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Première partie. Décentralisation et reconfiguration des territoires de l'action publique
1.1 La décentralisation, des enjeux d'aménagement territorial et d'intégration des territoires dans le cadre national

National Spatial Planning and the Constraints pertaining to the New Territorial Governance in Post-Revolutionary Tunisia

L’aménagement du territoire national et les contraintes de la nouvelle gouvernance dans la Tunisie postrévolutionnaire
Mourad Ben Jelloul
p. 31-52


Suite aux soulèvements populaires de janvier 2011 en Tunisie, les populations locales et la société civile des régions les moins développées ont exercé des pressions politiques sur les gouvernements successifs et les partis politiques au pouvoir, afin d’améliorer la situation socio-économique de leurs régions et de les désenclaver. Dans le but, donc, d’atténuer l’iniquité territoriale, les autorités publiques se sont engagées dans des projets d’envergure dans le domaine des infrastructures et des grands équipements, ainsi que dans des réformes institutionnelles et législatives profonde (projets d’un nouveau code des collectivités locales et d’un nouveau code de l’urbanisme). Cet article propose ainsi d’analyser les reconfigurations des politiques territoriales à l’œuvre en Tunisie après 2011 - à partir de l’étude de la politique d’aménagement du territoire et des différents projets de textes réglementaires y afférant. Une telle entrée nous permettra de mettre en exergue la difficulté de passer d’un modèle d’aménagement fortement centralisé à un autre qui prend en considération le pouvoir local et la participation citoyenne. Elle nous permettra également de relever les dysfonctionnements dans l’action des différentes administrations concernées par la question territoriale et de pointer les incohérences de leurs actions. Elle nous donnera enfin la possibilité de remettre en perspective la continuité de l’action publique et les phénomènes de résistance aux changements qui empêchent la concrétisation de la nouvelle gouvernance territoriale.

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  • 1 Compensatory inequality as a principle of international law was used by the authors of the Tunisian (...)

1The popular uprisings of January 14th, 2011 can, up to a point, be viewed as the reaction of the population of inland regions and impoverished popular neighborhoods to the marginalization of their territories which, for decades, had been regarded as useless and secondary. Being aware of this stake, the new actors of Tunisian political life have, very early on, expressed a strong will to curb territorial inequalities through reducing regional imbalance. This legacy of colonization had become more pronounced during the 1970s and 1990s, which were decades of economic growth. The new Constitution of 2014 thus professes decentralization and good governance, and states in its Article 12, that “the state shall seek to achieve social justice, sustainable development and balance between regions based on development indicators and the principle of positive discrimination.1”, showing that the territorial question is part of the political agenda.

2Since 2011, the political pressure that has been levied at the successive governments and ruling political parties by the local populations and civil societies of impoverished regions in order to open up their regions and to improve their socioeconomic situation explains the commitment of public authorities to major infrastructure and large-scale facilities projects.

  • 2 Ever since, there has been no plans to revise the 2011 SDATN.
  • 3 One of the few decisions taken by the Essid government in 2015 to reinforce the capitals of some in (...)

3This commitment, however, is faced with three obstacles, all of them linked to the authorities' “hurry” to demonstrate their will to address the question of territorial inequalities while the regulations and laws, as well as institutional routines inherited from the past, are not in keeping with these new developments. First of all, the absence of a new Director Scheme of the National Territory Development (Schéma Directeur d'Aménagement du Territoire National, SDATN)2 has led to the inscription of some post-revolutionary projects in the continuity of the 2004 SDATN, while they should have participated in a rupture scenario. Besides, other projects strengthen the capital city's domination and macrocephaly, while the priority should have been given to promoting inland regions and their regional capitals3. Second, the State finds itself constrained to set these major projects in motion before the new regionalization scheme outlined in the Constitution, – a plan that has yet to be debated by governmental authorities and by the Assembly of the People's Representatives (Assemblée des Représentants du Peuple, ARP) – running the risk to set aside urban poles that might act as regional metropolises in the future (as in the case Sfax and Gabès). Third, a certain incoherence has emerged within the Ministry of Equipment itself – an instance which, among other things, is in charge of territory Development – when dealing with the issue of territories. This incoherence is primarily caused by the competition between the Land Use Planning Directorate (Direction Générale de l'Aménagement du territoire) and the Directorate-General for Highways (Direction Générale des Ponts et Chaussées)

4This paper will lay particular stress on the technical procedures of spatial planning, in order to analyze the transformation that has affected the ways political power has been exerted after 2011 (Epstein 2005). Indeed, in the case of Tunisia, the political ruptures caused by institutional and legislative reforms introduced in the wake of the revolution allow us to analyze the reconfiguration of ongoing territorial policies, and to put forward the difficulty of shifting from a highly centralized land-use model to one that takes into account local authorities and citizen participation.

5Our primary intention is to analyze the tools of public action (Instruments d'Action Publique, IAP) favored by the authorities, and to do so from a diachronic perspective, so as to shed light on possible continuities, but also on the manifestations of a resistance to change (Lascoumes & Le Galès 2004). We will then analyze territorial policies at various scales, focusing on the study of spatial planning policies and of the various legal texts organizing it (ie. the projects to establish a new Code of local government and a new Code of Town Planning). Finally, we will try and pinpoint the dysfunctions in the action of the various administrations concerned with the territorial question, and to shed light on the inconsistencies in their actions.

6In terms of methodology, we have conducted interviews between 2014 and 2017 with various actors involved in territorial governance, be they institutional actors from the political and administrative spheres or representatives of the civil society.

