Lebanese voters are signalling a desire for change, with Hezbollah and its allies losing ground across the country in a parliamentary election.
Just as the recent election in Northern Ireland brought a boost for the non-sectarian Alliance Party, Lebanon’s election saw significant gains for political representatives untethered to sectarian politics. Like Northern Ireland, Lebanon’s political system is set up to share power. Its new parliament will have various sectarian blocs, revolving around Hezbollah and rival party Lebanese Forces, and a sizeable non-sectarian group campaigning on economic issues, social justice and accountability.
Hezbollah, a pro-Iranian Shia-based party, emerged in 1982 largely in response to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. It gained prominence after the end of Lebanon’s civil war (1975-1990) and its share of parliament seats started rising in the 2000 elections. After the departure of Syrian troops from Lebanon in 2005, its alliance with key political players such as the other Shia-based political party, Amal, and the Christian-based Free Patriotic Movement allowed it to gradually block major policy processes deemed detrimental to its interests such as negotiations on its demilitarisation.
The Hezbollah bloc has lost ground to rivals across the spectrum. Results indicate that the pro-Thawra opposition candidates have made significant gains, capturing up to 13 seats. The Thawra name harks back to October 2019, as the state’s economy went into freefall, when an uprising of ordinary citizens, often called the Thawra, campaigned for all sectarian leaders to resign and for rights for foreign domestic workers, women and LGBTQ+ people.
In this election, the Lebanese Forces party has used widespread anger against Hezbollah and its allies to increase its number of parliamentarians. Lebanese Forces has positioned itself as the main faction willing to contest Hezbollah in the power-sharing government.
This national election took place as Lebanon struggled with a series of crises beginning in 2019, including an economic meltdown that left more than 75% of the population below the poverty line, in what the World Bank ranks as among the three most severe economic collapses anywhere since the 19th century. The country is also dealing with the aftermath of the port disaster. More recently Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has pushed millions close to starvation because of Lebanon’s heavy dependence on Ukrainian wheat.
Relatives of victims of the August 2020 Beirut port blast carry their pictures during a protest near the port. Reuters/Alamy
Lebanon’s political power-sharing system is deliberately designed to protect the entrenched interests of the state’s powerful sectarian leaders. All seats in the 128-member parliament are reserved on a sectarian basis and the powerful factions have often functioned on behalf of other powers, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia.
For its supporters, the power-sharing system gives guarantees of political representation to the main groups and ensures that no faction can control the government.
While the protests eventually ran out of steam, it built a platform for a political movement that has now gained independent parliamentary seats.
While it is tempting to suggest that Lebanon’s election has ushered in significant change, caveats are required. Voter turnout was 41%, lower than in 2018. This may point more to apathy and disillusionment than hope.
Obsolete electoral laws have not kept pace with people’s lives, and may have been a factor in the low turnout. In Lebanon, people must vote in the constituencies where they were born. With fuel prices rising and a crumbling transportation system, many could not travel to their birthplace hours away.
This result could lead to political stalemate and confrontational power-sharing. The parliament could turn into a polarised arena where parties with opposing agendas are supposed to share power. The main factions are likely to disagree on the new speaker of parliament and on the allocation of executive ministerial positions, making it difficult for the council of ministers to address the disastrous economic situation.
Factions are also likely to disagree on the new presidential candidate set to replace current president Michel Aoun five months from now at the end of his term.
Yet there is still room for optimism. The success of these independent candidates demonstrates that anti-sectarian politics can succeed in an environment designed to prohibit it flourishing. Unlikely breakthroughs in sectarian strongholds represent notable and exceptional gains.
Independent candidates have not had the array of tools at the disposal of the major sectarian parties. They do not have the economic clout to court votes or have links to powerful media networks to echo their message. They also can’t ask for support from powerful states, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. Their candidates are more likely to be harangued and attacked by sectarian factions.
Nevertheless, their victory in Lebanon’s elections has powerful implications. It is one of the key achievements of the 2019 Thawra movement, a landmark episode that many had dismissed for not having achieved very much.
Iraq’s discontent has like for most countries of the MENA, been there for all to see. In effect, many of these depend on Russia and Ukraine, the two warring parties for their wheat supplies. How to fix that or how to begin fixing it is not exactly a downhill walk in the park. Here is Bamo Nouri‘s explanation.
