Globalization and Exterritoriality in Metropolitan Cairo

By Kuppinger, Petra | The Geographical Review, July 2005 | Go to article overview

Globalization and Exterritoriality in Metropolitan Cairo

Kuppinger, Petra, The Geographical Review

The Web site of the Mena House Hotel in Giza, Egypt boasts an impressive list of awards the hotel has received. In 2002 and 2003 the Mena House, located at the foot of the Cheops Pyramid, was listed among "The Most Exclusive Hotels in the World," "Top Ten Hotels--World's Best Service," and "The Best 500 Hotels in the World" (Oberoi Hotels 2005). Of the twelve awards listed, only two--"Best Landscaped Garden in Egypt" and "Highest Guest Service Standard Amongst All Hotels in Egypt"--situate and compare the hotel in its immediate geographical context; that is, Egypt. The other awards use larger, regional--Africa, Indian Ocean, and Middle East--or global references in evaluating standards and achievements of this prestigious hotel. Similarly, announcements and debates of the new Grand Egyptian Museum mention that this megaproject, which is still under construction in the vicinity of the Giza Pyramids, is "not only the largest museum of Egyptian artifacts in the world, but also one of the largest museums in the world" (Ionides 2004). Like the Mena House, the museum project uses global comparisons and points of reference to illustrate its grandeur and envisioned role in the world. Reflecting similar quests for global competition and recognition, new shopping malls and other places of leisure and consumption in Cairo compete with their peers regionally and globally for setting new records, not only in terms of size but also with regard to outlandish features, such as ice-skating rinks or even skiing facilities in the midst of desert conditions. The Mena House, the Grand Egyptian Museum, and various malls are located on Egyptian soil, but where are they on the powerful symbolic map of globalization? Where are their cultural and economic points of reference? Do they globalize Egypt, or do they localize the global? How far do local, national, or regional forces interact and possibly contest these icons of globalization and their outwardly focused ambitions?

Since the mid-1980s Cairo, like many postcolonial metropolises, has witnessed the rapid construction of new spaces that seem to be separate and disconnected, not only spatially but also conceptually, from most of the existing urban fabric. Examples include hotels, shopping malls, private clubs, and upscale, gated communities on the city's desert outskirts. This highly fragmented new spatiality also includes a small number of older spaces, which have successfully kept pace or smoothly inserted themselves into the race of global competition, profit, and recognition. One such example is the Mena House Hotel. As different as their histories and functional uses are, examples at the forefront of the new spatiality are closely linked in their underlying models, in their firm integration into networks of global capitalism, and, in particular, into the rapidly growing global service industry of leisure, consumption, and tourism. These projects' spatial concepts, architectural forms and expertise, and definitions of spatial practices are based largely on globally available models. Frequently the planning and construction of such projects are products of global cooperation. In many instances planning and construction processes are guided by the search for security in the face of real or imagined fears of the urban masses and political upheaval. Concrete walls, guarded entrances, and high-tech security technology bear witness to these fears. A characteristic feature of these new, globalized spaces is that most are physical enclaves, often quasi-fortresses, which are largely inaccessible to most urban residents except as workers. The paramount nature of security concerns and the exclusion of the urban masses hints at the contested nature of these new icons of globalization.

This article examines the cases of the Mena House Hotel, the Grand Egyptian Museum project, and the First Mall in Giza as examples of in situ globalization. It addresses the underlying dynamics of the making and remaking of these globalized spaces, particularly those that counter their exterritorial nature and reterritorialize elements of their existence by creating local and regional ties and features that were not anticipated by the planners. …

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