Spatial planning in Tunisia: policies influenced by the evolution of the economic and sociopolitical context

  • 4 The First Republic of Tunisia was founded in 1957 by Habib Bourguiba, who remained its president un (...)

7Can the downfall of Ben Ali's regime and of the First Republic of Tunisia4 be regarded as a proof of the failure of the spatial planning policies and development system adopted by Tunisia, a country that had been seen as the IMF's “good student”? Active territory development policies that have been led for thirty years, since the first National Scheme for Territory Development (Schéma National d'Aménagement du Territoire, SNAT) was adopted in 1985, have not succeeded in lowering spatial disparities inherited from the colonial period and deepened by the opening of the country to globalization, hence aggravating a regional imbalance characterized by a strong concentration of populations and activities on a narrow part of the country's littoral (from Bizerte to Sfax).We now need to shed light on the main traits that have marked the evolution of Tunisia's spatial planning policy, on a period that spans from the country's independence to the fall of the regime in 2011, before expatiating upon the challenges faced by the new political authorities after 2011.

Spatial planning policy, between continuity and rupture

  • 5 The DGAT has limited means and, in practice, it remains largely inefficient for lack of the capacit (...)

8We will begin by making two observations. First of all, the discordance and duality that, for the last three decades, had been opposing socioeconomic planning as sketched out in the Economic and Social Development Plans (Plans de Développement Economique et Social, PDES) and spatial planning, defined by spatial planning documents, is worth noticing. The second constitutes a policy in and of itself, explicitly framed by the National territory development schemes (the SNAT, followed from 1997 onwards by the SNAT) and by a Code of Spatial Planning and Urbanism (Code de l'aménagement du territoire et de l'urbanisme, CATU) and implemented by the General Direction of Spatial Planning (Direction Générale de l'Aménagement du Territoire, DGAT)5. As for the PDES, they favor the economic dimension of development, looking at the various sectors of activity from a rather segmented perspective and, as a result, granting minimal attention to the territorial dimension of the matter (only the regional scale is mentioned). Thereby, they can not be regarded as spatial planning documents. (MTE, DGAT, AFD, 2012)

9The lack of coherence between long-term spatial planning and medium-term socioeconomic planning explains the inefficiency of Tunisia's spatial planning policies for the last three decades. Indeed, a good part of the noteworthy economic and spatial changes of the last sixty years (the development of the tourism industry, on the littoral in particular, and the deepening of regional disparities) can be viewed as effects of general economic growth rather than products the State's development policies. Despite their importance, these have had consequences which, in most cases, have stood in contradiction with the announced objectives, and have thereby widened the gap between the littoral and the inland regions instead of bridging it

10The second observation derives from the fact that spatial planning policy in Tunisia has always struggled to simultaneously fulfill to two dissonant requirements, namely economic efficiency and social and spatial equality. The first one of these objectives, motivated by the search for economic growth, can only be accomplished in the most efficient and competitive regions of the littoral, and requires the participation of the most dynamic social groups dwelling in these places. It is the only way to secure Tunisia's international competitiveness internationally in context of the country's opening to the rest of the world. The second one, however, aims at securing territorial equality and social justice by equipping and developing inland regions and cities, and by promoting the ill-favored social categories.

11During the decades that followed the independence, the first priority was to fix disparities inherited from the colonial period and imbalances between regions. However, the context of the 1990s, marked by globalization and by economic opening, has paved the way for a policy that favored the imperatives of territorial competitiveness and efficiency, and worked towards the metropolization of the most dynamic cities.

Spatial planning, between regional balance and territory competitiveness.

  • 6 The “Cities and Development” study was made by the Groupe Huit in 1973 and composed by eminent scho (...)

12The voluntarist policy aimed at fighting disparities between regions was launched after the country's independence.6 It was prolonged until the mid-eighties, when the first SNAT – a scheme built around the idea that the state is the main actor of development – was adopted. But the 1985 economic crisis quickly forced Tunisia into complying with international donors' demands. Hence, the country first adopted a Plan for Structural adjustment (Plan d'Ajustement Structurel, PAS) in 1986, then operated a privatization of national economy in the aftermath of Tunisia's joining the GATT, and eventually signed agreements with the WTO. This new frame of reference for spatial planning policies was implemented along with the arrival in office of a new president and his staff. The new economic context imposed an “upgrading' of Tunisian cities and a new vision of spatial planning. This explains the enactment of the CATU in 1994 to replace the 1979 Code of Urbanism, but also the 1995 decision to start elaborating a new national scheme aimed at enhancing the competitiveness of the national territory.

  • 7 The discussions held within the Equipment Commission of the Chamber of Representatives (the Tunisia (...)

13The logic behind the first version of the 1997 SDATN revolved around the principle of territories' efficiency and competitiveness. This document proposed to implement policies aimed at accelerating the process of metropolization by concentrating the available means in a small number of coastal cities – Tunis, first and foremost, which was presented as an international metropolis; Sfax and Sousse, secondly, which were dubbed regional metropolises. This put at end to the principle of regional balance which, until then, had guided the regional development policies. These goals, redefined in 1997, did not fail to bring about significant antagonisms, or even outright refusal on the part of elites and elected officials in most inland regions. Indeed, from their perspective, the State was giving up on them.7

14The debate that ensued, and the pressure leveled by each side between 1997 and 1999, forced the Ministry for the Environment and Spatial planning to completely erase any reference to the notion of metropolization. It was replaced by more “neutral” terms: Tunis was referred to as a capital of national and international scale and Sousse and Sfax as agglomerations of regional scale.

