salt and Nablus, and included decorative features such as
variations on the classical orders. The structures began to be served by
running water, telephones, and electricity. They also used new con-
struction materials such as reinforced concrete and steel joists, but main-
tained the traditional sheathing material of roughly finished stone blocks.
The imported features did not overwhelm the preexisting built environ-
ment but interacted with traditional approaches to architecture to pro-
duce new and fresh compositions, and to achieve a successful balance
between the traditional and the imported.12
This period of gradual transformation did not last long. By the sec-
ond half of the twentieth century, the preexisting, though constantly
transforming, balance between social needs and available technologies
began to fall apart under pressure from the city's rapidly growing popu-
lation and the accelerated importation of modern technologies and
architectural vocabularies. The craftsmen, contractors, architects, and
engineers involved in the building industry were no longer able to
assimilate successfully the imported technologies and visual vocabular-
ies, and a collapse in the aesthetic balance that had been maintained
during the first half of the twentieth century followed.
Changes in the built environment affected people of various eco-
nomic backgrounds. In order to accommodate the rapidly growing
population of the city, quickly built, cheap, and uninspired concrete
boxes replaced the traditional, carefully built stone and even mud houses
of Amman. In the more affluent sections of the city, stone was still used
as a sheathing material, but a new wave of eclecticism and exhibitionism

Ruptures in the Middle Eastern City: Amman 53

began to replace the simplicity and discipline of structures from the
1920s and 1930s. These newer structures show an unrestrained use of
various types and shapes of stone, and a stylistic reliance on a wide
variety of architectural vocabularies ranging from the local traditional
vernacular to variations on classical revivals. According to one author
writing on Amman in the late 1950s, "the rugged individualism ex-
pressed in house construction in Amman is an architect's nightmare."13
Although such tendencies can be traced to the 1950s, they did not
predominate until the construction boom that followed the dramatic
rise in oil prices of 1973. This period marks an important turning point
in the city's modern history and has had as profound an influence on its
evolution as the political events of 1948, 1967, and 1990-91. Although
oil-exporting Arab countries were the primary beneficiaries of the rise in
oil prices, other Arab countries also benefited through increased grants
from oil-producing governments and rising expatriate worker remit-
tances. These factors combined to inject large amounts of capital into
the city, and much of that capital was spent on new public- and private-
sector construction. The large number of buildings, streets, and over-
passes constructed during that period transformed Amman on the ar-
chitectural and urban levels.
In spite of the mentioned criticisms, the overall architectural devel-
opment of Amman has not been completely disastrous. The use of
stone as a sheathing material in many parts of the city has softened the
effect of its more unrestrained structures. Since most of Amman's build-
ings are of a recent date, the greenery planted around them has not yet
fully grown. Trees and other forms of vegetation can only beautify the
built environment and can partially conceal the structures behind them
as well. Although the construction booms of the past few decades have
often had unfortunate architectural results, they have also given tal-
ented younger architects opportunities to build and even to experi-
Some have called for regulations to limit the eclecticism and exhibi-
tionism that have become increasingly characteristic of much of Amman's
architecture. But it is impossible to regulate something as subjective as
beauty, whose definition differs from one beholder to another and
changes with time. Attempting to achieve a uniform aesthetic code that
is inoffensive to the greatest number of people will result in monoto-
nous visual formulas and uninspired structures. Yet some types of regu-
lations, if applied in a sensitive and selective manner, can improve our
visual surroundings. For example, ordinances can be passed calling for

54 Mohammad Al-Asad

the planting of vegetation around structures. Laws can also be used to
restrain the chaotic spread of television antennas, water tanks, and solar
heaters, which clutter both the roofs of buildings and the Amman
skyline. Architects and building owners can be required to conceal such
structures or incorporate them in the overall design of the structure.

Amman's Expansion: Problems in Land Use and Planning
The most serious criticisms of Amman, however, concern its urban
composition rather than the architecture of its individual structures.
Poorly thought out and, in some cases, nonexistent urban policies have
had disastrous environmental and economic consequences on the city
and its surroundings. One of these has been the vast expansion of the
city and the destruction of thousands of acres of naturally arable land.
Amman is located in a transitional region where the fertile hills of the
Balqa from the west meet the arid plateau of the Jordanian Badiya or
semidesert from the east. The Hijaz Railroad line provides an approxi-
mate line of division between these two areas. One of the most disturb-
ing and regrettable aspects of Amman's development in the second half
of the twentieth century has been the unprecedented loss of agricultural
areas resulting from its rapid growth in a westerly direction. Planners
have made no attempt to redirect its growth toward the east, and as a
result, layers of asphalt and concrete now cover tens of thousands of
acres of prime agricultural land. The vast majority of the area occupied
by present-day Amman was traditionally cultivated with fruits, veg-
etables, and grains, or covered by forests. Some small plots in the city
continue to be farmed today, providing a sad reminder of the fact that
Amman is located on agriculturally fertile soil.
The destruction of forested areas and farmland surrounding Amman
started in the late nineteenth century for the purpose of accommodat-
ing its growing population, serving the heating needs of the inhabit-
ants, and supporting the construction of the Hijaz Railroad. The rate of
destruction, however, accelerated during the second half of the twenti-
eth century as a result of the dramatic rise in the city's population. The
loss of agricultural land and forests to urban growth is always unfortu-
nate. In the case of Jordan, a country with little naturally arable land, it
has been tragic. Estimates place the proportion of agricultural land to
the total area of the country at less than 10 percent. Under such cir-
cumstances, economic and urban planners should have placed stronger

Ruptures in the Middle Eastern City: Amman 55

emphasis on preserving available agricultural areas and saving them
from urban incursions. Sadly, no such efforts have been made.
Another unfortunate aspect of Amman's evolution is that buildings
occupy less than half its total area; the remaining parts are empty. In
1985, unbuilt plots covered over 60 percent of the city's total area.'4
Although new buildings have been constructed since then, empty plots
remain ubiquitous, and it will be decades before buildings fill up these
areas. This scattering of structures over large areas is both aesthetically
unpleasant and highly inefficient. Municipal services must be provided
for wide but sparsely populated areas. Also, people have to travel con-
siderable distances to go from one part of the city to another. Most of
those previously cultivated areas are now eyesores covered in weeds,
and often they are used as dumping grounds for building materials and
garbage. A more sensitive management of urban space would have
included the creation of public parks and gardens in many of these
empty plots. Unfortunately, Amman is also characterized by a chronic
shortage of public spaces, an issue to which I shall return shortly.
In addition to the destruction of arable lands and the unchecked
growth of the city, existing land-use policies have allowed a continuous
incursion of commercial, educational, administrative, and even indus-
trial uses into residential areas. A degree of mixed land use is generally
desirable, and zoning regulations that aim at a strict segregation of
areas according to use may have unfortunate consequences. Areas re-
served exclusively for commercial purposes, for example, usually be-
come ghost towns in the evenings and on holidays. Single-use zoning
practices also produce an under-utilization of services and waste energy
since they require inhabitants to commute between areas devoted to
different uses.'5 In Amman, however, instead of a conscious creation of
balanced mixed-use areas, we are witnessing an overtaking of residential
areas by other uses, usually ones that bring undesirable levels of traffic
and noise. In one case, a quiet residential street was completely trans-
formed when a busy bus line was rerouted through it. In addition,
permits were given for the construction of a large hotel and a large
hospital along the street, and for the conversion of many of the street's
structures into government offices and medical clinics. Such changes
have invited large amounts of vehicular traffic, which the street cannot
accommodate. Similar examples can be found throughout the city. In
Amman, one may move into a residence in a quiet neighborhood, but
there is nothing to prevent that neighborhood from becoming crowded,

