Thursday, 4 May 2017

Fleeing the Desert: Hydropolitics in the Wet Gulf


I am from the Gulf and I consider myself a cross-dresser. By ‘cross-dresser’, I do not mean someone who bends conceptions of gender or wardrobe or body or ethnicity only, but someone who bends interpretation of the human form. The ‘human form’ I invoke here is akin to this live performative gesture currently revealing itself to you. So when I say cross-dressing, I use it to describe an assumed and invented role; a role created to illustrate the possibilities of a collective species.

I have assumed many roles in my life and they represent what I do as a person, not as a profession or in duty to any kind of title or category that I've earned or inherited. This mode of character assumption emerges from an absence; the absence of images, vocabularies, materialities, thoughts, bodies, environments that are representative of my realities and dreams (is there any difference between them, anyway?). My work, therefore, is concerned with this distance and spends a lot of time thinking about how to transform the spiritual, sexual and existential feelings associated with the conditions which landscape our world.

I express my thoughts in writing but mostly through performative gestures of my public self, or 'State' Self, or 'Legal' Self . I do this for a variety of personal reasons, mainly history and its traumas, but in absence of my own dramas, my work, I like to think, is used to advance politics. These politics are not prescribed to me, neither do they fulfill a political ideology, or performed on behalf of a communal or regional public cause that I share an ancestral or ethnic affinity for, but a politics assembled through things that one happens to stumble upon, along with things one has assembled over time, which work to refine and texturize a version of the world. In this case, your world.

Politics is world-making and it is not something that is prepared for you. Politics is self-technology: efforts in bodily contemplation, radicalization, augmentation or realization. Weaponization of self, really, so as to be able to discern the contradictions, and nihilisms, in the world. It is these transfigurations of self in which I consider myself a cross-dresser. Why I bring attention to these gestures, witnessed or unwitnessed, is because they have allowed me to stumble your way today.

This is an experimental learning session.

Consider the entirety of this performance as my own cross-dressing show and this is the first time I am performing it.

You are allowed to intervene at any point that feels like it would be received favorably by me.

Most important, though, we are going to have fun because everything I do is situated in the Persian Gulf and there is no greater place.


In 2011, a friend and I got together -- a very new friend -- and created a publishing project called THE STATE. I believe the history and story of origin is unnecessary to divulge as it is too much about Gulf vanity (and I would probably get paid a lot more if I did a version of that story).

We were young, foolish, and especially precocious -- meaning we were afraid of coming out as people -- especially my new friend, or whatever representation I had of my new friend, or my new friend of me.

In the project, we were concerned with WHERE we were speaking from, Dubai.

We explored the city through architecture: the augmentation of bodies, prosthetics, toxicity in/with technology, holographic and printed landscapes, the weird sensation of the impending and oncoming, the hypernormalization of black screens and mirrors, radical forms of ‘self-representation’ in the postcolonial moment.

We used the city to learn about the contemporary, which I would describe as the portmanteau of globalizing sensations and impressions, and we used the fashion of technology to articulate and modulate a feeling: contemporary disrepair, I think it is. Our work moved towards a tapestry, generated from the feelings associated with habitation of a Gulf landscape. We discovered that when you look for ‘feeling’ in a place like Dubai, it becomes a transgressive experience, requiring a sophisticated and perverted emotional intelligence, because you will find the need to enjoy and entertain dubiousness and treachery, all in the meanwhile, questioning where those feelings come from, the past, present or future.

These explorations belonged to the meta-structure of the practice and we desired to create a local public around these ideas, through publishing and educational programs. Remarkably, we grew into something, a collective, a happening, a stumbling, a something. We, today, are Gulf practitioners, interested in creating a local mode, something self-written. To do this, we engage in a process of environmental selection, in which we contemplate the surfaces, landscapes, environments we live in and experiment with how they can mirror our feeling and being, of here or from here.

What also binds us together is the making of the city: its accumulations, compressions and accelerations -- as Dubai emerged in its surprising and unbelievable way, we similarly ‘emerged’ with it. We mimic the processes of this city and allow it to impregnate us with its fantasy, just like the landscape permits its inhabitants -- and leaders -- to do, and position our bodies as containers of this whirling energy. To express and transform it, we assume many roles and cross-dress, occupying and speaking on and about the multiversal world that is Dubai.


Fast-forward to the present and you will find another self-representation of me, in which I pretend to be a geographer from Dubai that is undressing the urban and ecological layers of the city. I am actually a geographer from Dubai, but in this text, in this exercise, I am outwardly appearing as such to you, and so I am cross-dressing into an imagined zone.

The character is a biogeographer who conducts research on the Gulf’s waterways. She selects an environment to design and convey a critical approach to Gulf politics. I imagine this person to be in their 50s, maybe 60s.

Read text entry below: Fleeing the Desert: The Archipelago of the Wet Gulf.