15The new version of the SDATN was submitted and approved by the CIAT in 2004, and was only made public in 2007 – this delay being proof of the political power's struggle to reach relative consensus. It revised the initial goals so as to attenuate metropolization, and to focus more on restoring balance between the inland regions and the littoral. The efficiency principle was thus downgraded to the third rank, behind the question of employment and that of a “coherent and fair” regional development. Sustainable development and integration within the space of Maghreb were added to the previous goals, giving the SDATN a whole new dimension.

16However, these modifications can legitimately be viewed as a decoy aimed at reducing antagonisms, because the objectives of economic efficiency were still guiding territorial policies. In fact, towards the end of the 2000s, inequalities between the richest, most prosperous fringe of the littoral and the marginalized remainder of the national territory had deepened to the point that the term of a territorial fracture could be advanced (Belhedi 2012)

The political context after the revolution, and its impact on spatial planning policies : from the competitiveness of littoral spaces to affirmative action policies in favor of inland regions

17After January 14th, 2011, the interventions of public powers favored three types of actions in order to meet the demands and expectations of the population (and, in particular, of the inhabitants of inland regions), and to create greater territorial equality by reducing disparities in terms of access to infrastructures and public services.

  • 8 Examples include the study by the Tunisian Institute of Strategic Studies (ITES) entitled Quelle dé (...)
  • 9 The government led by Islamist party Ennahda, annouced the creation of several Faculties of Medicin (...)

18The first type of action took the form of strategic studies,8 impulsed by the will to revise the existing spatial planning policy in order to adapt it to the new social and political context, and to meet the demands of the populations and of their local representatives. The second field of action consisted in the organization of a national consultation about the new policy in 2015, in accordance with the new modes of governance implemented by the 2014 Constitution. Finally, the third type of action refers to emergency measures that have aimed at creating new major infrastructures in the south, northwest and mid-west.9

19However, like in the past, the various interventions that had been announced took a sectorial dimension: they were characterized by a total lack of coordination between the ministerial departments – or even between the different services of one given ministry, as it occurred within the Ministry for Equipment, Housing and spatial Planning (ministère de l'Equipement, de l'Habitat et de l'Aménagement du Territoire, MEHAT)

  • 10 In 2006, just after the SDATN was adopted in 2004, the DGAT had launched a study to assess the tool (...)
  • 11 To substantiate this cooperation, a “Memorandum for Strategic Dialogue” with the Ministry for Devel (...)

20The MEHAT, working with the ministry of Regional Development, launched a reflection on Tunisia's spatial planning policy a few months after the revolution of January 14th, 2011. There were two major objectives. First, it had to take back on a study started in 2006,10 going into more depth by including the main propositions made by state or parastatal actors of planing in terms of spatial policies. Second, the study aimed at making the best out of a fund granted by the French Agency for Development (Agence Française de développement, AFD) which, in 2010, intended to back a study on spatial planning policy.11

21Originally, this study was not intended to question the relevance of preexisting political decisions related to economic and social development – in particular those linked to the spatial distribution of investments. The study was to be pursued by the competent administrative authorities. However, the January 2011 events, which caused it to be launched three month later than scheduled, have led to the implementation of a participatory approach that allowed for the possibility to refer back to a great number of potential contributors (including public actors, members of civil society, experts and scholars)

22This assessment of the planning policy shed light on three main weaknesses. First, it appeared that it was impossible to impose some of the planning documents, especially the Director Schemes, on other actors. Second, the presence and efficiency of regional planning structures were insufficient, due to a lack of administrative concentration and to scarce decentralization. Thirdly, there was no coherence between the formal spatial planning policy, the orientations of socioeconomic schemes and the number of sectoral initiatives from ministries and various national programs.

23To solve these issues, the assessment report mainly proposes institutional solutions. For instance, it suggests that the prerogatives of the Joint Ministerial Council for Spatial Planning (Conseil Interministériel de l'Aménagement du Territoire, CIAT) should be reinforced, and that a National Council for Spatial Planning should be created, institutionalizing the CIAT and granting it the durability and political weight it needs to fulfill its functions. The report thus assumes that the State must remain the primary supervisor of spatial planning. Indeed, it has a national dimension, and is the only actor capable of manifesting and enacting a concern for cross-sectoral coherence. As a consequence, the State must occupy a central position in the arbitration of conflicts between ministries. But the report simultaneously suggests a rethinking of spatial planning policy which should contribute to strengthening regionalization through effective synchronization of territorial and socioeconomic planning. This reform should entail a closer partnership between the State and local authorities.

24As for us, the main benefit of this study lies in its propositions aiming at a stronger regionalization and decentralization. Indeed, it seems to us that the regional scale is the most relevant to operate the synchronization between the two different modes of planning that we mentioned. The creation, as suggested by the report, of a territorial mesh (maille territoriale) at the regional level will strengthen the decentralization of decisions and, simultaneously, allow for greater administrative deconcentration. This process, however, must span a rather long period of time, during which the institutional prerogatives of this new authority, and its competence when it comes to development, need to be defined. To us, the success of decentralization largely depends on the creation of this new structure – a process that can take several decades. The State would then become a partner of regional development, dealing with the regional authority on an equal footing. Eventually, the implementation of an effective deconcentration of the State at the regional level could simultaneously allow for more efficient programming of the development efforts; (MEHAT, 2012; Cf. M.Baron, S. De Ruffray, et al.)