56 Mohammad Al-Asad

noisy, and unsuitable for residential living within a few years. Eventually
one may have to move to a new and still undisturbed part of the city.
While this pattern of instability prevents people from developing a sense
of belonging and loyalty to their neighborhoods, property owners usu-
ally support such transformations since they bring rising real estate
values and allow them to sell or rent their holdings for considerable
financial gain.
These problems are intimately connected to the intense land specu-
lation that has accompanied the growth of Amman. Short- and long-
term investment in real estate occupies a disproportionately large per-
centage of total investment in Jordan. This preference for putting one's
money in real estate is partly connected to the political instability of the
Middle East region. Converting liquid capital into real estate is viewed
as a safe manner of guarding one's assets. Even in the most volatile areas
of the region, such as Lebanon and the West Bank, real estate values
continue to rise. Another factor responsible for the direction of large
amounts of capital into real estate is the relative underdevelopment of
other sectors of the economy. Consequently, most people prefer to
place their savings in land and buildings, thus diverting them from
investment in agriculture, industry, or services.
The value of real estate transactions in Jordan during 1991 reached
an estimated $800 million, approximately equal to one-fifth of the
country's gross national product.16 In the same manner that real estate
transactions provide the major form of investment for people of various
economic backgrounds, and a primary means through which they can
preserve and increase their wealth, taxes levied on real estate transac-
tions supply a significant component of overall governmental revenues.
The importance of real estate transactions within the Jordanian economy
has depended on minimizing legislation regulating land use and on the
continuous availability of subdivided plots. Unfortunately, these condi-
tions have also resulted in the permanent loss of agricultural land, the
unregulated expansion of the city, and a lack of continuity in land use
patterns. Any remedy for the situation needs to include a prohibition
on any further subdividing of agricultural land, and the placement of
a moratorium on the subdividing of any open areas in or around Am-
man until existing urbanized areas are occupied to an agreed upon
capacity. Other solutions can include levying taxes on unbuilt plots,
thus discouraging speculation while promoting productive use of land
or investment into other areas of the economy. Considering the impor-
tant position that real estate transactions presently occupy in the Jorda-

Ruptures in the Middle Eastern City: Amman 57

nian economy, the various segments of the society benefiting from the
status quo will fiercely resist any solutions that will affect them nega-
tively. Therefore, any attempts to limit speculation in real estate and to
reform land-use regulations in Jordan must be preceded, or at least
accompanied, by a growing public awareness of the disastrous environ-
mental and long-term economic consequence of maintaining present

Streets and Congestion: The Impact of the Automobile
A serious shortcoming in the quality of life in Amman is the dominance
of the automobile in the city. In Amman, the pedestrian is almost
completely ignored. Streets mercilessly cut through neighborhoods and
destroy preexisting urban fabrics. Many streets lack sidewalks, and where
they do exist, often they are too narrow and consist of unconnected
strips that only serve isolated segments of a given street. Many narrow
sidewalks have low-branching trees planted down their center, making
them completely unusable by pedestrians. The ideal solution is to make
sidewalks wide enough to accommodate both trees and pedestrians.
When sidewalks are widened, however, drivers use them to park their
cars. For pedestrians, crossing the city's busier streets can be a night-
marish experience. This disregard for the pedestrian is evident in the
planning of Amman's traffic circles, which are among the most promi-
nent aspects of its street system. Although most of these circles contain
small public gardens, they are literally islands in a sea of asphalt, and
reaching them can be a difficult and dangerous undertaking.
Although the utility of the motor vehicle is undeniable, its use has
also had tragic consequences. In 1991, motor vehicle accidents were
responsible for the deaths of 379 people in Jordan, and the injuring of
10,126 others. The injuries of 241 of these were classified as "seri-
ous."'7 These accidents also result in considerable damage to property
and an uncounted loss in time. The motor vehicle is the main source of
noise and air pollution in the city. The priority given to the automobile
over the pedestrian in the planning and administering of the city also
reflects a form of discrimination against those who cannot afford to
purchase a motor vehicle. Amman's present public transportation sys-
tem is inefficient and does not adequately meet the needs of its users. It
does not serve all parts of the city, and in many areas served by public
transportation, long waits for overcrowded vehicles are common. An
efficient public transportation system is an essential prerequisite for

58 Mohammad Al-Asad

improving the quality of life in Amman and for promoting its economic
Crucial for improving the quality of life in Amman, therefore, is
reclaiming it for the pedestrian. This involves stricter enforcement of
traffic laws as they apply to both driving and parking; the enactment of
more restrictive emission control laws; limiting vehicular access in cer-
tain parts of the city to public transportation vehicles; and converting a
number of streets into pedestrian zones. Unfortunately, many individu-
als in decision-making positions still view Amman's traffic problems as
the result of insufficient access of the motor vehicle to the city. Their
proposed solutions concentrate on furthering the dominance of the
automobile-usually by constructing new streets and overpasses and
widening existing streets, thus threatening to damage the urban fabric
even more. A 1992 newspaper article entitled "A Study for Solving the
Traffic Congestion Problems in the Center of the Old City of Amman"
is an example of such attitudes. The article recommends converting a
number of streets in the center of the city into one-way arteries. Al-
though the author mentions thirteen specific streets, he recommends
that only one of them be converted into a pedestrian zone. Moreover,
he calls for narrowing the sidewalks of one of the streets by 30-40 cm
on each side to further widen the street.19 Ironically, this author shows a
relatively timid attitude in the degree to which he promotes the su-
premacy of the motor vehicle. I have come across planners who pro-
pose solving the traffic problems of the city center by tearing down the
old structures bordering congested streets to allow for a sufficient wid-
ening of these streets. Such "solutions" show an utter lack of sensitivity
to existing urban fabrics and to the physical manifestations of Amman's
past. Moreover, they provide only temporary relief to the problems of
traffic congestion, since widening of streets will invite additional ve-
hicular traffic and will create an even more insolvable congestion prob-
lem in the future.

Urban Places and Spaces: The Need for Responsible
Planning and Civic Responsibility

From the point of view of accommodating the pedestrian, the Hashimiyya
Plaza in the center of the city, next to the Roman amphitheater, is an
example of a successful urban space in Amman. Although the design of
the plaza could have shown more sensitivity, it is at least exclusively
reserved for pedestrians. It provides a much needed respite in one of

Ruptures in the Middle Eastern City: Amman 59

Amman's most crowded sections, and it is extremely popular among
inhabitants of all ages. In spite of the pressing need for such public
spaces, Amman unfortunately has very few public parks. In fact, little
attention is generally given to the public realm, a reflection of attitudes
in both the private and public sectors. People's interest in their visual
surroundings usually does not extend beyond the boundaries of their
own residences, and does not even include the workplace. Neither indi-
viduals nor public institutions give priority to the maintenance and
upkeep of public buildings and spaces. Such apathy with respect to the
public realm is of course connected to the problems afflicting the city.
In fact, Amman's problems are not simply the result of poorly thought
out or nonexistent zoning regulations. The passage of thoughtful legis-
lation does not guarantee its effective implementation, and the unsatis-
factory conditions characterizing Amman's urban evolution are inter-
connected with prevailing social, economic, political, and cultural con-
ditions. Extensive public debate and an increased sense of civic respon-
sibility and aesthetics among the city's inhabitants must accompany any
attempts at improving the quality of life in Amman.
Higher levels of political pluralism are essential to establishing a
sense of civic responsibility among the members of any community.
Such participation encourages people to expand their concerns beyond
the private realm, and to treat the public realm as something belonging
to "us" (the people) rather than "them" (the authorities). In this con-
text, it will be very interesting to note how Jordan's recent experiments
in democratization will affect people's attitudes toward public areas.
Another factor contributing to the lack of civic responsibility in
Amman is a psychological one. Many of Amman's inhabitants moved
there because they were forced out of their communities of origin by
the conflicts of 1948, 1967, and 1990-91. Many in these displaced
groups still view Amman as a temporary place of residence even though
they have lived in it for decades, have established strong social and
financial roots in it, or were even born in it.
A disastrous consequence of the continuous, rapid, and unregulated
transformations that have affected Amman since the middle of the twen-
tieth century has been the destruction of a number of structures dating
from the 1920s and 1930s, and their replacement by multistory resi-
dential or commercial structures or car garages. For example, although
the Hashimiyya Plaza, mentioned above, is commendable as a space
exclusively reserved for pedestrians, its construction resulted in the un-
fortunate and avoidable demolition of Amman's oldest modern hotel,