The Littoral Frontier is composed of the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar. They are high producing oil-regions who have managed to carve a space and identity outside the meta-Gulf/Peninsula oil region: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq, and Oman.

In the 1850s and early 20th century the Frontier became a navigable and recognizable landscape, ie embroiled into the European colonial apparatus. Therefore, the Frontier’s ascension into global politics, international relations, and foreign diplomacy, is recent. Before this period, the Littoral Frontier was treated with negligence, and not considered of strategic importance, especially since it was perceived to be a ‘barren’ landscape, and served as a rest stop for vehicles headed to India, the Indo-Malay Peninsula, Australia, New Zealand, and Chinese trading hubs.

The inhabitants of the Littoral Frontier, are, in historic records, two groups. Desert Wanderers, who are linked to the histories of inter-tribal domination and expansion of indigenous Arabian clans from Saudi Arabia, Oman and Yemen. Their lifestyles are perceived to be bedouin (that is never fixed, but always on the go). Some areas in the Frontier were also treated as temporary zones of refuge for communities escaping from dominant mainland rulers. The other group is Boat People. From the 1600s onwards, most of the Frontier’s inhabitation was by seafarers, marine journeyers, abandoned ship-men and the like. It served as a rest stop from global journeys and movements traveling across the Indian Ocean. Both of these migrational groups show how the Frontier operated as a pocket of outsiderness, from the larger area, and continues to as the area is still characterized for its mobile lifestyle and lawless urban development, which is usually pictured as ‘unhinged’ from the immediate environment.

Advancements in communication technology and infrastructure, specially telegraphy, imagined the Gulf into a geopolitical space. The laying of submarine cables for data and communication transfer was the earliest modeling of the Gulf as part of global indexes and atlases, in the late 1800s. This coupled with advancements in air travel remade the Gulf into a shared and totally global space. Sharjah, as an example, in the early 1900s, presented itself as a favorable air runway for journeys between the colonial world and the colonies, and eventually became appropriated into a strategic zone for global capital transfer, similar to the urban development of neighboring areas across the Littoral Frontier.

From the 1940s-70s, the Littoral Frontier’s currency shifts dramatically with oil and gas discoveries. Transitional governments were installed, such as the Trucial States, an indirect British-Raj colonial establishment in present day UAE, to fulfill the prospects of locating oil deposits, and generating operational field sites for global energy. Oil was initially found in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iraq regions, and later discovered in the Littoral Frontier, during the late 60s-early 70s, and the area becomes termed as a ‘late arrival’ to capitalism.

This history reveals that the Littoral Frontier served as a geopolitical interest for terminal global infrastructures and not as a direct colonial space. In contrast to neighboring Asian and Middle Eastern examples, and African and South American histories of coloniality and then post-coloniality, the Littoral Frontier was not imagined into the universalized imperial exchange of the Global South, such as imposed religious conversions and the building of public amenities like local railways, churches, schools, bueracracies, hospitals, etc. British post-colonialists were wiser in the later part of the 20th century, too. Deducing that direct presence and governance is a source for hostilities and agitations with local communities, a new political situation needed to be created, in which resources could be extracted with the least amount of local offense. Instead of instilling a government that is exclusively British, or foreign, it implemented, from a distance, authoritative local governments, that self-represent as absolutely accountable for local affairs.

In this formula, Britain crossdresses, local politicians crossdress, and the landscape crossdresses for global bounty: oil and the sustenance of seamless, accelerated movement. The Littoral Frontier, then, does not become a centralized nation, or an exclusive phenomenon, but a shared globality.


The discovery of oil revolutionizes the landscape of the Littoral Frontier by making it complete: plugged into the networks and surfaces of modernity. Oil wells become the associated forms of environmentality for the Littoral Frontier. The narrative today claims that if no oil existed behind the city’s surfaces, its unbelievable modernity would not exist. So, oil, becomes a well, a pond, a source, and the point of ecological origin, while the mechanics of the fossil fuel industry become the Frontier’s blueprint, verbalizing itself across the Frontier’s built and emotional landscapes.

Oil, in the global narrative, is an uncomfortable situation for human identification, as oil, on its own terms, proposes that it is sufficient for comfort and livability, a proposition represented, very exuberantly, by the postmodern, late capitalist, and accelerated development of the Littoral Frontier. This uneasiness is ameliorated because oil in the Frontier is extracted from a desert landscape, that is barren, hot and impossible. What becomes problematized with this environmental image is the validity of our universal developments as a humanity, our ethical principles, our holistic earthiness, our values for justice, kindness, love, and hope…how can any of it be possible in a landscape that is entirely built upon fossil fuel extraction, an industry that is perceived to be extremely antithetical to these civilizational means of progress.