Iraq food protests against spiralling prices echo early stages of the Arab Spring
Iraq has been seeing protesters take to the streets as food prices spiral upwards because of the Ukraine war. Around 500 people protested in Iraq’s southern city of Nasiriyah a few days ago as flour suddenly rose in price by nearly a third. With food-related protests subsequently taking place in Albania and Sri Lanka, the ripple effects of the war are spreading.
Iraq’s markets were largely unaffected by the surging inflation in months gone by. But Iraqi officials have confirmed that the Russian invasion has massively increased the cost of the region’s food and is also causing shortages. Flour prices are up from IQD35,000 (£18.29) for a 50kg sack to IQD45,000 (£23.52), rice by 10%, and cooking oil has doubled in price. Iraqi consumers have been stocking up fast because of fears of further shortages and price rises, and Iraqi traders have capitalised on the situation to increase their profits.
The Iraqi government has already put measures in place to tackle shortages, distributing food to those in most need, as well as rationing food during the upcoming month of Ramadan. Rapid government measures also include a monthly allowance of around US$70 (£53) for pensioners with incomes of less than one million Iraqi dinars (£522) per month to help them afford food, as well as for civil servants earning less than half a million Iraqi dinars.
Additionally, a temporary suspension of customs charges on consumer goods, construction materials and international food products has been introduced for a period of two months to help keep prices down. In Iraq’s Kurdish region, the Kurdistan regional government has introduced emergency measures including store closures in Erbil, the region’s capital, to stop rogue traders overcharging.
Turkey and Iran restrict exports
Imports from Russia and Ukraine, two of the world’s largest exporters of energy and agricultural products, have been massively reduced. The situation has also been exacerbated by neighbouring Iran and Turkey, which according to Iraqi sources have restricted food exports to Iraq to prioritise their own national stocks.
Despite Iraq being part of what is known as the fertile crescent, a region famed for its high-yielding farmland and access to water, a series of interventions in the last three decades have depleted the area’s water supply and crops. These range from Saddam Hussein formally drying out Iraq’s marshes, to water flow restrictions from Turkey and Iran causing severe drought. These events had already put pressure on Iraq’s agriculture sector and reduced internal production of food.
Distrust in the political system continues. In Iraq’s latest October 2021 Iraqi parliamentary elections, the lowest-ever voter turnout in post-2003 Iraq was recorded at 41% – creating a legitimacy crisis for Iraq’s yet-to-be-announced next government.
The key issue is that there is no clear progressive national government strategy, which in turn severely impedes development and weakens the Iraqi state, especially in the face of challenges such as global food price rises. However, what makes this particular protest noteworthy is that it comes at a time when all governments may be expected to do more to support their populations as prices spiral worldwide.
Protests start to spread
Given that two of the key drivers of the Arab Spring were the high cost of food and other goods, and restricted access to water, the latest protests may have worldwide significance. Iraqis may be the first in a global movement of protests over price rises as the Russia-Ukraine conflict continues.
Albania became the first country to follow in Iraq’s footsteps with protests, then Sri Lanka, amid warnings from the World Bank that Ukraine war-related inflation could drive other protests and riots.
While some other governments have already intervened with subsidies, there is also an argument that energy providers should act more responsibly in such times of crises. For example, Exxon, Chevron, BP and Shell recorded their highest profits in seven years in 2021, which they attributed to surging oil prices as post-pandemic demand increased but suppliers struggled to keep up.
The cost of food has provoked outrage throughout history. The 2007 and 2008 food crises triggered riots in Haiti, Bangladesh and Mozambique. Even in the French revolution, when Parisians stormed the Bastille on July 14 1789, they were not just looking for arms, they were looking for grain to make bread.
Highlighting these important lessons from history to drive more responsible government and corporate power may be pivotal in preventing political unrest and instability. There is little doubt that both governments and corporations need to do more to make sure that food is affordable for their citizens, or face the consequences.
The MENA countries where socio-political monopolization is fundamentally due to low levels of democracy and obscure political transparency have generated over the years Corruption. All attempts to strengthen business integrity and fight corruption were in vain. Chatham House‘s post on the subject of Tackling corruption is the focus for MENA in 2022 is worth going through. Here it is.