  • 12 In 2015, there were 265 townships in Tunisia, and their 7447 million inhabitants represented 67, 81 (...)

25As for the local scale, the report suggests a systematic communal coverage of the entire national territory12, the possibility to progressively install intercommunalities and the strengthening of municipalities' purview and capacity for action (see E. Gobe's article). The implementation of these reforms should start from the local scale before moving upwards to higher-scale territorial networks, in order to first and foremost answer the most immediate and legitimate expectations of t citizens.

26To conclude, the authors of this assessment report assert that Tunisia must lead an ambitious spatial planning policy, meaning that it must directly tackle the issue of regional imbalances. Indeed, reducing them is the only way to guarantee national unity and territorial cohesion. But this policy also aims at ensuring Tunisia's position in the transforming Mediterranean world.

  • 13 This AFD-funded study was done by a group of franco-Tunisian, hence the clear influence of the Fren (...)
  • 14 A large-scale consultation about the CCL project was organized by the Ministry for Local Affairs fr (...)

27The logic behind this report,which can be sensed in its main directions and recommendations, points towards a reduction of the State's role (un“moins d'Etat”) and an increased importance of local power, which has consequences on the country's territorial development model.13 This model, grounded on the principles of decentralization and regionalization. Impregnates the 2014 Constitution which, at the same time, promotes a new form of territorial governance based on participatory democracy. In this context, a project for a Code of Local Authorities (Code des collectivités locales, CCL), started by the Ministry for Local Affairs (Ministère des affaires locales, MAL) has been submitted to a large-scale popular consultation14. This code emphasizes the same two principles of regionalization and decentralization and organizes the application of the propositions stated in the aforementioned report. However, it showcases a certain prudence, since it plans a gradual implementation of these principles.

Reconfiguration of territorial policies: the constraints of the new governance

28Before analyzing the renewal of territorial policies in Tunisia in the context of the new territorial governance that comes along with the period of transition towards democracy starting in 2011, we first have to dwell on this notion. We'll see how it was shaped in developed countries before affecting some countries in Maghreb and the Arab world.

Territorial governance: a new notion, taking shape with difficulty in Southern countries.

29The notion of governance makes it possible to “better take into account the strategic capacities of actors, the diversity of legitimation processes and the dynamics of negotiation between actors”. As for territorial governance, it is a response to the appearance of new spaces of development, built by and for the actors who appropriate them. It is based on the acknowledgment and mobilization of a multiplicity of actors, the definition of a “space of identity” (espace identitaire) and the elaboration of common actions and productions. This specific form of governance involves several types of proximity, since it combines geographical proximity with the organizational and institutional proximity of actors. Furthermore, it makes it impossible not to rely on the principles of participatory democracy. Indeed, it allows for the exploration of new ways to consult citizens, to have them take part in growth and to legitimize actions, so that new opinions emerge, as well as processes and decisions (Leloup et al., 2005)

30After most governments in the world failed to develop all of the territories upon which they rule, we have witnessed the rise of a renewed interest for issues of governance in all parts of the globe (Dumont, 2012, p70). As far as developed countries are concerned, France is a case in point. This way of governing became prominent in a context marked by the State's incapacity to satisfyingly govern its entire territory after the “Glorious Thirty” (les Trente Glorieuses, a phrase coined by french sociologist and economist Jean-Joseph Hubert Fourastié to refer to the 1946-1975 period). The crisis which plagued France as soon as the end of the 70's forced locally elected politicians to rethink their relationship with the State, since it became unable to meet their needs. By way of consequence, “territorial governance appeared as a solution and an answer to this situation, both on the institutional level (through decentralization) and on the practical level through localized decision-making.” (Lascoumes and Le Galès, 2004).

31In the Arab world in general, and in Maghreb in particular, territorial governance began to appear towards the end of the eighties, as an answer to the pressure exerted by international donors, and especially by the World Bank. (See L. Salman's article). Hence, policies of deconcentration and decentralization were prudently implemented during the 90's and 00's, but without upsetting the preexisting institutional pyramids. (Catusse, 2007. Favier, 2001. Lebris, 2004. Miossec, 1999. Signoles, 2010.)

32After 2011, the enforcement of this notion starts afresh in some of the countries touched by the political upheaval of the “arab spring” (incuding Tunisia, Libya and, to a lesser extent, Egypt) but also in those spared or less touched by protests, including Morocco, whose action is primarily guided by a will of prevention (Cf. Veguila Del Moral)

  • 15 After the downfall of the Mubarak regime, a new Constitution was adopted in November 2012 by a Cons (...)

33In the case of Egypt, post-revolutionary Constitutions15 have not granted the municipal level much more autonomy, even though decentralization now belongs to the constitutional principles. For instance, it is unsure whether voters are able to directly elect their own governors and mayors. (Ibrahim and Singerman, 2014; Cf; S. Tonsy)

34In the case of Tunisia, despite the fact that the notion of territorial governance is inscribed in the 2014 Constitution, decentralization and regionalization are implemented on a slow pace, partly because a form of centralizing culture is part of the ruling power”s traditions (Hizem, 1999). Yet, very early on, and in particular after the 2011 elections in the Constituent assembly, public authorities announced a set of major reforms and a reorganization of institutions, in order to solve territorial inequalities. The first measure taken by the MEHAT was to rewrite the judicial framework of planning policies that was the Code for Spatial Planning and Urbanism. The second measure consisted in a number of major studies on infrastructures, large-scale public facilities and freeway service. How did the MEHAT deal with the preparation of the new Code? And how did these studies unfold ?