60 Mohammad Al-Asad

the Philadelphia Hotel, constructed during the 1920s. This Amman
landmark could easily have been preserved and incorporated within the
design of the plaza. Other structures from that period have been, and
continue to be, torn down.20 Unfortunately, this is not a new problem.
A number of Amman's pre-Islamic and early Islamic remains were dis-
mantled between the late nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries to
provide construction materials for the newly emerging city. Although
Amman's surviving premodern archaeological remains are now pro-
tected by law, such protection still has not been extended to include
structures from the modern period.
These transformations have also affected the city's geographic char-
acteristics. As mentioned above, the razing of forests surrounding Amman
began in the late nineteenth century. Although most of the forested
areas have disappeared, the process has not been halted. For example,
the sizable building constructed in the 1970s to house the University of
Jordan's School of Engineering resulted in the loss of the wooded area
that previously occupied the site. In his Mu'jam al-Buldan, the thir-
teenth-century geographer, Yaqut described Amman as a town with "a
number of rivers and mills run by water."21 Ducks and swans could still
be seen in Amman's main stream up to the 1940s, and the stream could
accommodate small boats during parts of the year. This stream, which
was part of Amman's geography since ancient times, is now a sewage
conduit covered by a busy street. Visual manifestations of the memories
of the city's inhabitants are continuously and ruthlessly erased. These
conditions do not allow for the preservation of memories or the cre-
ation of a sense of place. Whether one grew up in Amman during the
1930s or the 1970s, most of the neighborhoods in which childhoods
were spent have been extensively altered and bear little resemblance to
the images preserved in one's memories. The history of the modern city
since the middle of the twentieth century has been a story of severe
discontinuities and harsh ruptures.

Conclusion: Creating a Sense of Place
Choosing which artifacts from the past to preserve is a difficult decision
to make on both the personal and communal levels, and in most cases
one cannot preserve everything. This is especially true of examples be-
longing to the recent past. Still, far too many physical manifestations of
the past in Amman and other cities in the Middle East have been

Ruptures in the Middle Eastern City: Amman 61

destroyed. This destruction is part of a wider set of ruptures affecting
this part of the world. These ruptures have partly resulted from the
population explosions swelling its cities, which in turn are the conse-
quence of such factors as natural population growth, migration from
the countryside, policies of increased governmental centralization, and
the political crises that have affected the region. These demographic
explosions have destroyed feelings of identification that people had
with their neighborhoods and cities. Newcomers have been uprooted
from their original places of residence and need time to develop a sense
of belonging in their new habitats. Original inhabitants of a city such as
Amman have seen their neighborhoods transformed beyond recogni-
The contemporary cultural, political, and economic institutions of
the Middle East generally show little continuity with the premodern
period. And, although the contemporary Middle East has not yet suc-
ceeded in forming truly modern political, economic, social, and cultural
institutions, enough changes have taken place to cut off contacts with
the past and to redefine that past in the consciousness of its people.22 In
the minds of many, the past has become a distant, sacred, and timeless
relic viewed only in terms of black and white. Such a conception ex-
cludes principles of historical evolution and continuity, and of progress.
To most, the modern period remains vaguely defined. It is located
outside the chronological borders defining the past and is not yet viewed
as a phase of transition from the premodern period to the present. The
failure to extend the regulations protecting the premodern architectural
monuments of Amman to include modern ones reflects an inability to
deal with the modern period as part of the past and as part of one's
Buildings once they are destroyed are lost forever. Fertile soil now
buried under layers of asphalt and concrete is extremely difficult to
reclaim. Many of Amman's problems are not irreversible and can be
effectively dealt with if addressed in the near future. These problems
can become irreversible, however, if present conditions are allowed to
continue and, eventually, to prevail. Considering that Amman is still a
city of a manageable size, has an adequate infrastructure, and provides a
relatively efficient level of services, it has the potential of not only sup-
porting a high quality of life for its inhabitants but also of providing a
model for dealing with the various problems facing cities in the Middle

62 Mohammad Al-Asad

Poverty, overcrowding, and inadequate infrastructure remain among
the most serious problems affecting cities throughout the Middle East
and the developing world. An important theme of this chapter, how-
ever, is that as architects, planners, economists, and government admin-
istrators attempt to alleviate the economic difficulties from which these
cities suffer, they have to approach the city as an entity that fosters the
preservation of memories and the creation of a sense of place. Unless
they allow cities to fulfill these roles, and unless they address the prob-
lems of the city with sensitivity to psychological, aesthetic, historical,
and overall cultural issues, their efforts, no matter how well inten-
tioned, are doomed to failure.

1. For additional information on Amman, see Arsalan Ramadan Bakig,
Amman Yesterday and Today (Amman: n.p., 1984); Jane M. Hacker, Modern
'Amman: A Social Study, Research Papers Series, No. 3 (Durham, England:
Department of Geography, 1960); Lankester Harding, "'Amman," Encyclopaedia
of Islam, 2d ed., 1:447-48; Sulayman Musa, ed., 'Amman: 'Asimat al-Urdun
[Amman: capital of Jordan] (Amman: Manshurat amanat al-'asima, 1985);
Eugene Lawrence Rogan, "Physical Islamization in Amman," The Muslim World
76 (January 1986): 24-42.
2. See Hacker, Modern cAmman, 60-66; Rogan, "Physical Islamization,"
3. Rogan, 28.
4. Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Department of Statistics, Special Report,
October 1992 (Amman), 18-19.
5. Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Department of Statistics, Statistical Year-
book, 1991 (Amman, 1991), 22.
6. For information on the East Wihdat Development Project, see James
Steele, ed., Architecture for a Changing World (Geneva: Aga Khan Award for
Architecture, 1992), 124-39.
7. For a discussion of the characteristics of traditional cities in the Islamic
world and the changes brought about during the modern period, see Janet
Abu-Lughod, "The Islamic City-Historical Myth, Islamic Essence, and Con-
temporary Relevance," InternationalJournal of Middle East Studies 19 (1987):
8. Concerning the reliance on pack animals instead of wheeled carriages in
the Middle East and North Africa during the premodern period, see Richard W.
Bulliet, The Camel and the Wheel, rev. ed. (New York: Columbia University
Press, 1990).

Ruptures in the Middle Eastern City: Amman 63

9. For a detailed discussion of architecture as the result of a process of
dialectic interaction between social needs and existing technologies, and of the
effects of modern technological developments on architecture, see Rifat Chadirji,
Concepts and Influences: Towards a Regionalised International Architecture (Lon-
don: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
10. Concerning the transformations affecting Cairo during that period, see
Janet Abu-Lughod, Cairo, 1001 Years of the City Victorious (Princeton, N.J.:
Princeton University Press, 1971), 83-117.
11. See Hacker, Modern Amman, 24-37.
12. For additional information on these houses, see Ruba Kan'an and Talib
al-Rifa'i, Buyut 'Amman al-'ula [Amman's earliest houses] (Amman: Manshurat
al-jami'a al-urduniyya, 1987).
13. Hacker, Modern Amman, 54.
14. Musa, 'Amman, 310.
15. See Peter Blake, Form Follows Fiasco: Why Modern Architecture Hasn't
Worked (Boston: Little, Brown, 1979), 109-20.
16. Interview, Mr. Basil Jardaneh, Jordanian minister of finance, Amman,
August 10, 1992.
17. Statistical Yearbook, 1991, 222-24.
18. Concerning the impact of the automobile on contemporary cities, see
Kevin Lynch, Good City Form (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1987), 273;
Blake, Form Follows Fiasco, 93.
19. See Khalid Nazmi abu al-Su'ud al-Burini, "Dirasa lihall al-ikhtinaqat al-
mururiyya fi wasat al-balda al-qadima min 'Amman" [A study for solving the
traffic congestion problems in the center of the old city of Amman], al-Ra'y
(Amman), September 19, 1992, 2.
20. Of the nine houses surveyed between 1984 and 1986 and featured in
Buyut 'Amman (see note 12), one has already been torn down.
21. Yaqut al-Hamawi, Mucjam al-Buldan [The dictionary of places], ed.
Farid A. al-Jundi (Beirut: Dar al-kutub al-'ilmiyya, 1990), 4:171.
22. For an analysis of the process of modernization in the Arab world, see
Hisham Sharabi, Neopatriarchy: A Theory of Distorted Change in Arab Society
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1988).