Integrity is central to the development of competitive and open economies in which growth and opportunities are sustainably and equitably distributed.
To tackle corruption in the MENA region, the international community must prioritize accountability over stability.
Tackling entrenched corruption will be a key focus of the political discourse in the Middle East and North Africa in 2022. International policymakers will look to anti-corruption as a framework that can be used to help stabilize conflict countries, support economic reform, or to pressure adversarial regimes. Pressure to deal with corruption also stems from popular anger in countries that suffer from poor governance as corruption can have very serious – even fatal – consequences, as the deadly hospital fires Iraq suffered last year illustrate.
Corruption can have very serious – even fatal – consequences, as the deadly hospital fires Iraq suffered last year illustrate
Across the region, anti-corruption processes are meant to signal accountability. However, they can also be weaponized by elites to consolidate power and target opponents, particularly in countries where the political system itself is built on politically sanctioned corruption. This makes anti-corruption efforts unlikely to succeed. These dynamics highlight the need for international policymakers to develop strategies that promote accountability and transparency over the long term instead of prioritizing political expediency.
Anti-corruption efforts not what they appear
At first glance, anti-corruption processes underway across the Middle East and North Africa appear to suggest that states in the region are serious about combatting graft. In Libya, a recent wave of arrests by the attorney general has seen two sitting ministers, a former deputy prime minister and a former head of a state-owned investment vehicle detained on charges of corruption. In Iraq, the commission of integrity and the prime minister’s special committee have arrested dozens of former and current officials on charges of corruption.
Across the GCC, governments are seeking to double down on their economic diversification plans. Against the rising tide of nationalism and populism, anti-corruption efforts will feature as part of a good governance agenda that serves a domestic audience by targeting elites and patronage networks. The UAE is the GCC’s most nimble economic player and leads the pack in efforts to stamp out corruption. In Lebanon, political competition and initiatives by members of the judiciary have resulted in investigations of alleged corrupt practices by the heads of major state institutions such as the central bank.
The case of Lebanon has clearly illustrated that appeasing elites does not deliver stability, and countries such as Iraq and Libya could potentially face a similar fate.
But appearances can be deceiving. In none of these countries have anti-corruption efforts led to meaningful change. In Libya, past efforts have petered out and officials have all too rarely faced trial, let alone been convicted. There is little to suggest this round will be any different as the government is unlikely to support the attorney general’s cause. In Iraq, this year’s top story will be the protracted government formation process following last year’s elections – a process rife with politically sanctioned corruption as the usual cast of characters come together to negotiate their share of power and money. Despite the 2019 October revolution that called for reform of Iraq’s ethno-sectarian political system (muhassasa), not much has changed.
Saudi Arabia, which is pushing ahead with its Vision 2030 targets, has an anti-corruption agenda but will face challenges in connecting its legal framework and process, led by the Oversight and Anti-Corruption Authority (Nazaha), with realities on the ground. Many sectors suffer from a lack of transparency when it comes to decision-making, yet the importance of personal and social connections (wasta) remains high in Saudi society.
Weaponizing anti-corruption processes
The darker side of the anti-corruption drive is the weaponization of such processes, whereby corruption allegations can be used to settle political scores, especially by those who are politically dominant. In Lebanon, this can be seen in the growing standoff between the governor of the central bank and Hezbollah and its allies, who see him as a political opponent.
The darker side of the anti-corruption drive is the weaponization of such processes, whereby corruption allegations can be used to settle political scores.
In Iran, under pressure from US-imposed sanctions, President Ebrahim Raisi will continue to promote anti-corruption measures to demonstrate good governance and accountability to help distract from the economic pain of sanctions. However, these efforts will by no means root out entrenched corruption. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and various parastatal entities have used predatory sanctions-busting strategies to ensure their economic survival, while crowding out the private sector. Without meaningful reform of the economic system, the government will likely see more protests and unrest.
The scale of the challenge facing the international community
There is no doubt that these problems will be difficult to tackle. Corruption stretches far beyond the upper levels of government. Where corruption has become politically sanctioned, such as in Iraq, the elite has shifted its focus away from formal government roles, such as cabinet ministers, who are now by design independent and technocratic, but weak. Instead, the key to state power has become the almost 1,000 senior civil servants under the special grades scheme, who do the elite’s bidding in government ministries and agencies without any transparency or accountability. They may not be the minister in charge, but these director generals and deputies make the decisions when it comes to government contracts and procurement, helping to generate huge sums of money for those whose interests they serve.