The new CATUC project: various actors adopt diverging approaches.

  • 16 The Tunisian Association of Urbanists (Association Tunisienne des Urbanistes, ATU) thus sent severa (...)
  • 17 Interview with severa DGAT officials.

35The project for a new Code for Spatial Planning, Urbanism and Construction (Code d'Aménagement du Territoire, d'Urbanisme et de la Construction, CATUC), the product of a collaboration between the General Directorate of Urbanism (Direction Générale de l'Urbanisme, DGU) and private consultants, was made public in July 2015, just after the National Forum on spatial planning and urbanism was organized by the MEHAT. Neither the General Directorate of spatial Planning nor planning professionals were involved in the conception of this code, nor were they consulted during the process. Specialized associations16 were also left apart; so were some ministry departments linked to spatial planning, including the Ministry of Environment and the General Directorate of Local Authorities (Direction Générale des Collectivités Locales), even though this last institution was working on a new Code of Local Authorities (Code des Collectivités Locales, CCL), which was to feature the constitutional articles promoting decentralization and a new territorial governance. This code, once finished, was meant to be enacted through an organic law voted by the Assembly of the People's Representatives (Assemblée des Représentants du Peuple, ARP). It was thus supposed to become the basis for any ulterior legislation related to the administration of local and regional territories; including, of course, the CATUC, which is only enacted by an ordinary law. As a consequence, there was a direct opposition between the CATUC and the project of a new CCL. Unsurprisingly, the CATUC was rejected by all the actors involved in spatial planning and urbanism. Disagreement was expressed by DGAT officials17 at the Ministry of Equipment, by various members of the civil society and within the new Ministry of Local Development. The government's Presidency hence decided to withdraw the CATUC project until the new CCL was enacted.

36This predicament sheds light on the malfunctions and lack of coherence between the various protagonists in charge of urbanism ans spatial planning. Moreover, they pinpoint the diverging viewpoints of planning actors, which we will now examine by comparing the new CATUC project with the former CATU and the new CCL project.

  • 18 CATU, title I: CATUC, titles I and II.

37In the new CATUC project, much like in the 1994 CATU, the production process of spatial planning schemes18 remained strongly centralized. It also confirmed a will to maintain the State's control in this domain. Indeed, it postulates that spatial planning – be it regional, national or local – must remain directly under the authority of the State's bodies, or rather must be maintained under its rule through the various terms of validation of director schemes. In this respect at least, the CATUC project thus stands in contradiction with the new principles of territorial governance and of decentralization that are now inscribed in the 2014 Constitution.

  • 19 Before 2011, the CIAT was reattached to the Prime ministry, and the Prime Minister presided over it
  • 20 CATUC, article 5.

38Furthermore, the CIAT was retained in the new code, and placed directly under the authority of the Presidency19. Its mission is to set the major options of spatial planning, to insure spatial coherence between the various development and equipment programs. It also gives an opinion on the SDATN, on strategic studies concerned with spatial planning and the prevention of natural disasters, and on major development programs for urban agglomerations, new cities and urban investment projects. This CIAT must also approve of all proceedings involved with the use of space at the national scale and the protection of the environment.20

  • 21 CATUC, article 9.

39For its part, the SDATN is created by the central services of the ministry in charge of spatial planning working closely with the concerned ministerial departments, after having consulted the local public authorities and the involved public services21. It must then be approved by decree, after the proposition of the minister in charge of Spatial planning.

  • 22 The 2014 Constitution mentions for the first time the concept of Region, or District. It is a new t (...)
  • 23 CATUC, article 6.

40The innovation of the new CATUC lies in the creation of a Regional committee for spatial planning and urbanism in each governorate. This institution is in charge of giving an opinion on director schemes at the scale of the ditstrict22 (a new territorial mesh (maille territoriale)) or of the governorate, but also on the blueprints for territorial and urban planning and on development operations23. Introducing the district as a new level of action leads to the creation of a new type of scheme, the Director Schemes for District Development (Schéma directeur d'Aménagement de District, SDAD) which must set the fundamental choices for the development of the districts in question, within the framework of the SDATN. These schemes of a new kind are designed by the concerned urbanism and planning agencies, with the cooperation of the central services in charge of spatial planning, the regional services and the local authorities involved. They are approved by decree of the Minister responsible for Spatial Planning. With time, they are to replace the former Director Schemes for Economic Regions (“Schémas directeurs des régions économiques, SDARE).

41The second novelty lies in the creation of Director Schemes for the Development of Governorates (Schémas directeurs d'aménagement et de développement de Gouvernorat, SDAG). Within the double framework of the SDATN and the SDADs, they set the fundamental choices for development in the territorial element in question. Their elaboration process is the same as that of the SDADs, and they are approved by decree of the governor of the territory in question.

