2008 Beaches, Ruins, Resorts: The Politics of Tourism in the Arab World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Notes: xli, 337 p. : ill., maps ; 23 cm. ISBN: 9780816654925
Reviewed 6 Nov 2009 by:
Claire Panetta <email@example.com>
Columbia University, New York, USA
Medium: Written Literature Subject
Tourism - Political aspects - Middle East
Geopolitics - Middle East
ABSTRACT: Hazbun looks at the rise of international tourism in Tunisia, Jordan, and Dubai, and focuses on the role it has played in shaping economic development, state building, and international relations.
<i>Beaches, Ruins, Resorts: The Politics of Tourism in the Arab World is an exploration of international tourism in the Middle East and the ways in which it has become a central feature of globalization in the region today. Waleed Hazbun argues that tourism has played a fundamental role in the development of post-colonial economies in the region; however, he simultaneously asserts that governments have used the industry to consolidate political power and serve state interests. As Hazbun explains, tourism has "allowed states to promote integration into the global economy while simultaneously expanding control over their domestic economies and societies" (p. x).
While this contention forms the crux of his thesis, the author is also keen to show that tourism development in the Middle East highlights the complicated and messy way in which globalization works. For Hazbun, globalization is not a neat and linear process that invariably leads, as many have argued, to increased deterritorialization (the process by which territorial features become less salient), rather he views it "as an uneven, dynamic, and politically contingent process continually reshaping the economic and political landscape of localities across the globe" (p. 236). In short, Hazbun contends that globalization gives rise to processes of deterritorialization and reterritorialization (the process by which territorial features become more salient), maintaining that the two phenomena often overlap, interact, and occur simultaneously.
To explain and illustrate these two ideas, the author looks at the evolution of tourism in three different parts of the Middle East: Tunisia, Jordan, and Dubai. As Hazbun explains, each location offers a different narrative of development: in Tunisia, he traces the rise and fall of beach tourism; in Jordan, he looks at the expansion and contraction of the industry in light of the countryís peace treaty with Israel and the idea of the New Middle East, which emerged in the early 1990s; and in Dubai, he explores the emergence of intraregional Arab tourism in the aftermath of September 11th. Collectively, these studies provide Hazbun with a means to "survey a range of... itineraries of globalization being pursued across the region" (p. xv).
In his introduction, Hazbun explains a number of key concepts and lays out the theoretical framework upon which the text is built. In the two succeeding chapters, he focuses his attention on Tunisia and the stateís post-independence development of its tourism industry. Specifically, Hazbun looks at the governmentís efforts to develop the Tunisiaís beach tourism and market the country as a low-cost beach destination, thereby enabling the state to take advantage of the Mediterranean mass beach tourism market, which exploded in the early 1960s. According to Hazbun, the governmentís heavy involvement in this process has become one of the defining features of Tunisiaís tourism sector. Indeed, from the very beginning, the state has exerted considerable control over the industry, and in so doing, has been able to use tourism as a "key element of state building and national economic development" (p. 4).
Initially, the governmentís efforts to promote tourism proved successful, and the sector experienced a brief boom in the 1960s. However, this growth was short-lived: the absence of any regulatory system overseeing the industryís development, coupled with other problems such as inadequate infrastructure and the emergence of new budget beach destinations caused Tunisia to lose its niche in the market. These problems were subsequently compounded by other issues such as domestic unrest due to uneven economic growth, the oil price shocks of the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the general decline in beach tourism. The state therefore sought to diversify its product and invested heavily in the promotion of different tourist experiences such as desert tourism and heritage tourism. In addition, it developed and promoted a new kind of beach tourism that revolved around the integrated tourism complex, a self-contained community offering luxury accommodations and a variety of recreational and commercial activities (p. 33). Throughout this chapter, Hazbun is careful to show that all of these various endeavors were pursued and advanced in such a way as to further extend the governmentís control over the sector, leading him to conclude that "as Tunisia becomes more closely integrated into European and American marketplaces, its political economy remains constricted by the surveillance of an increasingly authoritarian state" (p. 75).
In the third and fourth chapter, Hazbun explores Jordanian tourism development in the wake of the countryís peace treaty with Israel. One of his abiding concerns in this section is to show how, "as elsewhere, tourism development in the region is inextricably linked with its geopolitics" (p. 77). He begins by looking at the collapse of Jordanís tourism industry following the 1967 war, in which it lost control of the Holy Land sites in Jerusalem and the West Bank (p. 77). Jordan only began to recover in the 1990s, when the Oslo Accords gave birth to the idea of the New Middle East, which was based on normalization of Arab-Israeli relations and emphasized economic cooperation, particularly in the area of tourism. While other Arab states were reluctant to support this idea, Jordan agreed to a peace treaty, recognizing an opportunity to obtain international aid that could help its floundering economy.