Any successful anti-corruption strategy must go beyond sanctions on individuals to address the core of the problem – the economic system of governance.
The international community have opportunities to address some of these entrenched problems this year. But its record to date is mixed. In Libya, the international community’s credibility on corruption has been greatly damaged by it prioritizing stability over accountability. A long-awaited audit of the Central Bank of Libya drew ‘no conclusion or determination’ over ‘any fraud or misappropriation’, while a UN report into allegations of vote-buying at the UN-created Libyan Political Dialogue Forum that selected the current government has not been made public. These developments have only strengthened the impression that Libyan officials enjoy impunity. As the Libyan political process is reshaped in 2022, measures to ensure accountability and transparency must take a much more prominent place in the architecture of international efforts.
Lebanon is perhaps the greatest test of the international community’s commitment to tackling widespread graft. In need of an economic rescue plan to reverse the severe depreciation of its currency and decline in GDP and foreign reserves, there is hope that a deal with the IMF and international assistance could materialize this year. The IMF and international bodies like the EU insist that any aid will come with conditionality regarding reforms, but there are fears they may soften their stance. They must hold firm. If their current position softens, this will damage both Lebanon and the credibility of the international community.
The international community must prioritize the legitimate grievances of MENA citizens, rather than pleas by entrenched elites to help maintain ‘stability’. The case of Lebanon has clearly illustrated that appeasing elites does not deliver stability, and countries such as Iraq and Libya could potentially face a similar fate.
Any successful anti-corruption strategy must go beyond sanctions on individuals to address the core of the problem – the economic system of governance.
The image above is of Image — A man checks electrical wires in Baghdad, 13 September 2017. For years Iraqis have denounced the bad management and financial negligence that have stifled the country and let its infrastructure fall apart. Photo: AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images.
Sheikh Jarrah is a Palestinian neighbourhood of 3,000 inhabitants at the eastern part of Road 1 that runs north to south through Jerusalem and separates Israeli and Palestinian sectors. The neighbourhood has two distinctive sections: the north is the part inhabited by wealthier Palestinians while the poorer, southern part is populated by hundreds of Palestinian refugees from 1948.
The Salhiya family house is in Sheikh Jarrah’s southern area on land designated by an old urban scheme authorised in the 1980s for the construction of a public building. But part of the house already existed, along with some other structures, when the plan was being prepared. In fact, the house and the other buildings on the plot are already visible on maps of Jerusalem from the 1930s.
Importantly, according to the Jerusalem Municipality itself, Palestinian houses built in East Jerusalem before 1967 are considered legal and therefore cannot be demolished. But zoning the Salhiya plot for public use – which ignored the fact of the existing residential property already on the site – is indicative of a common practice that has characterised Israeli planning of East Jerusalem since 1967.
The Israeli authorities argued that the Salhiya property had been expropriated to establish a “special needs” school for the benefit of the neighbourhood’s residents. But this “top-down” planning did not include any consultation with the family or the community.
Demolition as a tool of control
The police are reported to have arrived at the property in the early hours of what was one of the coldest nights so far this winter, and forcibly removed 15 members of the Salhiya family before bulldozing the house. They arrested Mahmoud Salhiya and five members of his family, as well as some of their supporters, both Palestinian and Israeli activists.
This traumatic event is part of an ongoing attempt of displacing Palestinians from their homes – not only in Sheikh Jarrah but also in other neighbourhoods such as Silwan, on the outskirts of the Old City, which is the subject of the continuing conflict between Jewish settlers and the local Palestinian community over archaeology, tourism development and housing.
Housing demolitions have become an all-too-regular occurrence. According to a report by B’tselem (the Israeli information centre for human rights in the occupied territories) between 2006 and November 2021, Israeli authorities demolished at least 1,176 Palestinian housing units in East Jerusalem. At least 3,769 people lost their homes – including 1,996 children. Housing demolition serves Israel’s attempt to control the city’s “demographic balance” – keeping a Jewish majority within Jerusalem’s municipal territory back to the 70:30 ratio that has driven Israeli policy since 1967.