  • 24 The DGAT first chose the 4 least developed inland governorates namely Kasserine, Sidi Bouzid, Jendo (...)
  • 25 The Greater Tunis is composed of the following governorates: Tunis, Aryanah, Ben Arous and Mannouba

42As soon as 2012, before the CATUC was even approved, the DGAT started studies to prepare for the creation of a number of SDAGs, giving priority to the 14 most underdeveloped governorates24. This type of scheme seems to have little relevance for some of these governorates – Medenine, for instance, is composed of highly heterogenous spatial entities. Indeed, the case of the island of Djerba, a portion of this governorate, would need to be addressed in a specific document taking into account the particular situation of this territory, induced by insularity. (ie. specific challenges such as the protection of the landscape and of rural housing, the management of water resources, the prevention of marine erosion and the important touristic activity). In that same governorate, the frontier zone of Ben Gardane would also justify a specific treatment on account of geopolitical and strategic stakes. Due to its location, the region is faced with issues of contraband and clandestine migrants smuggling: furthermore, since Libya descended into mayhem, a heavy security threat weighs on the area. The Greater Tunis25 is another case that illustrates how the SDAGs are poorly adapted to the reality on the ground: the idea of a development scheme for each one of the governorates in this metropolitan area appears meaningless, given the close links and interdependence between all its components – the financial cost of such an enterprise notwithstanding.

  • 26 The ministry needs to supply the concerned local authority with all the necessary data.

43In the CATUC project, the capacity to design the various director schemes is granted to central authorities and regional services for development and urbanism, and the power to approve these development strategies lies in the hands of the governors that represent these same central authorities. This principle was adopted in the CATU, and is maintained in the new Code. Likewise, the CATU stated that local authorities (ie. regional and district councils) had the possibility to design development schemes for themselves, but under the condition that the minister responsible for Spatial Planning26 was notified; the CATUC maintains this disposition. The documents produced only become effective after they have been approved by ministerial decree.

44The CATUC project is a clear sign of the centralizing and bureaucratic model's resilience on the subject of territorial governance, despite the rearrangements entailed by the revolution; it keeps marginalizing local powers in decision processes, and limits their capacity of action. This model confirms that local and regional territory development is still viewed as the State's business; the idea subsists that spatial planning, at all scales, must remain under the State's authority. Consequently, as we already pointed out, the conception of the CATUC stands in contradiction with the orientations of the 2014 Constitution.

45However, as opposed to the CATUC,the CCL project envisions the designing and revising of local and regional director schemes as a responsibility lying on the concerned local authorities exclusively (ie. townships, district councils and regional councils). These contradictions between the CATUC and the CCL prove how the “deep” structures of the State resist change, and contribute to the perpetuation of inherited conceptions of planning and development. The situation that prevails at the State level, consistently slowing down the implementation of the new territorial order promoted by the Constitution, is also perceptible at lower levels, first and foremost within the MEHAT itself.

Dysfunctions and lack of coordination between the different services of the Ministry for Equipment, Housing and Spatial Planning

46Four successive ministers have been at the head of the ministry responsible for Spatial planning between 2011 et 2016, which can explain the lack of policy visibility and the strong discontinuities that characterize the management of this sector. Some of them have granted importance to land use planning, others have almost disregarded it.

  • 27 Up until the date when our inquiries were made (september 2016).

47As an example, the DGAT ordered a study in 2014 to prepare for the conception of a National Map of Infrastructures and Large-Scale Public Facilities (Carte Nationale des Infrastructures et des Grands Equipements, CNIGEC). Back then, the idea was to suggest an alternative way to tackle the issue of these infrastructures, so as to avoid a purely sectoral handling of investments in this domain. This study could have been used as the basis for a new SDATN, even though the objectives of such a document went far beyond the questions of infrastructure and facility planning. But it remained staled for several months, due to an absence of reaction not only from the ministries which should theoretically have been involved, but also from departments reattached to the same ministry as the DGAT, which is far more concerning. The silence of the Directorate-General for Highways (Direction Générale des Ponts et Chaussées, DGPC) was the most blatant example. It must be noted here that the first step of this project, which was devoted to the diagnosis and general orientations of the CNIGEC and has been turned in to the administration in December 2015, was only discussed during one single DGAT reunion in nine months27.

48Simultaneously, the Directorate-General for Highways started another study related with large-scale facilities, which aimed at upgrading the connection of Kairouan, Sidi Bouzid, Kasserine (in the mid-west) and Gafsa (in the Southwest) to the freeway network. There was no preparatory consultation with the DGAT for this study and, afterwards, no coordination between the Directions in charge of these prospective studies. Moreover, the international donors who funded this study paid little attention to the “governance” of the projects. For instance, the layout of the Center Highway proposed by the Directorate-General for Highways reuses as such a project prepared before the revolution, without any form of critical analysis and with no actualization of its content; no new technical studies or feasability surveys have been conducted (see fig. 1). The layout abides by a dated logic, reinforcing the domination of Tunis over the national space and leaving out urban poles that might act as regional metropolises, such as Sfax and Gabès (see fig. 2).

Fig. 1. Schéma national d’aménagement du territoire 2004

Fig. 1. Schéma national d’aménagement du territoire 2004

Fig.2. Tracé de l’autoroute du Centre-Ouest et du Sud-Est

Fig.2. Tracé de l’autoroute du Centre-Ouest et du Sud-Est
  • 28 According to the study's authors, “the concern for equality is entirely legitimate when dealing wit (...)

49The CNIGEC report, on the other hand, opposes the layout recommended by the DGPC and levels a number of criticisms at it. The report asserts that imperatives such as profitability and territory competitiveness have not been taken into account.28

  • 29 The similitudes between the SATN and the CNIGEC report can easily be explained by the fact that one (...)

