This past November, Dr. Najib Hourani was invited to participate in the Harvard Arab Weekend on a panel sponsored by the Graduate School of Design. The annual event brings together notable academics, political figures, business leaders and diplomats to discuss the pressing issues facing the Arab world. The panel on which Hourani spoke, entitled Reconstruction and Identity, addressed an audience deeply worried that the reconstruction of Syria, Libya and Yemen may play out as yet another instance of ‘disaster capitalism,’ in which reconstruction is seen by elites and multinational corporations as a window of opportunity for neoliberal reform and private accumulation, with disastrous effects for the people and their urban heritage.
An urbanist and specialist in post-conflict reconstruction, Dr. Hourani was invited due to his research on Beirut following the 1975-90 Lebanese civil war and the 2006 Israel-Hizballah conflict. Dr. Hourani’s work on post-civil war Beirut highlights how neoliberal approaches to post-conflict environments accelerates the dispossession of peoples when they are most vulnerable, while enabling wartime militias’ consolidation of political and economic power. His dissertation describes how one reconstruction project—an open air shopping area—was framed in neoliberal ideas of the ‘free market’ but was shaped by backroom deals among companies affiliated with the militias during the war. His subsequent study of Hizballah’s efforts to rebuild after the 2006 war examines a novel NGO-driven approach that sought to resist dispossession of residents in the face of pressure to marketize reconstruction. Though only partially successful in this regard, the effort nonetheless is suggestive of the power of political commitments to people, rather than profit, in ameliorating the trauma of war and in protecting vulnerable populations in its aftermath.
Dr. Hourani will be visiting Beirut in March to deliver two lectures at the famed American University of Beirut, which is this year celebrating its 150 years as the most prestigious University in the Arab World. Dr. Hourani will also be conducting follow up research toward his book project, entitled Glass Towers and Heritage Trails: Neoliberal Urbanism in Beirut and Amman, and will be meeting with a Beirut-based team planning Syria’s reconstruction at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission of Southwest Asia (ESCWA).