Saunders Claims Upheaval in the Middle East Due to Neglect of “Arrival Cities”

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In an exclusive interview with Rebecca Costa, host of The Costa Report, acclaimed investigative journalist and author, Doug Saunders, reveals that the greatest migration in human history is the culprit behind the recent “Arab Spring.”

In an exclusive interview with Rebecca Costa, host of The Costa Report, acclaimed investigative journalist and author, Doug Saunders, reveals that the greatest migration in human history is the culprit behind the recent “Arab Spring.”

According to Saunders, 3.1 billion people will migrate to urban areas by 2050, settling in “cheap or uninhabitable land on the outskirts of major cities.” Saunders calls these fast-growing transitional cities inhabited by rural newcomers “arrival cities.” After studying 20 arrival cities on 5 continents, Saunders observed that these transitory quarters either become a hub for extremism and violence, or an incubator for the next generation of middle class. The difference between the two fates boils down to whether governments acknowledge the unique needs of arrival cities and take steps to make assimilation feasible. When assimilation into the established middle class is thwarted – when arrival cities are marginalized, repressed and isolated from mainstream urban commerce – frustration comes to a climax and violence erupts.

Saunders explained the pivotal role arrival cities played in the uprising in Tunisia:

“The young man who set himself alight (in Tunisia) was a classic child of an arrival city, with one foot in a village somewhere, trying to make his living in an unofficial (urban) economy - busy selling fruit on the street in a classic way that people from rural villages use the margins of the urban economy to support themselves. He was thwarted by the official class and police, driven to frustration by having his unofficial business shut down, and then committed suicide –inspiring millions of people across the Arab world.”

Saunders also claims to have traced the origins of the protests in Egypt to a failed arrival city. Similar to conditions in Tunisia, newcomers from rural areas who settled in impoverished tenements on the outskirts of Cairo eventually lost all access to commerce, education, government services, etc., and opportunities for assimilation into the established middle class were quashed. Saunders explains,

“About a third of Cairo’s population were born in the (poor) villages of upper Egypt. Their frustration boiled up and the people of (the arrival city in) Boolak were the first to march into Tahrir Square and occupy it on January 25th. Their frustration had to do with the fact that their neighborhood wasn’t recognized as official. They had half-a-million people living in their neighborhood and not one official secondary school – the government provided no services. They were the classic new lower middle class coming up against the Mubarak-regime-supporting official middle class. What began the revolutionary protest that unseated Mubarak was the tensions between these classes.”

When asked about the rapid rate at which arrival cities are growing, Saunders cited Lima, Peru, and Bogota, Columbia, as examples where the government has “realized they’re going to have several hundred thousands of new people coming in and started preparing infrastructure and neighborhoods in advance of that movement.”

Saunders concludes by explaining that the vast majority of people today are neither urbanites or villagers but somewhere “in between.” According to the author, all villages now have a few delegates sleeping on the sidewalks of cities, or living in urban slums, who send more money back to rural communities than these communities are able to earn producing food. From this vantage point, aid currently aimed at rural villages may yield a greater result if directed toward making arrival cities more productive.

The full interview with journalist and author, Doug Saunders, is available at, iTunes and

About Doug Saunders
Doug Saunders is the European Bureau Chief for The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper. Saunders has been the recipient of Canada’s most prestigious journalism award, the National Newspaper Award, an unprecedented four times. Previous to his career at the Globe and Mail, Saunders was the National Bureau Chief for the Canadian University Press wire service, and writer and editor for This Magazine. In 2007, Saunders began visiting 20 countries, on 5 continents, to study the effect “arrival cities” were having on global events. In 2010, he published his first book, Arrival City: How the Largest Migration in History is Shaping Our World.

About Rebecca D. Costa
Rebecca Costa is a sociobiologist who offers a genetic explanation for current events, emerging trends and individual behavior. A thought-leader and provocative new voice in the mold of Thomas Friedman, Malcolm Gladwell and Jared Diamond, Costa examines “the big picture”– tracing everything from terrorism, crime on Wall Street, epidemic obesity and upheaval in the Middle East to evolutionary forces. Retiring at the zenith of her executive career in Silicon Valley, Costa spent six years researching and writing The Watchman’s Rattle: Thinking Our Way Out of Extinction. The success of Costa’s book led to a weekly radio program in 2010 called The Costa Report. A former CEO and founder of one of the largest marketing firms in Silicon Valley (sold in 1997 to J. Walter Thompson), Costa developed an extensive track record of introducing new technologies. Her clients included industry giants such as Hewlett-Packard, Apple Computer, Oracle Corporation, Seibel Systems, 3M, Amdahl, and General Electric Corporation. Additional information available at


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