The fossil fuel characterization of the Frontier, therefore, permits a range of hostile and anxious commentary, pornographic really, because oil fetish is conveniently oppositional to universal institutes of what is good and principled. The Frontier, when critically examined, is a shame, a disgrace to the planet, a human rights abuser, an extreme in density, scale, vision, governance; anthropocenic and apocalyptic. These critiques are further supported by the high-energy emitting systems required to sustain Littoral locales, and the unregulated neoliberal surfaces it operates on, as well as its exploitative forms of labor.

But the development of place and people is a violent endeavour, put very simply, and in the Littoral Frontier that is transparent. Rather, the anxiety surrounds the proposed universality of these politics of equality, politeness, and goodness. Moreover, oil surfaces are not an exclusive enterprise belonging the Littoral Frontier. Fossil fuel blueprints are planetary and what is witnessed on the streets Frontier is what is required to keep the world moving.

I propose that identifications of oil, or from oil -- an environmental style -- does not deter the effort and willingness to live, or be good.

The Dubai Marine Co-op Society, is responsible for providing potable water solution technologies to the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula Regions. It is currently involved in two hydro-projects in the Gulf: water desalination and rain-making.

Water Desalination:

All Gulf countries are considered in ‘acute scarcity’ of water, meanwhile the demand for water is continuously increasing in the Gulf regions, because of high rates of urbanization -- the statistic currently sits at 84%. Gulf water is warm, shallow, and salty. The population of GCC countries has risen 43 per cent from about 30 million in 2002 to nearly 43.5 million in 2010.

Water scarcity is not new in the Gulf or the world, and since the 70s, most water supply in the Gulf regions comes from the desalination of seawater, a process that extracts salts minerals from saline water to produce water suitable for human consumption and irrigation. The largest single operating desalination plant is Ras Al-Khair in Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, Kuwait, is considered the single largest country dependant on desalinated water totaling 100%.

After extracting salt water, large amounts of brine are produced, which have about double the salinity of natural seawater. For example, in a reverse osmosis desalination plant, water is taken from the sea and when the brine is discharged back, salinity will increase by 70%.

Dubai Marine Co-op Society’s solution: Deep Sea Trawling. To avoid ejection of high concentrations of brine by land-based desalination plants into the Gulf, the Co-op has designed mobile marine bottling plants which utilise deep sea waters to produce drinking water rich in marine minerals while smoothly disseminating brine over a large area of water, while the ship sails.


Since the 1860s, many drought-struck areas have commissioned a variety of quirky scientists and experimenters to engineer science for rainmaking. The most successful of these inventions is cloud seeding. Cloud seeding is a form of weather modification, a way of changing the amount or type of precipitation that falls from clouds, by dispersing substances into the air that serve as cloud condensation or ice nuclei, which alter the microphysical processes within the cloud.

The most common substances include liquid propane, silver iodide, and potassium iodide. The UAE is currently the most successful nation in the creation of rain by cloud seeding, reporting over 200 days of successful events. In 2015, as an example, almost 187 rain missions were ordered along the UAE. The Ministry of Presidential Affairs also has several grants and funds for its UAE Research Program for Rain Enhancement Science.

The Marine Co-op’s solution, Cloud Ionization: ions, or negatively charged particles, attach to the condensation nuclei in clouds and enable them to survive longer in the atmosphere. The longer they survive, the more time water droplets have to grow on their surfaces. The Co-op helped set up five ionizing sites in the Abu Dhabi-Al Ain area, with 10 ionizing emitters that sent trillions of these cloud-forming ions into the atmosphere. We have successfully reported more than 52 days of rain-making yet with major hazardous effects.

The Gulf regimes have achieved the ability to deliberately deploy technology and scientific methods of management to establish its political authority and re-engineer society in its own image. The result was the elaboration of a Gulf Environmentality, a marriage of environmental management with biopolitical governmentality. They, locally, have become Technostates through the management of water resources—not oil—and consolidate power at the center of the nation through hydro-programs of supply through desalination.

Water and oil are the two determining forces in the development of the Gulf and together become the defining forces of environmentality and ecological identity; they exist together rather than apart. The difference is mainly in perception, since water is a domestic supply, while oil is an international global commodity.

I contend that water has created more of the Gulf state than oil. As much as there is oil obsession or fetish in the Gulf, there also exists one with water. The difference is that the relationship with water is vulnerable, rather than powerful.

In Dubai, and in the Littoral Frontier, I position myself as a representative of the Gulf’s water affairs, and I engage with the landscape to make and create politics, rather than collective social identities. This effort creates what I call a politics for environmental situationism, which is that the environment you chose to inhabit, design and occupy, becomes the creative force for life. In this imagination, life is not bottled into a spirit or a singular body, but presented as a situation, in which the body instrumentalizes the surrounding environment as the its own accidental situation.

Water, just like oil, is imagined as a technology for diffusion and circulation.

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