Chapter 4

Urban Conservation
in the Old City of San'a

R. Brooks Jeffery

Within any discussion of conservation, a distinction must be made be-
tween the conservation of single monuments and conservation on an
urban scale. The conservation of an individual building requires the
knowledge and technical expertise to identify and restore the historic
integrity of the building, even if the original function has changed. It
requires an understanding of traditional construction materials and meth-
ods as well as the aesthetic patterns represented by fenestration, orna-
mentation, and details of construction, and even an appreciation of the
scale of the hand and other parts of the human body used as a unit of
measurement. Conservation on an urban scale, however, requires a
much broader understanding of the economic, political, and sociologi-
cal components on which the foundation of urban life stands. Architec-
ture on an urban scale is represented not as buildings but as space and
specifically how that space is enveloped in the forms of a room, a house,
a street, a garden, a public square, and a communal unit such as a
neighborhood or town. The dynamic sequence of these spaces is deter-
mined by the scale of the human body unified as a group by economic,
religious, political, and social elements that, in turn, define a cultural
memory whose identity is shaped by history.
The traditional Arab-Islamic city is defined by an overlapping of
those aspects of public life that give the center its strength, be it a
family, tribe, neighborhood district, or city unit. The importance of
center as a concept is manifested on the various religious, economic,
and social levels of urban life through the various spaces in which people
dwell. In any effort to conserve an urban entity, it is necessary to de-


Conservation in the Old City of San'a 65

velop a process that identifies the centers within a historic context and
attempts to define a balance between these various urban entities with-
out destroying their individual character in a contemporary context.
Conservation, however, is not a question of "modernizing" an urban
unit while carefully sparing a few isolated monuments. Rather it aims to
define an architectural vocabulary that will make it possible to regain
and perpetuate the essential elements of the urban fabric while integrat-
ing supplementary functions to fulfill new needs. Nor is conservation
the creation of a museum-city and the dissociation of urban entities
from their functional role in contemporary society; rather it uses the
urban morphology to reinforce a living cultural identity.
Vernacular architectural expressions developed from human attempts
to define a balance with the environment that appreciates the utility and
beauty of materials inherent to the region. Through the development
of technology, many societies have gained control over their physical
environment and, consequently, have divorced themselves from the
daily experiential understanding of their immediate environment. These
technological advances have encouraged a homogeneity and interna-
tionalism of cultural expression at the expense of the idiosyncrasies of
our personality, whether as individuals, groups, regional inhabitants, or
cultures. Contemporary technological expression of architecture is of-
ten beyond the ordinary person's understanding and the scope of one's
individual skills. The monuments of vernacular cultures, however, allow
its inhabitants to experience architecture as it relates directly to the
environment and to their everyday lives. It is the essential function of
urban conservation in a traditional culture, therefore, to identify the
cultural memory embodied in its architectural expression as a means of
reinforcing the inherent values of the culture as perennial and vigor-
The incorporation of these conservation ideals into a comprehensive
plan is best described by Ronald Lewcock, who explains that the pro-
cess requires an interdependent combination of legislation, public edu-
cation, and money, to which this author would add the initial step of
planning. The planning process begins at conferences and other forums
for the exchange of ideas, and involves the participation of all the disci-
plines that represent the vocabulary of the urban environment: archi-
tects, planners, sociologists, economists, health educators, and others.
Legislation is necessary to codify this language into standards for the
implementation of the planning process. Only through the enforce-
ment of a legislative infrastructure can there be a full realization of the

66 R. Brooks Jeffery

conservation of the cultural values represented in the built environ-
The third component of any conservation program is public educa-
tion. Comprehensive programs must be developed to educate people-
especially property owners, occupants, and trustees of old buildings-
understanding the role of architecture in the conservation of their cul-
tural heritage. The only way we have of persuading owners to accept
legislative restrictions on their buildings is to educate the entire public
to the importance of protecting its community's monuments, thereby
putting the owners under pressure from their own community. Once a
commitment is made to the vision and its dissemination, the final goal
is the establishment of financial mechanisms, such as tax exemptions,
grants, long-term credit, cooperatives, and foreign investment, that will
provide the means to implement the vision.2
One major conservation program on an urban scale has been the
attempt to preserve-to save-the Old City or medina of San'a. One of
the oldest cities in the Middle East, San'a not only contains some of the
most dramatic and interesting vernacular architecture in the world, but
the Old City has also survived basically intact into the later twentieth
century. Yet even with these assets, the attempt to conserve the entire
Old City in the face of the "modernization" and the changes of the last
several decades is very complicated and multifaceted. As will be seen, it
entails much more than just preserving beautiful architecture. This chap-
ter first gives a short account of the history of the city and its major
physical features in order to suggest the rich culture of its built environ-
ment. Then the discussion centers on the conservation program itself,
which began in 1984. The chapter concludes with an evaluation of the
overall project and discusses additional measures that may ensure its

The Old City of San'a: A Brief History
Situated on the high, central plateau in the southwestern corner of the
Arabian Peninsula, San'a is one of the oldest cities in the world.3 The
valley in which the present capital of the Republic of Yemen lies is
defined by the mountain Jebel Nuqum (2,892 meters), under whose
protection San'a has prospered as both an agrarian and fortified center,
and the sa'ilah, or watercourse, which splits the valley and provides a
line of definition throughout the growth of the walled city. Its geo-

Conservation in the Old City of San'a 67

graphic position allowed San'a to control the major trade route from
Marib, the capital of the Sabean Kingdom (1000 B.C.-A.D. 400 ) lo-
cated northeast of the city, to the seaports along the Red Sea. San'a was
deemed a mahram, a sacred place, and was the location of a military
headquarters by the third century A.D.4
Pre-Islamic San'a was distinguished by two fortified nodal points:
the Ghumdan Palace and the citadel or qsar (fig. 4-1). The legendary
Ghumdan Palace, which was located near the present Great Mosque
but which has long since been destroyed, was purported to be ten
stories tall. It established a precedent of verticality as an important
element in the morphological vocabulary that continues to define the
Old City today. The eastern nucleus of the Old City was, and still is,
defined by the citadel located on a foothill of Jebel Nuqum.
San'a's growth can be divided into several Islamic periods starting
with the Persians in the seventh century, during which time develop-
ment was organic and quickly consumed the markets and farmland west
of the principal citadel. During this medieval period in the ninth cen-
tury the first of many walls around the Old City was built. Subsequent
walls marked the city's progressive settlement to the west. A change
took place in the sixteenth century when the Ottoman Turks con-
quered Yemen (until 1630) and established the area outside the west-
ern gate as a garden suburb and residential area. In fact, much credit for
the preservation of the Old City today is owed to the Turks, who
separated their new city and hence left the medina unchanged.
Another major change in the social and physical structure of the city
came when its Jewish population was expelled from the Old City in the
seventeenth century. Forced to live on the Tihama Coast of the Red Sea
for a year, they were then allowed to return to the San'a valley but not
to the Old City. Instead, they were compelled to build their own quar-
ter on the western side of Bir al-'Azab and the preexisting village of al-
Bayniyah. The new quarter became known as Qa' al-Yahud (note fig.
4-1 [Ka'a el Jahaud]), and by the end of the eighteenth century, the
neighborhood had its own suq, fourteen synagogues, and houses "as
handsome as any in San'a."5
Under the subsequent rulers of Zaydi Imams, development of the
western part of the Old City continued. In 1708, Imam al-Mutawakkil
built a large palace in a garden on the western side of the city, sur-
rounded by its own defensive wall. The tall palace in fact became the
object of many Western depictions of San'a in the nineteenth century,

-. City Wall with Defenses (Encloses original Old City)
S City Wall without Defenses (Encloses Western Old City)
A/4' Housing, Residential Quarters
1| Suq (Bazaar / Market)

s Mosques (Numbers 1-43*) [#35 = the Great Mosque]
Hammam (Public Bath) (Letters d, e, g, m, n, o*)
Il al-Mutawakkil Palace
.: Cemetery

SRainfed Fields (Dryland Farming)
/ Irrigated Fields, Orchards, and Gardens
-: Saliah (Wadi / Dry Riverbed)
Bab = City Gate Kasr = Qasr (Castle / Fortress)
Ka'a el Jahaud = Jewish Quarter

Fig. 4-1. San'a: the Old City and the western suburbs in the 1920s. Sources: Rathjens and Wissmann, "San'a."
Also reproduced in Serjeant and Lewcock, San 'a; Lane, San'a; and Kopp and Wirth, Beitrige zur Stadtgeographie
von San'a.