There was widespread domestic opposition to the treaty; however, the state worked hard to quell this resistance by promoting the treaty as a means of economic recovery. Tourism development figured centrally in this effort to sell the peace, as tourism was perceived as a means of providing almost immediate "tangible benefits" (p. 110). And initially, the industry did experience substantial growth: Israeli tourists flocked across the border to visit Jordanís heritage sites. Unfortunately, the sector was ill equipped to handle this influx of visitors, and, as demand far outstripped supply, it was quickly overextended. At the same time, unlike the Tunisian government, Jordanian authorities struggled to exert their authority and encountered resistance from "rival state institutions and private actors" (p. 134) who owned much of the most desirable land. This led to rampant development, much of it unregulated. As a result, when the peace process collapsed and the second intifada erupted in Palestine, supply outstripped demand and the sector collapsed.
The failure of the peace process and the governmentís inability to deliver on its promise of economic recovery encouraged the formation of an antinormalization movement in Jordan. This movement saw Israel, its tourists, and Jordanís peace with that country as a threat to the nation and the source of its economic struggles. By the late 1990s, the government had completely lost control of the discourse surrounding the peace process and the country fell victim to a number of attacks on tourists. The situation continued to deteriorate until 1999, when King Husseinís son, Abdullah, rose to power. He and others began to promote a policy of Jordan First in an effort to disengage the country from the New Middle East, cultivate American financial support for tourism development, and reinvent Jordan as a tourist destination beyond the reach of regional instability.
The final chapter looks at Dubaiís remarkable rise to global prominence as a tourist destination after September 11th. Hazbun explains that following the attacks in New York, tourism in the Middle East was expected to fall into a long and protracted slump; however, this prediction never materialized. Instead, many countries experienced a brief decline followed by a quick rebound, a phenomenon that others have identified as the "Middle East tourism paradox" (p. 194). Hazbun attributes much of this quick recovery to the growth of intraregional Arab tourism, itself a byproduct of increasing oil wealth in the Gulf states coupled with a decline in travel to Europe and North America as Arabs increasingly felt "stigmatized by the negative cultural reactions and increasing 'Islamophobia'" (p. 196).
According to Hazbun, Dubai was at the center of this rebound. While many other countries in the region were poorly equipped to deal with these new Arab tourists (most of whom did not engage in typical tourist activities), Dubai was primed to meet their needs. The country had spent several decades developing its image as a "cosmopolitan oasis" (p. 212) and marketing itself as a regional and global tourist destination. Hazbun looks at how Dubai succeeded in this project, arguing that regional geopolitics have played a major role in the emirateís success. In Hazbunís view, Dubai has consistently been able to capitalize on events elsewhere in the Middle East such as the Iranian Revolution and the Gulf War. For example, during the civil war in Lebanon, Dubai was able to absorb much of the capital pouring out of Beirut, which lost its position as a "regional hub for finance and business headquarters" (p. 214). Dubaiís development has also been facilitated by the stateís almost complete control over its own territory. Unlike the Jordanian government, Dubaiís rulers have always owned the majority of the emirateís land. This has enabled the state to invest heavily in tourism development such that, by the time of the attacks, the emirate had already established itself as a global city with a growing, well-diversified tourism industry.
Beaches, Ruins, Resorts is a carefully researched, insightful, and persuasively argued text. Hazbunís fundamental contention that globalization is a "heterogenous process across time and space" (p. xvi), which leads to both deterritorialization and reterritorialization, is clearly articulated and well defended, at least for these regions. Moreover, it is an important contribution to the discourses on globalization and should encourage scholars from a range of disciplines to re-think the ways in which globalization manifests itself.
Although Hazbun locates his research in the fields of international political economy and Middle East studies (p. x), he does an excellent job of rendering the material accessible to readers from a broad range of disciplines. His introduction, if dense, provides a comprehensible overview of the economic theories that underpin his work. In addition, he provides readers with clear definitions and useful examples of key terms used throughout the text. Readers are therefore well prepared to engage with the ideas and arguments presented in each of the chapters.
One of my few criticisms concerns the final chapter and the absence of a conclusion. Hazbun ends his work with a cursory look at emerging forms of tourism, focusing on Islamic tourism (as exemplified by a new resort in Beirut that claims to fulfill a need for "pious entertainment") and tourism that promotes the connections between countries and cultures (as exemplified by the Egyptian playwright Ali Salemís drive through Israel at the height of the peace process in the 1990s). These new modes of travel are dealt with only briefly in the final pages of the text and are noticeably underdeveloped, particularly in view of how thoroughly the bookís main foci are treated. A conclusion would have enabled Hazbun to address these phenomena more carefully and in greater detail, and would have allowed him to make more deliberate comparisons between Tunisia, Jordan, and Dubai. Although, the text is not devoid of such comparisons, they occur only intermittently and Hazbun never provides a comprehensive discussion of the ways in which the statesí respective tourism industries might converge or diverge. In short, a conclusion would have given Hazbun the opportunity to elaborate on some of the research presented in the text, while simultaneously helping readers to process and digest this material and meditate on future directions for tourism development.
This suggestion should hardly diminish the overall strength and value of Hazbunís work. On the contrary, it is a thoroughly engaging and insightful look at contemporary tourism in the Middle East and, as such, a welcome addition to the emerging subfield of Middle East tourism studies.