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The Oil Town of Ahmadi since 1946: From Colonial Town to Nostalgic City


This article highlights the role of oil as an agent of political, social, and cultural change at the level of the everyday urban experience by introducing the company town as a modern architectural and urban prototype that has been largely neglected in the study of the Middle East. Using the Kuwait Oil Company (KOC) town of Ahmadi as a case study, Alissa's article offers new perspectives on the history of oil urbanism in Kuwait since 1946. It first traces the origins of Ahmadi's architectural and urban development as shaped by KOC officials and by the company architects Wilson, Mason and Partners, both responsible for forging the town's first decade of urban existence under the aegis of colonial urbanism. Second, it analyzes how the nationalization of Egypt's Suez Canal in 1956 and the growth of regional and local anti-British sentiments that also targeted the KOC compelled the British oil company to reposition itself as the benevolent modernizer of Kuwait and as the champion of Kuwaitization through a tactfully constructed public relations campaign that lasted until 1960. The process of Kuwaitization, or nationalization of the oil industry, largely entailed the replacement of Ahmadi's expatriate population with a Kuwaiti one. As a result of this demographic shift, Alissa argues, the urban modernity experienced in Ahmadi by the Kuwaiti employees of KOC during the 1960s and 1970s mediated drastically new and modern lifestyles that rendered it a nostalgic city in the nation's collective memory.

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