Conservation in the Old City of San'a 69

which, again, emphasized verticality as a characteristic unique to San'a's
architectural identity. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, walls
were built around Bir al-'Azab and Qa' al-Yahud, along with six gates
and three major squares within the walls.6 This newly walled suburb was
sacked extensively in 1851 and 1853; when he saw it in 1858, H. A.
Stern described Bir al-'Azab as a "large tract of waste land, varied by
cemeteries and fragments of former dwellings."' Between 1872 and
1918, San'a once again came under the yoke of the Ottomans, who
returned to their previous residential area. New buildings, including the
Turkish hospital and school, were constructed outside the western walls.
The fortifications were improved by the construction of round towers
at regular intervals around the city walls.
The Turks withdrew in 1919, and Imam Yahya (1904-48) secured
his power by maintaining strict isolation from the outside world and
regressive conditions within the country. Yet, at the same time, the
royal family and other wealthy families enjoyed a renaissance of archi-
tecture. Many of the medina's great mansions date from this period,
although in actuality these houses were usually additions and renova-
tions to structures built several hundred years earlier. Imam Yahya built
a new palace next to the old one in Bustan al-Mutawakkil, where the
first electricity in the city was installed. Inhabitants returned to the Old
City, and its population reached as high as fifty thousand by midcentury.8
Because northern Yemen was never colonized by a Western power,
and even the Turkish presence was rather minimal and localized, San'a
and Yemen maintained a purity of indigenous architecture that is rare in
this century of international homogeneity. However, the outside world-
and modernity-struck Yemen quite suddenly. The Yemeni civil war of
1962-69 brought in Egyptians on the side of a republican faction op-
posed to the regressive policies of the royalist imamate, who had the
support of Saudi Arabia. During this period the Old City's inherent
morphology remained relatively unchanged as dense vertical habitation
maintained its contrasting relationship with the lush open spaces used
for cultivation. The Egyptians continued the development of the west-
ern part of the Old City. They planned a new commercial center just
outside the western walls of the medina and constructed a four-lane
boulevard parallel to the western wall, a ring road encircling the Old
City walls, and other roads that radiated from the newly created public
square, Maydan al-Tahrir. Between the attacks on the Old City during
the civil war and Egypt's attempt to develop a modern city, most of the

70 R. Brooks Jeffery

original city gates were demolished and new openings were created to
accommodate the increasing vehicular traffic. This new city, outside the
walls, thus became the center of modern business activity, leaving the
Old City to the craftsmen, indigenous merchants, and traders. During
the 1970s and 1980s the areas outside the Old City continued to
develop at an ever-accelerating rate.
The previous lack of modern development and the extensive em-
ployment of Yemeni laborers abroad made Yemenis keenly aware of the
ever-increasing need for modernization, and they embraced it whole-
heartedly when it arrived. Along with public services, cars, and foreign
consumer goods, change brought massive urban migration, traffic, lit-
ter, cheap foreign construction materials, and an obsession to become a
modern state, even at the expense of traditional culture. The richest of
the Old City's inhabitants moved out to modern suburban dwellings,
and the largest and finest of the traditional houses were either left to
decay through neglect or subdivided into apartments that were rented
out to the poor. Much of the commercial vitality of the market area also
left the medina. The importation of cheaper goods caused many of the
traditional crafts, along with their shops, to disappear. Many buildings
fell into disrepair as periodic maintenance was disregarded. The skills
necessary to repair traditional buildings were not passed on to a new
generation, and, consequently, modern and often inappropriate tech-
niques were used when repairs were done at all.

The Tradiitonal Urban Elements of San'a
The Old City of San'a is composed of a number of functional and
morphological elements, some with counterparts in many other Islamic
Middle Eastern cities and others that are unique to San'a and Yemen. A
principal morphological determinant for any desert city is water, and
the San'a valley is no exception. Gardens, mosques, and public baths
within the medina relied on the sophisticated system of partially subter-
ranean water channels known in Yemeni dialect as ghayls. Similar to the
Iranian qanat and Omani falaj, these ghayls transported water to their
destination by drawing on a complex network of wells, generally lo-
cated at the foot of hills and high mountains.9 Downstream from the
actual catchment area there is generally a large cistern that ensures a
steady flow and continuity of the supply. From the cistern an open

Conservation in the Old City of San'a 71

channel continues downslope, sometimes zigzagging to create a more
gentle gradient and usually terminating in agricultural fields. Even as
recently as the mid-1970s the ghayls were also used for drinking water
and religious ablutions.'0
Like many traditional cities of the Middle East, the Old City of San'a
is organized into urban districts or neighborhoods, which were roughly
defined by alliance formations consisting of groups of families. An ur-
ban district in San'a varied in size but was generally small and tended to
form alliances with other districts, which might or might not be perma-
nent. It is possible that some urban districts developed from the settling
of isolated tribal groups. Evidence for this lies in the continued exist-
ence of the original two districts of al-Qati' and al-Sirar, which were
settled in this manner." Today there is much less distinction between
independent neighborhoods or districts, due to their diminished rel-
evancy as organizational units and the increased control by a strong
central government. In one sense, their identity has become defined as
urban rather than tribal or even kinship related.
The market or suq was, and still is, the focal point of commercial and
social activity in the Old City. Von Wissmann's accounts in the 1920s
defined the southern limit of the market as a line drawn between the
important monuments representing the history of the town-that is,
the Great Mosque, the adjacent site of Ghumdan, the ruins of a sixth-
century church, and the citadel.'2 Morphologically and functionally the
suq has maintained its traditional characteristics as described in its earli-
est accounts: separation from the residential quarters; organization into
production and trade zones; and the presence of customs and storage
houses. Al-Razi described the San'a market in the eleventh century in
much the same way as accounts from the eighteenth century do, al-
though the latter note the increased differentiation of the commodity
markets. The various branches of handicraft production became more
differentiated because of increased specialization, and eventually they
relocated. The spatial organization, and particularly the development of
production zones, correspond roughly to what exists today."
Between the markets and the city gates are found samsara (pl.
samasar) or caravanserais. These large warehouses-hostels provided ac-
commodations for caravans, farmers, and merchants traveling the trade
route and passing through the city. Typically, the larger enclosed samsara
area was divided into three sections: animal stables on the lower levels;

72 R. Brooks Jeffery

storage rooms in the upper mezzanine; and above these a private open
courtyard with lodgings for the travelers that included tearooms and, in
some cases, luxurious accommodations.
Within the medina of San'a the traditional mosque complex, in addi-
tion to its primary function of worship, is the focal point for an even
larger system of community functions. Traditional neighborhood units
formed around the mosque and the public services it provided: educa-
tion, jurisprudence, a public well, garden plots for growing food.
Mosques and their auxiliary services are under the administration of the
waqf(religious trust or endowment). In fact, an estimated two-thirds of
the Old City is waqf. The mosques of the medina, in the order of their
recorded founding, describe the pattern of growth that established and
defined quarters in the city, which are often named after their mosque.
The earliest mosques did not have domes or tall minarets due to the
austerity of early Islam here, which was reinforced by the Zaydi Imams.
Minarets, in fact, were not introduced to Yemen until the fifteenth
century, although they quickly became an emblem of the religious
institution to which they belonged; their height and elaborate decora-
tion proclaimed the mosque's importance. The minarets are constructed
almost entirely of brick. The flexibility of the material is used to create
intricate patterns, which are often whitewashed to accentuate their de-
Public baths, or hammams, are scattered throughout the Old City.
They consist of a series of domed spaces that surround a large main
room and follow a graduated transition from cold to hot, the proces-
sion through which assumes the aura of ritual. The building is sub-
merged to insulate the hot rooms, which are supplied with heat by
hypocausts and vertical flues in the walls. Baths were usually associated
with neighborhood mosques, and as waqf property they continue to
provide income for the maintenance and improvement of the mosque
facilities. The baths were models of decorum and cleanliness until only
recently, when lack of maintenance has forced many to close.
The most striking feature of the Old City is certainly its verticality,
defined by the numerous tower houses looming above the narrow and
winding streets. The tower houses of San'a are unique to southern
Arabia and manifest the Yemeni preference for height; most are for
single and extended families and contain at least five stories, and some
reach to eight or nine levels (fig. 4-2). Their origin may lie in the
remote villages where farmland was scarce and building vertically was

