Africa/Middle East - Issue 55 - Magazine | Monocle

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Ready for take-off


Palestinian Airlines, the Palestinian Authority’s Egypt-based carrier, has resumed flights, seven years after being grounded by an Israeli offensive. The new route flies between Arish in Egypt and Amman, while the airline hopes to add links to Istanbul and Jeddah.

Lost youth and hot topics


Aside from its shaky politics, the Middle East is heading for a demographic time bomb.

According to the UN-Habitat’s first report on Arab cities, the region’s population has quadrupled since the 1970s and it is set to double again by 2050.

With more than half the population under 25, governments have many obstacles to overcome including the lack of affordable housing. In Cairo, for example, two thirds of the Egyptian capital’s 11 million inhabitants live in informal accommodation.

Though there is still work to be done, Tarek el Sheikh, the head of the UN Habitat Kuwait office believes that “Rabat, Tunis and Amman have made significant gains in reducing the number of urban households living with shelter deprivations.” Iraq has also announced huge investment in housing to relieve severe shortages, and so has Saudi Arabia.

Other highlights include Algiers and Casablanca, both of which have approved major mass transport plans and “seem to be improving in ways that really do buck regional trends”, says Ryan Centner, professor of Urban Sociology at Tufts University in Boston.

Problems remain though. The region is experiencing intense migration and an additional 50 million jobs are needed by 2050 to abate youth unemployment.

Three cities facing major challenges:

  1. Cairo, Egypt: Despite its metro, Cairo has to upgrade its transport system, as well as supply more affordable housing and urban economic opportunities for its increasing youth population.

  2. Sana’a, Yemen: The region’s fastest-growing city is also one of the poorest and most politically unstable. It suffers from water shortages, while its architectural heritage is invaluable.

  3. Nouakchott, Mauritania: In the years to come, the city will face serious obstacles in accommodating economic migrants displaced by drought.


Spiro Pollalis

Principal investigator, 'Gulf Encyclopedia of Sustainable Urbanism'


Rampant growth has left the Gulf’s new cities sprawling and overrun with cars. With this in mind, the Qatar Foundation has funded a research team from Harvard University Graduate School of Design to draw up Gulf Encyclopaedia of Sustainable Urbanism (GESU), which looks at eight countries around the region.

What’s the project’s premise?
We are trying to understand the DNA of how they were thinking and building across the Gulf before the oil boom. Not enough attention is paid to city planning that already existed in the region.

What have you focused on?
Cities were made to human scale and took interesting approaches to surviving in a difficult climate. We also looked at courtyards in older houses and the pre-existing pedestrian network.

Will this affect policy?
It depends on how policy makers will use and adapt this material to their new developments.

Loose change

Zimbabwe — CURRENCY

Tendai Biti wants change. As an opposition member of President Robert Mugabe’s government, the finance minister is usually heard calling for democratic change. This time he wants coins.

Biti ended Zimbabwe’s hyper- inflation in 2008 by scrapping the country’s currency and introducing US dollars. But the US Federal Reserve never sent cents.

“The Americans are being so petty,” Biti tells Monocle. “We are not asking for a donation of coins. We are giving them business.”

Zimbabweans find ways to cope. Supermarkets give sweets, credit slips and matchboxes for change. One phone company has introduced tiny denomination top-up scratch cards.

Isn’t it ironic

Middle East — RAMADAN

Ramadan’s sundown ritual, the iftar, or the breaking of the fast, has made this sacred season the Middle East’s peak period for advertising.

Advertising rates during Ramadan generally cost double what they do the rest of the year, and for good reason; besides people huddled around the television, the weeks following Ramadan are considered an auspicious time for weddings, which are banned during the holy month.

Fast-food chains also offer supersized meals, a complimentary dessert and adorn their Persian Gulf and Arabian Peninsula branches with branded signs reading “Ramadan Kareem” (“Happy Ramadan”).

Retail therapy

Johannesburg — RENEWAL

Block by block Johannesburg is reclaiming its no-go city centre. The latest gentry-driven assault on crime in the area is the Neighbourgoods market.

Every Saturday its 70 traders – selling everything from bread to organic cotton clothing – take over the first floor of an abandoned office block on the corner of De Beer and Juta streets.

Justin Rhodes and Cameron Munro brought the concept from Cape Town, where they run the Old Biscuit Mill market. Munro, says up to 4,000 people visit Neighbourgoods every Saturday. “Johannesburg is supportive. It really wants to draw people back from the northern suburbs to the city centre.’’

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