J. Daam: Tourism and the Emergence of Nation-States in the Arab Eastern Mediterranean

Tourism and the Emergence of Nation-States in the Arab Eastern Mediterranean, 1920s–1930s.

Daam, Jasmin
Critical, Connected Histories
Anzahl Seiten
352 S.
€ 65,00
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Ann-Sophie Andelfinger, Universität Konstanz

Jasmin Daam’s work is dedicated to a classic subject of tourism research, the Mediterranean region. However, its unusual combination of the topics of tourism and the emergence of nation-states in the Arab Eastern Mediterranean provides an innovative perspective, contributing to historical research on Mediterranean tourism as well as understanding the processes of nation-state development in the Arab Eastern Mediterranean. Furthermore, by examining the interwar period, Daam offers further insights into the history of the British and French mandates and travelers as a group of actors. In addition to the introduction and conclusion, the book includes four chapters dedicated to the British and French mandate territories of Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon.

Jasmin Daam is a research and teaching assistant in the field of global history and the history of globalization processes at the University of Kassel, and is a member of the DFG research network “The Modern Mediterranean: Dynamics of a World Region, 1800–2000.” This book is the publication of her doctoral thesis, in which she builds on existing research on nation-building in the Middle East, such as Schayegh’s work on the Middle East, Ottoman continuities, and new connections and processes of globalization (p. 23)1, and combines these findings with research on the history of tourism, such as the tourist gaze by John Urry.2 Daam’s research question concerns the transformative potential of tourism and provides valuable results that confirm this transformative power. This area is an important subject of scientific analysis in the field of tourism history, as can be seen for example in the work of Moritz Glaser on German tourism in Franco-era Spain.3

Daam shows clearly the heterogeneity of the different societies of the emerging nation-states and also points out the variety among the tourists and forms of tourism in the Eastern Mediterranean. In addition to mainly French and British travelers, she focuses on domestic tourism, estivage tourism, summer tourism from neighboring regions, and Yishuvi skiing in Lebanon.

The choice of the book cover, a photograph of the swimming pool of the Saint Georges Hotel in Beirut in the mid-1930s, highlights the complexity of the field of tourism history. Tourism in the Eastern Mediterranean was more than a possibility of self-expression while using Western European orientalist stereotypes such as sand, ancient ruins, and palm trees. The nascent nations presented themselves as “modern civilizations” marked by modern infrastructure projects (p. 21).

The author’s main interest concerns which actors used tourism, and to what extent they pursued political agendas through tourism. With the help of various preliminary considerations about the relationship between space and time/development4, Daam ventures the hypothesis that tourism may serve as a lens in tracing the development from a post-Ottoman space to nation-states as the new political order in the Arab Eastern Mediterranean (p. 23). It is crucial to remember that tourism has to be defined as a transnational phenomenon, both because of tourists physically crossing borders as well as because of transnational communication between visitors and hosts (p. 27).

In the second chapter, Daam shows why Egypt served as a role model for the region in terms of tourism development. Despite European domination of the Egyptian tourism industry, the “efendiyya” had two main goals in tourism development: To enhance the prestige of Egypt and to present the country as a modern nation, aiming to modify orientalist perspectives and to be recognized as a full member of the League of Nations. In the 1930s, Egypt was also interested in promoting domestic tourism to develop more educated and healthier citizens who more strongly identified with their country.

Chapter Three deals with Palestine, which was also under British administration. The central feature of development in this region was the competition between Yishuvi and Palestinian actors. Zionist access to political decision-making and their highly unequal positions within the mandate translated into different strategies. Daam suggests that the Palestinian middle classes “were not able to fashion a national space” and rather concentrated on the symbolism of Jerusalem (p. 123), a claim that begs further debate.5 Zionist tourism development strategies however allowed them to shape a coherent Yishuvi tourist space that contributed to defining their future nation-state (p. 123).

The French mandate administration was the major actor in tourism development in Syria. Tourism was part of its strategies of pacification, contributing to economic development and territorial control. Local urban initiatives, however, were restrained by the French authorities as well as Syrian nationalist notables. A coherent national narrative and integrated tourist space did not emerge in the early years of the mandate, and the Syrian middle class began to use tourism in a political sense only in the late 1930s. This strongly contrasts with Lebanon, where tourism was important from the beginning for the imaginary and material integration of the nation and the acknowledgment of Lebanese sovereignty. While it was perceived as a major economic factor initially, it was increasingly understood as a political resource over time. Central to the successful establishment of tourism and Lebanon as a nation-state was access to political decision-making.

In the last chapter, in addition to a detailed summary of the results, Daam gives a broad outlook on the further transformation of the region after World War II, including the emergence of modern mass tourism of “sand, sun and sea” (p. 346) and the stabilization of tourism development in the 1990s.6

The book is very reader-friendly due to the clear, repeating structure of the chapters. The individual chapters are easily navigated by the use of subheadings and offer clear conclusions. Chapters two to five are preceded by a short abstract and keywords, which enables quick orientation and the possibility of reading individual chapters without lacking crucial information. Daam provides further orientation aid with maps and selected photographs from the archive material, which underline her arguments. What should be emphasized is the linguistic sensitivity and the detailed thematization of individual terms and concepts, such as the conscious use of “civilization” in quotation marks (p. 22) or the problematization of “nation/transnational” (p. 33).