Conservation in the Old City of San'a 73

SFig. 4-2. Tower
i Rhouse in the Old
City (photo byM.

the best means of making efficient use of the land. The vertical arrange-
ment of these multistory houses reflects the same transition from public
to private space that is represented horizontally in most traditional
houses throughout the Middle East. Each house is topped with a pri-
vate sitting room called the mafraj, where afternoon social gatherings
are surrounded by highly decorated walls. The tower houses are built of
a combination of stone and baked brick punctuated with windows of
alabaster and colored glass held in gypsum tracery. Exterior ornamenta-
tion is quite elaborate, often resembling patterns of latticework, jew-
elry, or textiles.
Unseen behind the street facades of these tower houses are the ex-
pansive open spaces around which the houses are grouped. These open
spaces, which occupy approximately one-fifth of the medina, are also

74 R. Brooks Jeffery

waqf property; they are attached to specific neighborhood mosques or
other public facilities. Within the open spaces a distinction is made
between the bustan (garden) and the maqshama (market garden). The
fruits and vegetables grown in the latter are sold to the market to
support waqf facilities of the district, including the hammam, madrasa
(religious school), and public wells. In a remarkable example of a com-
plete traditional ecological system, the water drawn from the public
well first serves for the ablutions of the neighborhood mosque, and is
then used to irrigate crops in the open space. Dung collected from the
long drop toilets of the tower houses is dried and burned for heat in the
hammams; the ashes are then used for fertilizer in the gardens.
Two alternate housing types are found in the areas adjacent to the
old walled city, in Bir al-'Azab and Qa' al-Yahud, respectively the former
Turkish and Jewish neighborhoods. The houses in Bir al-'Azab are
much smaller than the tower houses. Their principal sitting room, or
diwan, is located on the ground floor overlooking a courtyard contain-
ing a pool. A balustrade defines the courtyard, providing sufficient
enclosure to afford privacy yet remaining open enough for residents to
enjoy the gardens that characterize this quarter. The forms and orna-
mentation are much simpler than the tower houses, with decorative
emphasis confined to brick friezes, plaster tracery, and stained-glass
The houses of Qa 'al-Yahud were restricted in height to two stories
and could not be ostentatious, according to an eighteenth-century
Muslim decree. In response to these restrictions the Jews constructed
their buildings of mud brick, lowered the height of rooms, and ar-
ranged them around a central, raised courtyard. The result is a spiral of
room functions from the most private sitting room at the top to the
bathroom and animal stalls located at street level, but below the level of
the courtyard. No two rooms in the Jewish houses are on the same
level; the courtyard maintains a sacred plane between the higher and
lower functions of the house and was used for the annual Festival of the
Tabernacle. These houses often contain secret compartments for the
protection of valuables and exits for quick evacuation, which were needed
in times of Jewish persecution.

The Conservation Plan for the Old City of San'a
In 1984 UNESCO and the Yemen government initiated the Campaign
for the Preservation of the Old City of San'a (which, with the unifica-

Conservation in the Old City of San'a 75

tion of North and South Yemen in 1990, was renamed the General
Organization for the Protection of the Historic Cities of Yemen, or
GOPHCY). The goal of the new organization was not only to focus on
San'a but also to preserve the architectural heritage of historic cities
throughout unified Yemen. GOPHCY is located in one of the tower
houses of the west Old City, Dar al-Jadid, which was restored and
equipped as its headquarters. The GOPHCY office is staffed by Yemeni
architects, engineers, planners, public relations personnel, and adminis-
trators, who are assisted by experts from UNESCO, the United Na-
tions Development Programme (UNDP), and individual donor coun-
tries. Within the political structure of the Yemen government, GOPHCY
is attached to the Ministry of Culture and chaired by an official with
ministerial rank; its board of trustees is chaired by the Yemeni prime
Upon the inception of the preservation campaign in 1984, a plan of
action was drafted, which identified five major problems within the Old
Rising groundwater caused by leaking water pipes was precipitating
the deterioration of foundations and the collapse of several buildings.
Originally the medina had a dry sewerage system, and many houses had
their own independent well for domestic use. After 1962 modern drain-
age and water supply systems began to be installed in the Old City,
which increased water consumption and reliance on water-based sewer-
age systems. Over time, the water from poorly connected pipes weak-
ened many of the tower house foundations.
*Living conditions within the Old City were defined as unhygienic
due to the accumulation of garbage and excrement. This caused many
of its affluent inhabitants to move to the rapidly sprawling suburbs of
metropolitan San'a.
*The combination of traffic congestion, both vehicular and pedes-
trian, and the lack of paved streets (most had had their cobblestones
removed during the civil war) made many of the Old City's streets
impassable and unhygienic, especially during the torrential rainy sea-
*Products from the traditional market are being replaced by mass-
produced items of lesser quality and lower price outside the Old City.
*Architectural monuments are being threatened by poor mainte-
nance and the use of incongruous construction materials, thus dimin-
ishing the architectural heritage for which San'a is recognized by the
world. '

76 R. Brooks Jeffery

From this plan of action, twenty-four pilot projects were identified in
1988 as part of a comprehensive domestic and international public
education program sponsored by UNDP. Many countries have do-
nated funds and technical expertise, allowing the completion of some of
the projects. These projects include, for instance:
*Numerous technical and architectural studies sponsored by the Italian
government, as well as the multibuilding restoration of the Abhar Quar-
ter, which included two tower houses, street paving, and a multipur-
pose neighborhood center and training workshop for restoration stud-
*Repavement of the streets between major nodes using traditional
local stone, which was done in conjunction with infrastructure upgrad-
ing, including new water, sewerage, and drainage systems.
*Restoration of the caravanserai Samsarat al-Nahas, in the central
suq area, which was financed by the government of Norway. The re-
stored building now serves as the National Center for the Development
of Handicrafts for training men, while a parallel restoration project, the
Bayt al-Mutahar, is designated for training women in jewelry, silverwork,
embroidery, and traditional weaving.
*Restoration of the tower house Bayt al-Sunaydar by the govern-
ment of the Netherlands, which is now being used as a commercial
center for Dutch products as well as a guest house for Dutch visitors.
Many other projects have been proposed,'6 including the restoration
of individual monuments, such as mosques and public baths, to their
traditional functions. Other traditional buildings are being converted to
new functions, such as the caravanserais that are being transformed into
neighborhood centers, schools, crafts workshops, museums, and hotels.
Large-scale projects include upgrading the sa'ilah, which bisects the
Old City, into a pedestrian and vehicular circulation spine between the
two historic parts of the Old City, as well as the restoration of open
spaces into gardens, orchards, vineyards, and recreational parks.
A number of projects have been proposed to improve living condi-
tions for the inhabitants of the Old City, as well as to stimulate eco-
nomic and cultural activities in the medina. One of the projects pro-
poses the creation of six neighborhood centers to provide for the health
and education needs of women and children. One of GOPHCY's goals
is to provide neighborhood clinics for everyday consultations, prescrip-
tions, and vaccinations, as well as advice on pre- and postnatal care,
hygiene, and nutrition. Meeting rooms are proposed to accommodate

Conservation in the Old City of San'a 77

lectures and literacy classes that address the recognized correlation be-
tween maternal illiteracy, poor children's health, and high infant mor-
Another goal recognizes that the economic survival and prosperity of
the Old City are based upon creating an interdependent relationship
between the traditional markets of the medina and those newer com-
mercial zones of metropolitan San'a. It is imperative that the proposal
be elaborated in direct consultation with the craftsmen's guild, for too
drastic an intervention could easily upset the traditional structure of the
suq and precipitate its demise. Legislation should stress the responsibil-
ity of both the waqf and GOPHCY for the economic viability of both
entities within the Old City.
GOPHCY recognizes the need to establish centers for training young
workers while masters of old building techniques remain alive. There is
also a need to reintroduce maintenance as a vital component to the
rehabilitation of the Old City. The use of traditional materials and
techniques would allow the new work to survive and weather in har-
mony with the original building materials, which have survived to this
day. Qadad, a waterproof plaster used to coat roofs and drainage chan-
nels, is an example of a traditional Yemeni building material that has
been widely replaced by an inappropriate substitute. Because the pro-
cess of applying qadad is extremely time consuming, it has been re-
placed by cement-based concrete. The concrete is not only incongru-
ous aesthetically, but cement, the fundamental ingredient of concrete,
is not an organic material. The organic properties of qadad, however,
allow the material to expand and contract along with the rest of the
building during the extreme daily temperature variations common to
Yemen. Cement-based plaster also traps moisture within the exterior
coating and causes the organic internal materials, such as mud bricks, to
erode, thereby compromising the structural integrity of the building.