50This report reuses the same set of arguments advanced in the SDATN29 a few years earlier. Indeed, it insists on the fact that socioeconomic disparities and inequalities can be caused by a large variety of factors, and that not all of them are to be viewed as forms of injustice. In both cases, the arguments are grounded on John Rawls' theory of Justice, which defines justice in terms of equity and not of equality, and aims towards an optimization of inequalities to the benefit of the poorest (Rawls, 1987). This opens a wide field of reflection on the social efficacy of inequalities, and of territorial inequalities in particular. Indeed, such thinking leads to the supposition that some inequalities can improve the situation of the entire population more than an egalitarian approach would (Bret, 1996). Such a conception of injustice entails the idea of a principle of reparation, understood as the necessity to rectify injustices. In the case of spatial injustices, it would consist in a reorganization of the territory to make it less unequal at the regional scale; however, it doesn't involve a modification of the existing imbalances such as, in the case of Tunisia, the gap between the coastal governorates and those located inland. In this dynamics, the state must act as a “producer” of justice, influencing spaces through the territorialization of public policies (Ben Jelloul, 2015)

  • 30 In report's words, “Having chosen to be a modern country, Tunisia needs migration between regions, (...)

51The CNIGEC report30 thus illustrates a change in the framework of reference of territorial public action, and the appearance of new legitimacy criteria for spatial balance and spatial equity: the notions of city and region competitiveness, of performance and of results-oriented progressively become central. In a way, this takes us back to the starting point that was the choices and orientations of the 1997 SDATN. The results of this scheme, an increased contrast between the littoral area and the inland regions, have already been observed. The DGPC studies, on the other hand, argue in favor of public and stately arbitration in order to seek balance between imperatives of profitability and social and political preoccupations.

52The example of the highway project illustrates these divergences. On one hand, the CNGE experts who consider that the layout of a highway can only be conceived on the basis of traffic intensity – the profitability threshold of such a structure being of roughly 12000 vehicles per day. If this threshold is not met, the decision becomes, according to them, a political one. As they state it, “the profitability criterion can be amended and augmented, but it can not be left out of the equation. It would thus be utterly useless, and even counterproductive, to propose projects which, from the start, can be seen as unrealistic” (MEHAT, 2015). Consequently, the main issue is to understand how far the State's voluntarist attitude can be pushed, and the extent to which the strict rules of profitability can be bent. According to the authors of this report, political authorities can decide to plan a Center highway going all the way to Jelma (in the center of the country), under the condition that this measure of territorial discrimination, which stands in contradiction with the requirement of economic competitiveness, is executed within reason.

53While the state officially claims to support substantive debate between public actors about spatial planning choices and their spatial effects, it has yet to create the legal framework and mechanisms for these debates to be possible. The Assembly remains the only space where these discussions can be held, and where opposition can be voiced, which limits the frequency and reach of the conversation.


54Tunisia is currently experiencing a period of transition. Through GNOs and international cooperation, western countries have (and still are) offering their support, so as to insure the success of a democratic model – a unique situation in the Arab world, which is torn apart by internal conflicts and terrorism and suffers a lack of democracy and governance. This support took various forms: financial aids were granted to help launch studies, organize consultations and hold seminars; the State's structures were given technical and scientific assistance; and, most importantly, civil society organizations were backed during the debates that shaped the government and development model the country was to adopt after the advent of the Second Republic.

55Since 2011, community life, and political life in general, were marked by an unprecedented dynamic. All debates pointed towards the adoption of a new political model founded on a reduction of the State's role and the devolution of more power to local and regional authorities. The new model was to acknowledge the advent of a new form of territory governance, with more local democracy and more citizen participation. As a tool of public action, the CCL has shed light on the processes that would allow for a reorganization of the State in a context marked by important constraints, among which the narrow financial margin (due to a drop in direct foreign investments, exporting companies shutdowns, a severe tourism crisis, etc.) and the State's loss of legitimacy in social affairs. The State thus adopts a new position, that of a “mobilizer of negotiated governance” (Etat mobilisateur de la gouvernance négociée”). (Lascoumes and Le Galès, 2004)

56However, some state structures – and, at their heads, high-ranking political figures – do not follow suit, and resist the change, as the example of the CATUC demonstrated. Indeed, the use of this code as a tool of public action by some fractions of the State makes the ruling power appear as a “regulating, controlling, monitoring State” (“Etat régulateur, surveillant et contrôleur”) (Lascoumes and Le Galès, 2004). It is a hidden use, allowing for the reproduction of dated visions of spatial planning. Those past visions remain tainted by the sectoral logics of State action, and perpetuate conflictual relationships between the various structures in charge of public action. This renders any form of communication between all these protagonists almost impossible.

57Organizing municipal and regional elections would grant legitimacy to local organs, but action must be taken in order to reform the institutional and administrative routines inherited from the past.

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1 Compensatory inequality as a principle of international law was used by the authors of the Tunisian Constitution to translate the idea of affirmative action in favor of the less developed territories.

2 Ever since, there has been no plans to revise the 2011 SDATN.

3 One of the few decisions taken by the Essid government in 2015 to reinforce the capitals of some inland governorates has been to choose the city of Sidi Bouzid as the siege of the High Council of Local Authorities. The 2014 Constitution, which organizes the existence of this institution, requires that it sieges outside of the capital.

4 The First Republic of Tunisia was founded in 1957 by Habib Bourguiba, who remained its president until he was deposed by Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in in 1987. The Second Republic was created after the “revolution” of January 14th, 2011, which caused Ben Ali's flight and the subsequent downfall of his regime. Its Constitution was voted and adopted by the Constituent Assembly in 2014.

5 The DGAT has limited means and, in practice, it remains largely inefficient for lack of the capacity to have its options adopted by the main ministries (Finance, Equipment, Economy, etc.).

