place making, migrant communities, Middle East studies, urban studies

Temporary Cities: Resisting Transience in Arabia

Are Arab Gulf cities, the likes of Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Doha, on their way to extinction?

Yasser Elsheshtawy
23 Apr 2019
Are Arab Gulf cities, the likes of Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Doha, on their way to extinction? Is their fate obsolescence? Or, are they the model for our urban future? Can a city whose very existence is predicated on an imported labour force who build and operate these gleaming urban centres remain a viable urban entity? Could the transient nature of this urban model, its temporariness and precariousness, also be its doom? In this wide-ranging book Yasser Elsheshtawy takes on these tough, but necessary, questions aiming to examine the very nature of the Arab Gulf city and whether it can sustain its existence throughout the twenty-first century. Having lived in the region for more than two decades he researched its marginalized and forgotten urban settings, trying to understand how a temporary people can live in a place that inherently refuses to give them the possibility of becoming citizens. By being embedded in these spaces and reconciling their presence with his own personal encounters with transience, he discovered a resilience and defiance against the forces of the hegemonic city. Using subtle acts of resistance, these temporary inhabitants have found a way to sustain and create a home, to set down roots in the midst of a fast changing and transient urbanity. Their stories, recounted in this book through case studies and in-depth analysis, give hope to cities everywhere. Transience is not a fait accompli: rather the actions of citizens, residents and migrants – even in the highly restrictive spaces of the Gulf – show us that the future metropolis may very well not turn out to be a ‘utopia of the few and a dystopia of the many’. This could be an illusion, but it is a necessary illusion because the alternative is irrelevance.
Yasser Elsheshtawy is an independent scholar, researcher and writer. He is author of Dubai: Behind an Urban Spectacle and editor of Planning Middle Eastern Cities and The Evolving Arab City, published in the Planning, History and Environment series.


  • Acknowledgements
  • Prologue
  • Chapter 1 Introduction. Transience in Arabia
  • PART I Prelude: Constructing a Landscape of Transience
    • Prelude: Constructing a Landscape of Transience
    • Chapter 2 Forming an Urban Imaginary: A Photographic Essay
    • Chapter 3 Scenes from Dubai: Capturing Uncanny and Fleeting Experiences
    • Chapter 4 The Arab Gulf City in Fiction: The Unbearable Lightness of Transience
  • PART II Urban Interventions: Resistance and Defiance
    • Chapter 5 Quotidian Space: Everyday Interactions in Hor Al Anz Street
    • Chapter 6 Sheltering Space: Little Bangladesh in Abu Dhabi
    • Chapter 7 Cosmopolitan Space: Encountering Diversity in Nasser Square
    • Chapter 8 Local Space: the Emirati National House
    • Chapter 9 Transience and Gulf Exceptionalism
  • References
  • Index