An Evaluation of Urban Conservation in San'a
A decade has passed since the inception of the UNESCO-initiated cam-
paign, and hindsight offers us the opportunity to evaluate its goals and
their implementation in terms of the overall improvement of the con-
servation program in the Old City of San'a. Much of what has been
done in the past ten years provides an exemplary foundation for the
goals of urban conservation stated earlier: planning, legislation, public

78 R. Brooks Jeffery

education, and money. However, this past decade has also exposed
difficulties in implementing the initial goals and has revealed lessons for
future urban conservation programs.
First, a review of the defined boundaries of the historic area is needed.
Whereas areas within the walled Old City are designated for protection
from outright demolition or modification, significant traditional build-
ings in historic areas peripheral to the designated Old City are still
being torn down. Open spaces outside the Old City are being filled in
with new buildings in the attempt to create more commercial shopping
strips along transportation arteries. In particular, the area west of the
Old City encompassing the old Turkish district Bir al-'Azab and the old
Jewish quarter of Qa' al-Yahud is rapidly becoming a nondescript sec-
tion of small, incongruous shops. Every effort should be made to recog-
nize the historical, cultural, and architectural significance of growth
between the Old City and Qa' al-Yahud. Expansion of the designated
historic area would preserve the open spaces and garden palaces built
during the Turkish occupation of Yemen in the nineteenth century. In
addition, the old Jewish quarter contains examples of courtyard hous-
ing unique even to Yemen, and as a morphological pattern, the district
is still relatively intact. These areas of Bir al-'Azab and Qa' al-Yahud
should be designated as historical areas to preserve the homogeneous
spatial quality of the historic buildings and open spaces, demonstrating
yet another example of the grandeur of San'a before modernization
changed their character. Unfortunately, recognition of both these his-
torically and architecturally significant areas is blocked by animosity
toward their original inhabitants.
One of the original objectives of GOPHCY, as outlined above, was
to employ the few remaining building craftsmen to train a younger
generation in traditional crafts and building techniques. Some training
has already been done for small crafts leatherworkk, wood carving, and
women's weaving) but precious little has been provided for the build-
ing techniques. There is a tremendous need to establish a project to
train construction workers in all traditional techniques: stone masonry,
rammed earth, baked brick, gypsum plaster, and wood. This training
would provide employment for many and encourage young people to
remain in the Old City and not flee to the modern city where unem-
ployment is rampant. Unfortunately, a bad precedent is being set in the
small crafts training, for it is being done by foreigners (Egyptians and
Lebanese) in place of Yemeni craftspeople, whose traditions of artistic

Conservation in the Old City of San'a 79

ornamentation and production are being lost. The importation of
craftspeople from other countries runs the risk of importing inappropri-
ate preservation techniques. Preservation must resist the international-
izing impulse and preserve what is idiosyncratic to the region and coun-
try. Only crafts and craftspeople who are knowledgeable in particular
styles and materials of the region should be used.
As in most traditional urban areas, motorized traffic is an enduring
problem within the Old City. The best solution is to restrict vehicular
traffic to the periphery of the historic area. This solution draws inspira-
tion from the traditional form and function of the old gates of the
walled city. Each of the loading and unloading points could be equipped
with one or more caravanserai/warehouses, which would serve as cen-
ters for the distribution of merchandise. Motor vehicles were never
meant for the scale of the urban streets, and they seriously detract from
the experience of the pedestrian on whose scale the historic streetscape
was designed.
Housing is yet another critical demand in San'a, with rural and for-
eign migration into the capital city at its highest level in the country's
history. (The migration rate has been particularly aggravated by restric-
tions on Yemeni workers' migration to Saudi Arabia for work, a conse-
quence of Yemen's nonsupportt" of Saudi Arabia and the allied coali-
tion during the Gulf War of 1990-91.) Certainly, precious funding for
urban housing projects should not be sacrificed for conservation, but
funding could be used to combine the need to house the urban poor
with the objectives of retraining Yemenis in traditional construction
techniques for the purpose of rehabilitating the Old City. The housing
of the urban poor and the training of a new generation of handicraft
specialists and agrarians to live in the medina and maintain the integrity
of its traditional lifestyle seems an appropriate marriage of mutual goals.
Finally, a serious problem for San'a is water. The water table in the
San'a valley has been dropping at a rate of over five meters per year-
due, in part, to the conversion from traditional dry sanitation methods
to water-based systems within the Old City, as decreed by the World
Health Organization. As Western ethics were imported, maintenance as
a traditional ethic was discouraged and Yemenis adopted the attitude
that spending money on hidden maintenance was less worthwhile than
superficial care or complete abandonment. The combined forces of
increased water use and poorly maintained water and sanitation systems
caused many building foundations to deteriorate and some of the tower

80 R. Brooks Jeffery

houses to collapse. In a country where distrust of foreign intervention is
historically high, a dangerous consequence is the lack of faith in any
broader conservation ethic introduced by foreign organizations such as
This brings me to my concluding point, which is an ethical one.
Reappreciation of traditional values, defined by conservation, is a cycli-
cal phenomenon whose time has come in many parts of the world. As
much of the world was once infatuated with technology as a modern
savior, many developing nations were introduced to these ethics in the
name of foreign development. What makes Yemen unique is that it
postponed its arrival into the modern world and is, consequently, in-
fatuated with technology as a means to catch up with the rest of the
world. The truth we foreigners must accept is that, just as historic
architecture is defined by the political, social, and cultural context of its
time, the act of conservation is similarly not an isolated gesture but
rather one defined by a reappreciation of the values that defined the
creation of the historic architecture. Therefore, for Yemen to establish a
valid conservation ethic, it must be allowed to follow through with its
technological expression of modernity, whether it takes a decade or a
generation. The danger that exists for Yemen lies not in the importa-
tion of technology to satisfy its goals of accelerated modernity but
rather in the importation of ethics that define the validity of conserva-
tion as a means of suppression.

1. Stefano Bianca, "Fez: Toward the Rehabilitation of a Great City," in
Conservation as Cultural Survival, ed. Renata Holod (Cambridge, Mass: Aga
Khan Award for Architecture), 40.
2. Ronald Lewcock, "Three Problems in Conservation: Egypt, Oman and
Yemen," in Holod, Conservation as Cultural Survival, 76.
3. The history, development, and culture of San'a are especially well docu-
mented in the most comprehensive work on the city, R. B. Serjeant and Ronald
Lewcock, eds., San'a'. An Arabian Islamic City (London: World of Islam
Festival Trust, 1983). Also see Horst Kopp and Eugen Wirth, Beitrige zur
Stadtgeographie von Sana'a (Wiesbaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert, 1990).
4. R. B. Serjeant, "San'a' the 'Protected,' Hijrah," in Serjeant and Lewcock,
Sana'a,' 39.