The approach of showing the development in the various regions is impressive, and the study is based on a remarkably large number and range of different source materials in several languages. The broad range of sources that contain documents from state archives, libraries, and sporting clubs, reflects the perspectives of different tourism actors, including entrepreneurs, guides, interest groups, political and administrative bodies, and tourists themselves. Documents such as diplomatic correspondence, state legislation, official reports, development plans, travelogues, diaries, brochures, guidebooks, newspaper articles, postcards, and photographs are analyzed. Although Daam emphasizes that the present work is not a comparative study, it nevertheless draws useful connections and occasional comparisons between the regions. For example, she highlights how the discovery of Tutankhamun influenced hopes and expectations for tourism development in Lebanon, not only in Egypt (p. 291). The effort to cover different geographical categories should also be highlighted, including maritime coastal cities, archaeological cities, desert towns, and mountain villages in the hinterland. This is supplemented by isolated references and comparisons with other places in the Mediterranean, such as Morocco, or other tourist regions like Switzerland (Chapters 4 and 5).

Daam illustrates the complexity of different groups of actors, interests, and goals and shows the changes that in some cases took place from tourism serving orientalist ideas of European and North American tourists to the presentation of nascent national narratives, characterized by modern infrastructure projects (p. 21), and the competition between different narratives (Chapter 3). On the question of the nation-building potential of tourism, the author summarizes that tourism “transformed the spatio-political order of the Arab East in the 1920s and 1930s” (p. 348). She explains that it was primarily a “middle-class project” (p. 335), although Arab Palestine and Syria’s middle class were largely excluded from political processes and therefore not able to implement their own strategies. However, in Lebanon and Egypt, as well as for the Yishuv, there were well-thought-out tourism development policies put into practice, facilitated by cooperation with the colonial state or a sufficient degree of autonomy. Tourists desiring information and guidance enabled the middle class to attribute meaning to the national entities and consolidate territories, thereby creating viable nation-states via tourism. In addition to the opportunities offered by tourism, Daam also explains the possible negative consequences of tourism for residents (p. 234).

The book would be strengthened by a classification of tourism in comparison to other factors in the nation-building process. Furthermore, in addition to the effects of tourism on nation-building locally in the mandated area, it would certainly be interesting to learn more about the effects on the metropolis resulting from the relationship between the metropolis and the mandates. However, this in no way detracts from the important knowledge gained from the ambitious work regarding the history of tourism and the history of nation-building, precisely because the highly complex region with its heterogeneous population is viewed supranationally and across borders.

1 See Cyrus Schayegh, The Middle East and The Making of the Modern World, Cambridge 2017. For further information in general regarding nation-building in the Arab Middle East, see for example Cyrus Schayegh / Andrew Arsan, Routledge Handbook of Middle East Mandates, London 2015; Michael Provence, The Last Ottoman Generation and the Making of the Modern Middle East, Cambridge 2017; Ebru Boyar / Kate Fleet, Borders, Boundaries and Belonging in Post-Ottoman-Space in the Interwar Period, Leiden 2023.
2 John Urry / Jonas Larsem, The Tourist Gaze 3.0, Los Angeles 2011. For further literature regarding tourists and space, see for example Dean MacCannell, The Tourist. A New Theory of the Leisure Class, Berkeley 1999; Dean MacCannell, Staged Authenticity. Arrangements of Social Space in Tourist Settings, in: American Journal of Sociology 79 (1973), pp. 589–603.
3 Moritz Glaser, Wandel durch Tourismus. Spanien als “Strand Europas”, 1950–1983, Konstanz 2018. For research regarding tourism in the Middle East, see for example Dallen J. Timothy, Routledge Handbook on Tourism in the Middle East and North Africa, Abingdon 2018.
4 Daam draws on important considerations about the spatial turn. Among other things, this refers to Miggelbrink’s view of space defined as “to discern an order,” which implies that spatial formations are subject to change and active participation of individuals in producing space. See Judith Miggelbrink, Räume und Regionen der Geographie, in: Paul-Gerhard Klumbies / Ingrid Baumgärtner / Franziska Sick (eds.), Raumkonzepte. Disziplinäre Zugänge, Göttingen 2010, pp. 71–94.
5 Using the example of the annual Prophet Moses festival that brought together pilgrims from different areas in Jerusalem, Halabi argues that a growing national identity can be identified for Arab Palestine. See Awad Halabi, Palestinian Rituals of Identity. The Prophet Moses Festival in Jerusalem 1850–1948, New York 2023.
6 For the phenomenon of the “3 S’s” see Waleed Hazbun, Beaches, Ruins, Resorts. The politics of Tourism in the Arab World, Minneapolis 2008, p. 18.