Open Spaces Are Contested Spaces in the Middle East

Parks and other public open spaces continue to be squeezed out by private development and attempts to limit political dissent throughout cities in Arab countries.
July 1, 2016, 2pm PDT | jwilliams | @jwillia22
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Andrew Crump

The Economist looks at the increasingly endangered open spaces throughout cities in Arab countries, including Lebanon, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Citing research from UN Habitat, the article notes that open space comprise just 2 percent of the area of cities in the Middle East compared to 12 percent for European cities. In cities across the region, parks and other green spaces have been bulldozed for private development. More recently, public open spaces have been restricted or removed in order to quell demonstrations. The elimination of these public places is anathema to the traditional design of cities across Arab countries, which typically incorporated gardens and large open spaces for their residents.

"...since the 2011 Arab Spring, when the people took over squares to stage protests, security concerns have trumped any other. Egypt's generals have ringed the roundabout in Cairo's Tahrir Square with iron grating. Bahrain's King Hamad has leveled the Pearl roundabout where his subjects protested, and turned it into a traffic junction."

Increasingly, protestors and average citizens have sought out greener spaces, continuing to occupy the public squares and parks despite attempts to block them. As the article concludes, the best open space for many Arabs remains in cyberspace.

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Published on Saturday, June 11, 2016 in The Economist
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