Conservation in the Old City of San'a 81

5. Carston Niebuhr, Travels through Arabia, trans. R. Heron (Beirut: Librarie
du Liban, reprint 1968), 375.
6. Ibid., 379.
7. Henry Aaron Stern, "A Journey to San'a in 1856," Jewish Intelligence 23
(1857): 122.
8. Carl Rathjens and Hermann von Wissmann, "Sanaa. Eine siidarabische
Stadtlandchaft," Zeitschrift der Gesellschaft fiir Erdkunde zu Berlin (1929): 329-
9. R. B. Serjeant, Paolo Costa, and Ronald Lewcock, "The Ghayls of San'a,'"
in Serjeant and Lewcock, San'a', 19.
10. Ibid.
11. Walter Dostal, "Analysis of the Sana'a' Market Today," in Serjeant and
Lewcock, San'a, 256.
12. Rathjens and Wissmann, "Sanaa," 346.
13. Dostal, "Analysis of the Sana'a' Market Today," 247.
14. R. B. Serjeant and Husayn al-'Amir, "Administrative Organisation," in
Serjeant and Lewcock, San'a' 151.
15. Michael Barry Lane, San'a: Pilot Restoration Projects (Paris: UNESCO,
1988), 14-15.
16. Numerous project proposals have been developed through the joint
efforts of GOPHCY and UNESCO with the intention of attracting foreign
donors. See the discussion in Lane, San'a, 29-79.

Part Two

'ov^erty anb A2arginalization
in the Urban A4ibble fast

Cairo. 1993

Chapter 5

Responding to Middle Eastern
Urban Poverty

The Informal Economy in Tunis

Richard A. Lobban, Jr.

The informal economy of the urban Middle East is a subject about
which there is a broad and essential debate about theory, definitions,
causes, and context of urban informal activities. Unless there is clarity
about what we are describing and analyzing there can be little advance
in our studies. The empirical data describing this phenomenon will
shape the judgments made about its origin and evolution as well as the
policies that support, curb, or regulate it.
This chapter focuses on two aspects of this subject. The first part
looks at the position of the informal economy within the wider urban
economy, discussing models that analyze these in terms of economic
dualism and see the informal sector as a separate residual group on the
path to development, as well as models that regard the informal sector
as a creative survival mechanism within a unitary economic system.
The second half of the chapter will present field data on about 3,500
informal-sector workers who were studied in Tunis in 1990. These
include street vendors, construction laborers, domestic servants, infor-
mal service providers, sex workers, and workers who offer a variety of
informal services to tourists. Some of these data examine the role of
women in the informal sector, including some of the reasons for and
areas of their participation, and their chronic absence in many public
spheres of the informal economy. These ethnographic data illustrate
some of the theoretical issues raised in the first half of the chapter. I
conclude with some summary observations.


86 Richard A. Lobban, Jr.

The Informal Sector: Definitions, Measures,
and Characteristics

General study of the urban informal economy in the Arab world is
already well under way.' A wide variety of general studies sees the
informal sector as potentially positive,2 while others regard it as nega-
tive.3 Until a decade ago, the informal sector had substantially escaped
the attention of administrators, planners, and social scientists. It now
looms as a large empirical and theoretical issue in Third World urban
studies. Gilbert and Gugler estimate that between 40 and 70 percent of
the labor force in Third World cities is comprised of the informal sec-
tor.4 Sethuraman cites over thirty different studies in which the informal
sector was found to make up from 23 to 70 percent of the urban
working force.5 In the case of Cairo, we find that some 60-77 percent
of the urban workforce may belong to the informal sector.6
The literature on the informal sector in Tunisia and elsewhere in
North Africa has explored a variety of topics. The basic and important
work of Charmes has also gone very far in developing statistical mea-
sures of the scale of the informal ("nonstructured") economy in Tuni-
sia.7 The El Amouri Institute has examined 1980 data from the Tuni-
sian National Institute of Statistics and concluded that the total number
of nonagricultural workers in the nonstructured sector is at least
323,271.8 Given an increasing population, one may assume that the
current level is over 500,000. Table 5-1 offers a general summary of
these informal-sector categories for Tunisia.
Other research on the Tunisian informal sector covers such diverse
topics as "spontaneous" housing (collectively called bidonvilles and
gourbivilles in the local context),9 history,'0 income and employment,"
urban demography,12 construction and manufacturing,13 and transport
and commerce.14
This multidisciplinary inquiry has revealed that the new era in Tuni-
sia brought by the "constitutional coup" of Ben Ali in 1987 has brought
a measure of economic reform, but it has also inherited grave economic
and political problems.'5 Not least of these is the very high level of
unemployment among Tunisian youth. Official figures of the Institut
National de la Statistique (INS) show that rates of unemployment in-
creased from 1984 to 1989; in 1989, 48.4 percent of the unemployed
were between the ages of 18 and 24 years.16 The situation is com-
pounded by the fact that 53 percent of the Tunisian population of 7

Table 5-1. An estimate of the
Tunisia, 1980

The Informal Economy in Tunis 87

nonagricultural informal sector in

Scale of the informal workforce

Type of activity Number Percentage

Foods 8,900 2.4
Construction materials 13,500 3.6
Metals and electricity 8,500 2.3
Textiles/clothing 106,500 28.5
Wood, printing 22,300 6.0
Construction 42,000 11.2
Commercial activities 90,400 24.2
Transport 8,600 2.3
Hotels 12,900 3.4
Repairs 24,200 6.5
Other services 36,200 9.7
Total 374,000 100.1
Source: Institut National de la Statistique (INS), Enquete population-emploi (Tunis:
Ministere du Plan et des Finances, Republic Tunisienne, 1980), Table ACT 58.

million (in 1986) were urban residents, and 49 percent of the 1.6
million (1986) population of the Governorate of Tunis were under 24
years of age. Broken down further, about 55 percent of those working
residents of Tunis were employed in the service or manufacturing sec-
tors. Of these, many were employed in the informal sector.
Research data from Charmes show the scale of the nonagricultural
informal sector in Tunis.'7 His definition includes a great range of
small-scale enterprises which, in many cases, operate from regular, per-
manent locations, unlike the more limited operations of my own re-
search subjects, who only occupied public space on a daily basis.
Concurrent with the economic problems in Tunis, the possibility for
Tunisian workers to search for work in Europe has recently been made
substantially more difficult. As a consequence of these factors there has
been a rise of marginalization, social segregation, frustration, individu-
alization, and even violence."8 Such is the case particularly among poorer
male youths in urban Tunisia. Many commentators consider that these

88 Richard A. Lobban, Jr.

circumstances have also contributed to the rise of Islamic extremism
and the state's response with strict controls placed on human rights and
democratic expression.
For those who are simply struggling with the burden of urban pov-
erty, there seems to be an absolute and relative growth in the urban
informal sector, especially in the last decades. Either explicitly, or im-
plicitly, most studies see this increase as the result of all, or some, of the
following factors: (1) urban poverty and unemployment; (2) the expan-
sion of a cash economy and capital accumulation; (3) the growth of
wage labor and cash crops in rural agriculture; (4) rural-to-urban mi-
gration; (5) restricted access to jobs in Europe and the Arab world; and
(6) overall class formation in Tunisia.
Given the political and human importance of the informal economy,
social scientists have seen a need for sharper definition, theoretical clar-
ity, and comparative analysis of this sector. This is one of the goals of
this present analysis, which presents some field observations, especially
on the informal commercial sector of public street vendors. This study
of the informal sector observed a vast array of street activities, including
squatter markets, begging, labor pools, seasonal work, car washers, and
informal transport. A large number of workers are also involved in a
hidden or "invisible" economy of household production and domestic
services, as well other categories that fall outside of formally registered
and structured urban economic life. One may also speak of the illegal
economy within the informal sector, which includes such criminal ac-
tivities as the drug trade, smuggling, theft, tax evasion, and illegal pros-
For this study of the informal sector I mainly sought to investigate a
limited target population defined as those generally unlicensed street mer-
chants wholly occupying public, rather than private, space and having
impermanent facilities for the storage of their merchandise or provision of
their services. Typically there was little trace of their presence when they
were not there. However, this operational definition is not meant to
imply that they did not often, or regularly, occupy the same public
space. It must also be stressed that this is only one portion of the
informal sector, which is much greater in overall size. Those occupied
in domestic service, illegal activities, construction labor, household pro-
duction, and transport were not effectively counted in this survey.
Turning to the structural characteristics of the informal sector, scholars
have variously considered it as: marginal, incomplete, "parasitic," inde-

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