Emerging urban geopolitics
The Salhiya family’s case should be understood within a wider context of the political processes taking place in Jerusalem since June 1967 and the declaration of the city as Israel’s unified capital. The expropriation of Palestinian land by the state through legal measures was central to the colonisation of East Jerusalem at this stage.
Planning further contributed to the colonisation of the city and was characterised by the construction of settlements (“satellite neighbourhoods”). Since 1967, Israel has expropriated over one-third of the Palestinian land that was annexed to Jerusalem’s municipality new boundaries – 24.5 square kilometres – most of it privately owned by Palestinians. Some 11 neighbourhoods have been erected for Jewish inhabitants only.
Under international law, the status of these neighbourhoods is the same as the Israeli illegal settlements throughout the West Bank. As a complementary step, a series of masterplans were drawn that have effectively limited the growth of Palestinian neighbourhoods by limiting construction rights and defining most Palestinian land as not eligible for housing construction.
The beginning of the 21st century marked a shift into a more radical policy in Jerusalem with the construction of the separation barrier. This has allowed Israel to de facto annex another 160 square kilometres of the Occupied Territories.
The route of the barrier creates a sharp division between the walled city of Jerusalem and the Palestinian hinterland. The concrete barrier deliberately disrupts the functional integration of Palestinian neighbourhoods and isolates them from their hinterland in the West Bank.
The construction of the separation barrier has placed the vast majority of territory and resources in the Jerusalem metropolitan under Jewish control. Palestinians are confined to disjointed enclaves, without sovereignty, freedom of movement, control over natural resources, or contiguous territory.
Recent events in Sheikh Jarrah clearly mark the current phase in colonising Jerusalem. This is a micro-scale appropriation of Palestinian territory accompanied by evictions and displacements of Palestinians who remain in the city. Palestinian homes are demolished or colonised by settlers such as in the case of Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah while agricultural land is confiscated from its Palestinian owners – as in the case of Walajeh where the separation barrier surrounds the village and cuts it off from most of its inhabitants’ land.
This is a new phase in which Palestinian space is appropriated not solely through military acts or large-scale urban planning (such as described above) but rather on small-scale urban spaces and the use of planning policies. These include land-use changes, planning for the apparent “public good” (such as the attempt to build a school on Salhiya’s plot in Sheikh Jarrah), infrastructure development and touristic development. There is also clear discrimination in the distribution of building permits. While 38% of the city’s residents are Palestinians, only 16.5% of the building permits were given for construction in Palestinian neighbourhoods.
In this way, Jerusalem has become a model for using “banal” apparatuses such as urban planning to reinforce Israeli domination of this divided and contested city.
We are grateful to Dr Mandy Turner for providing the translation of Mahmoud Salhiya’s words at the opening of this article and the linked video.
2022—The year to redefine cities as the first tiers of urban governance is by SAYLI UDAS⎯MANKIKAR, published in Observer Research Foundation might hold some inspiring words for the MENA region’s own particular and diverse built environment. Seriously would 2022 be the year to redefine cities as first tiers of urban governance anywhere else than India? Does it really; let us find out.
A holistic restructuring of federal, systemic, and financial governance is required to empower our city governments
Nations debate over issues of climate change and pandemic response amongst others, but it is finally the cities that have the unenviable task of executing the ambitious agendas set up by the national elites. Cities find themselves burdened and crippled to deliver on these promises due to the following factors. First, the lack of adequate authority, federally, to run a city. Second, the funds allocated to cities do not quite match the duties they have to perform. And third, is the lack of capacities to plan, monitor, and execute tasks adequately.
It is time that the first responders to crisis, our cities, are no longer treated as mere urban local bodies that ensure water flows through our taps, garbage is picked up, and roads are tarred, but are actually treated as the custodians of urban governance in India.
In 2022, we must make serious federal and systemic amends to enable and strengthen cities to play out this role, and not only criticise these pale urban structures when they fail to respond to our large requirements. With the Glasgow Pact endorsing ‘the urgent need for multilevel and cooperative action’ at the local level, it was for the first time that the role of cities was officially appreciated and recognised in a COP summit. The new pact has also highlighted the need for climate adaptation through planning at the local government level. This is a cue that, globally, the way cities are being perceived is changing. Decentralisation and devolution of power should be the axis around which federal reforms should be implemented and reimagined in cities. While we constantly invoke the 74th Amendment of the Indian Constitution, which brought in the concept of devolution, the three tiers of government which placed urban local bodies at the lowest level, must be redefined 25 years after its conception. We have to assess the reasons why most cities were not able to implement many of these reforms.
