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Accepted Paper:

Emirati Urban Development in the Global East: Illiberal Practices at Home or Imported Authoritarian City Building?   
Suzanne Harris-Brandts (Carleton University) David Sichinava (Carleton University)


Over the past two decades, investors from the UAE have undertaken numerous real estate development initiatives in the rapidly transforming geography of the Global East, significantly ranging in scale, program, and geographic spread. Countries as diverse as Albania, Serbia, Georgia, and Kazakhstan are all now focal points of Emirati investment, and with it, new state relations. As UAE officials seek to diversify their country’s economic portfolio and geography of influence, such initiatives raise broader questions about the degree to which the influx of capital is accompanied by tendencies toward authoritarian governance. Zooming into the specific case of Georgia, this research examines whether or not there are signs of opaque, illiberal urban development being imposed on Georgia from the UAE. We address this question by tracking key Emirati projects within Georgia, focusing on four cases: (1) the major Black Sea port of Poti with adjacent Free Industrial Zone, (2) the country’s largest-proposed shopping district, Uptown Tbilisi, (3) 10,000 palm trees planted along Black Sea coastal cities, and (4) the seven-star Biltmore Hotel in Tbilisi. Drawing from mixed-methods research, we show how the approaches to urban development established within the Emirates are now being exported into Georgia and becoming entangled with the country’s own existing illiberal practices of city building. We argue that to fully understand the role that urban development plays within Georgia’s flawed democracy—and others like it—it is necessary to zoom out and consider these wider networks of foreign influence by authoritarian governed states such as the UAE.

Panel GEO01
Changing Landscapes in Contemporary Eurasia
  Session 1 Thursday 6 June, 2024, -