6 The “Cities and Development” study was made by the Groupe Huit in 1973 and composed by eminent scholars. It was ordered by the Tunisian government in order to prepare the SNAT. It helped understand how the national territory was organized, and entailed propositions for development, some of which became effective – the creation of governorates in Siliana, Sidi Bouzid and Southern Tunis is a case in point.

7 The discussions held within the Equipment Commission of the Chamber of Representatives (the Tunisian Parliament) gave many deputies, mostly from the country's inland regions, the opportunity to voice their disagreement with this scheme's orientations, and to demand that it be revised (interview with Mr. M. J., deputy for the governorate of Siliana from 1995 to 2011 and president of the Regional Union of Industry, Commerce and Craftsmanship of the Governorate of Siliana.

8 Examples include the study by the Tunisian Institute of Strategic Studies (ITES) entitled Quelle décentralisation dans une Tunisie reconfigurée and the Ministry For Regional Development's Livre Blanc.

9 The government led by Islamist party Ennahda, annouced the creation of several Faculties of Medicine and Pharmacy in towns such as Sidi Bouzid, Kasserine, Médenine and Gabes, without ordering any feasibility study or consulting concerned actors, which caused several popular protests in governorates that weere not concerned by this decision.

10 In 2006, just after the SDATN was adopted in 2004, the DGAT had launched a study to assess the tools of spatial planning. However, it was never turned in by the local study company in charge of it. However, some of its recommendation became effective, such as the creation of Director schemes for the development of economic regions.

11 To substantiate this cooperation, a “Memorandum for Strategic Dialogue” with the Ministry for Development and International Cooperation was signed in 2010.

12 In 2015, there were 265 townships in Tunisia, and their 7447 million inhabitants represented 67, 81% of the total population. In 2016, the creation of 85 new townships brought their total number to 350. The Tunisian territory was now entirely covered, in accordance with the new constitutional dispositions.

13 This AFD-funded study was done by a group of franco-Tunisian, hence the clear influence of the French decentralization model.

14 A large-scale consultation about the CCL project was organized by the Ministry for Local Affairs from October to November 2015 and during the whole year 2016. It touched upon the regional and national scales, civil society, various professional organizations, political parties and constitutional instances.

15 After the downfall of the Mubarak regime, a new Constitution was adopted in November 2012 by a Constituent Assembly dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. It was approved by referendum in December of the same year. After the 2013 coup, a new Constitution was adopted, and approved by referendum in 2014.

16 The Tunisian Association of Urbanists (Association Tunisienne des Urbanistes, ATU) thus sent several letters to the MEHAT to demand the right to take part in the project, for themselves as well as for scholars and experts in spatial planning. These requests were left unanswered.

17 Interview with severa DGAT officials.

18 CATU, title I: CATUC, titles I and II.

19 Before 2011, the CIAT was reattached to the Prime ministry, and the Prime Minister presided over it.

20 CATUC, article 5.

21 CATUC, article 9.

22 The 2014 Constitution mentions for the first time the concept of Region, or District. It is a new territorial mesh (maille territoriale) that consists of a number of governorate (this number has yet to be defined). Its council is appointed by the members of municipal councils and regional governorate councils by indirect election.

23 CATUC, article 6.

24 The DGAT first chose the 4 least developed inland governorates namely Kasserine, Sidi Bouzid, Jendouba and El Kef. The other governorates inland (Beja, Siliana, Kairouan and Zaghouan) in the south (Gafsa, Kebili, Tozeur, Tataouine and Gabes) and in the center (Mahdia) were then added between 2014 and 2016. Finally, it was decided in 2016 that this experiment should be extended to the rest of coastal governorates from 2017 onwards).

25 The Greater Tunis is composed of the following governorates: Tunis, Aryanah, Ben Arous and Mannouba.

26 The ministry needs to supply the concerned local authority with all the necessary data.

27 Up until the date when our inquiries were made (september 2016).

28 According to the study's authors, “the concern for equality is entirely legitimate when dealing with infrastructures conceived for public use, which must be adapted to the demographics; however, it is meaningless in the case of infrastructures meant for economic use, which must be regarded through the prism of profitability and economic efficiency.

29 The similitudes between the SATN and the CNIGEC report can easily be explained by the fact that one single office produce both documents. As a consequence, the report tends to defend the strategy adopted before 2011, and to describe its effects as positive.

30 In report's words, “Having chosen to be a modern country, Tunisia needs migration between regions, and between rural areas and cities. However, the concept of territorial equity remains meaningful. Insuring that populations wherever they are have access to basic services is the State's mission. Overall, though, this function of the State has been fulfilled.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1. Schéma national d’aménagement du territoire 2004
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Titre Fig.2. Tracé de l’autoroute du Centre-Ouest et du Sud-Est
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Référence papier

Mourad Ben Jelloul, « National Spatial Planning and the Constraints pertaining to the New Territorial Governance in Post-Revolutionary Tunisia », L’Année du Maghreb, 16 | 2017, 31-52.

Référence électronique

Mourad Ben Jelloul, « National Spatial Planning and the Constraints pertaining to the New Territorial Governance in Post-Revolutionary Tunisia », L’Année du Maghreb [En ligne], 16 | 2017, mis en ligne le 31 août 2018, consulté le 23 septembre 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/anneemaghreb.3787

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Mourad Ben Jelloul

HDR de géographie, Maître de conférences à l’Université de Tunis, Faculté des Sciences humaines et sociales.

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