With the Glasgow Pact endorsing ‘the urgent need for multilevel and cooperative action’ at the local level, it was for the first time that the role of cities was officially appreciated and recognised in a COP summit.
During the pandemic, even within the cities, a strong and successful model that emerged in high density population areas was ward-level management. Formation of ward committees, and the involvement of citizen voices and a local say at the hyper local level was a part of the 74th Amendment, which haven’t found resonance with many city authorities. There is reluctance, even within city governments, in passing over power to the lowest level and empowering citizens and their direct representatives.
The Second Administrative Reforms Commission, 2008 recommended that cities adopt a bottom-up approach of functioning on the principle of subsidiarity, which puts wards as the first level of governance that has people closest to it. The tasks are then pushed upwards to higher authorities when the local units are not enabled to perform them. The delegation of work is bottom-up. Such citizen involvement has been tried in Mumbai through its Advanced Locality Management (ALM) groups, and in Delhi through the Bhagidari scheme, where Resident Welfare Groups are set up to work on local civic issues. However, these were never empowered in their participation, through funds or functions. Recently, cities like Vishakapatnam have made requests to the government that the devolution should not be restricted to power but to development, where authorities of the region are able to administer all development work of that region and not be dependent on centrally-allocated funds for an infrastructure push.
The delegation of work is bottom-up. Such citizen involvement has been tried in Mumbai through its Advanced Locality Management (ALM) groups, and in Delhi through the Bhagidari scheme, where Resident Welfare Groups are set up to work on local civic issues.
The 15th Finance Commission report tabled in the Budget Session in 2021 was a ray of hope for urban governance. The issue of devolution of taxes to cities after local taxes like Octroi and VAT were subsumed into Goods and Services Taxes (GST) had attracted a lot of clamour and there was demand that a separate City GST must be constituted. But while the consideration of this demand still seems a long time away, the 15th Finance Commission has made an absolute allocation of 4.15 percent of the divisible pool—approximately INR 3,464 billion from the divisible pool of taxes—to local governments. After it is distributed, this will constitute almost 25 percent of the total municipal budgets of most cities. The Commission has also given a fiscal thrust to metropolitan governance by introducing outcome funding to 50 million metropolitan regions with population of over 150 million. Here, an outlay of INR 380 billion has been laid out for 100-percent funding for indicators related to water and sanitation, air quality, and other services.
But this is again a double whammy, considering it is still going to flow top-down from the centre to state governments, which then devolve the money to cities. There has always been a question mark on whether the amounts allocated to a city get used completely, since this will depend on the absorption capacities of cities and their ability to spend municipal funds.
The Commission has also suggested that other avenues such as city incubation grants should be used to develop smaller towns and regions in the country. This has gained significance in areas with strong political leadership or cities supported by the Smart Cities Mission, which encourages, handholds, and sets up guarantee mechanisms for private investment into the urban sector.
City governments must make their own efforts to ensure that the taxes which are within their ambit—like property tax—are paid by citizens, for which unique mechanisms need to be put in place for ensuring collections are made.
Along with devolution of financial or other powers comes transparency and accountability in its systems, the onus for which lies on the city governments. The first step to transparency will be to ensure that city budgets are put in the public domain and follow a simple format that is both easy to understand and comprehensible. City governments must make their own efforts to ensure that the taxes which are within their ambit—like property tax—are paid by citizens, for which unique mechanisms need to be put in place for ensuring collections are made. As issues like climate change gain ground, city governments must introduce tax rebates for green infrastructure to achieve their targets.
In conclusion, a three-pronged holistic approach of reimagining federal governance, reworking financial governance, and restructuring systemic governance in urban agglomerations might be the magic pill for creating strong cities. If we want our first responders and drivers of our quality of life to succeed, our political leaders and administrators will need to lend their muscle to put cities first.
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Earth has been used as a building material for at least the last 12,000 years. Ethnographic research into earth being used as an element of Aboriginal architecture in Australia suggests its use probably goes back much further.
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