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Dossier : États et territoires du politique

Introduction: States and Political Territories, The Debate over Decentralization

Introduction du dossier : États et territoires du politique. La décentralisation en débat
Jean-Philippe Bras et Aude Signoles
p. 9-25

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1The challenge of this dossier has been to understand how, in the shifting context of the “Arab Springs” and with strong calls for the reorganization of political powers and regimes, the leaders and executives of central and local administrations have responded to the issue of state decentralization in the Maghreb. More specifically, the questions we propose to examine refer to the effects of popular involvement in the production of new territorial orders. This question concerns as much the modalities of the political mobilizations as it does deciphering the answers proposed by public authorities in addressing the political crisis in its territorial dimension. The answer to this question is not obvious, since the popular mobilizations of the “Arab Springs” can be understood both as a demand for local autonomy and for “more State” involvement.

  • 1 . This is the reason why we have chosen, in our treatment of this subject, to reference the speeche (...)

2Admittedly, the “Arab Springs” concerned a broader geographic area than the Maghreb, with deep territorial issues in the Middle East area. Beyond the objectives of this review, there are good reasons to concern ourselves with the evolution of relations between States and political territories since 2011. First, because the region shares numerous similarities and a marked interdependence on territorial issues: the South, the borders, coastal areas, the interior... Secondly, the Maghreb stands out in the very process of the Arab Springs, because it is the space where events began and because it revealed, from the outset, their territorial dimension - demonstrating (in Tunisia and Libya) or anticipating (in Algeria and Morocco) a major crisis in relations between central and local authorities. Finally, the Maghreb makes sense from the perspective of international cooperation, for its intensification, its redeployment and weight in the transformations of the devices and the talents of actors deployed to accompany the progress in changing hierarchies of power1.

3Among the principal levers of discontent leading to the “Arab Springs”, researchers frequently mention the aggravation of territorial disparities within the nation-states of the region. Even if comprehending these disparities is not always easy (as shown here by Myriam Baron and Sophie de Ruffray in the case of Tunisia), it remains clear that such territorialized disparities provided support for social discontent and led in turn to a break with the status quo and eventually to political reform. One aspect of particular interest in this dossier arises from the fact that the issues of socio-spatial justice which were placed at the heart of popular mobilizations in 2011, remain central today in public debates, national and local – including in countries that did not experience upheaval, like Morocco. It is thus largely against this yardstick that we must measure the public agenda of “decentralization” in the Maghreb – except for Algeria to which we shall return – and the aggravation of existing issues concerning both administrative reorganization and territorial policies, the skills and capabilities of local elected representatives, as well as State transfers and the financial resources available to local authorities.

  • 2 . See, on this subject, and without pretension to exhaustiveness:

4This type of issue is not new to the region. The issue of relations between the center and periphery was raised in the late 1990s and early 2000s by authoritarian regimes seeking (re)legitimization, through rearrangement (often more cosmetic than effective) of the administrative network of the territory and the promotion of geographic scale, territorial agencies and/or instances of authority, endowed (in the texts, at least) with a relative autonomy of decision with regard to central or decentralized authorities. Several academic studies appropriated the subject and carried out field work in both the Maghreb and the Middle East – the idea of “decentralization” was by then the solution of the day and prescribed by all, especially international funding organizations as the way of reform and a pathway to (regime) democratization and (social) development. The research raised questions about the induced effects of exported models of decentralization.2

5Today, the issues related to the production of new political territories make decentralization, mainly, a tool for overcoming territorial inequalities (in Tunisia, in particular). The localism of the “Arab Springs” was manifested, in fact, by the setting in motion of mechanisms of identification of populations with infra-state territories, and even inter- and supra- state territories, proclaiming their link to the territory, as “their territory”, and organizing themselves according to claims based on such links. These territorial claims can be divided into two main registers:
- A political and cultural rights register (flouted or ignored by authoritarian regimes), which refer to recognition of local identities, to the national representation of local interests, to decentralization and to local democracy; and,
- An economic and social rights register which, at the national level, refers to the idea of
​​spatial justice, and therefore to the (re)distribution of resources between favored and disadvantaged regions and which, at the local level, relates to economic rights and local resources, in terms of jobs, infrastructure, services and subsidies.

  • 3 . On the issue of “victim” territories brought before the “Truth and Dignity” commission in Tunisia (...)
  • 4 . According to the very old Moroccan usage, there is a territorial division between a bled makhzen (...)

6If these political and human rights claims take root, not only in the present condition of territorial inequalities, they also feed on the past and justify an inventory right that forms the basis a claim for reparations on behalf of “victim regions”3. The memory can also refer to a fractional, insurrectional past, bearing with it fear of a (re)appearance of actors considered threatening for the security and unity of the nation-state (E.G., from south of the Sahel, from border zones and nomadic tribes from the bled es-Siba4, and various ethnic reminiscences, Berbers and others ...) which might reasonably diminish the enthusiasm for decentralization and lead to a reconsideration of the virtues of the local democracy, weighing, if necessary, on the choice of voting methods.

  • 5 . For example: Boex J., Democratization in Egypt: The Potential Role of Decentralization, Policy Br (...)

7“Decentralization” is in fact more often a matter of territorial administration and political organization, drawing on the skills and capacities of local actors and the financial resources available in the community as it is an issue producing principles of justice. It must be said that framing the debate in this way would lead the ruling elites to establish clearly for whom the benefits of decentralization should accrue (and inversely, who will bear its cost). Decentralization should work toward the general good, even though the fragile political (and economic) contexts in which reformers act push them toward circumstantial alliances and conciliation of divergent interests. For fear of fanning the flames of popular dissatisfaction, the latter tend to minimize the political impact of decentralization reforms, preferring to address this issue by technical means. In doing so, they constitute narrow and closed decision-making circles with the administrative teams working on the promotion and / or implementation of this dossier which includes national and foreign expert networks. Seminars or study days on decentralization are regularly organized and these duly bring together ministerial representatives, public agencies and urban services, employees of the targeted administrations, market researchers, engineers and municipal technicians as well as foreign academics underwriters and representatives of a few carefully chosen NGOs. This mix explains how it is that an important part of the work on decentralization in the Maghreb is accomplished through working papers and policy recommendations, in other words, policy papers5 as opposed to academic research based on empirical work and social science analysis.

  • 6 . See in particular: Bergh, S.I., The Politics of Development in Morocco: Local Governance and Part (...)
  • 7 . See on this subject:
  • 8 . See, in this regard, one of the latest issues of L’Année du Maghreb: Belguidoum S., Cattedra R. a (...)

8Beyond this, we must note that academic work on the decentralization reforms in the Arab world is not particularly abundant6. This is due to the fact that since 2011, the attention of researchers has focused primarily on national issues as matter of monitoring the activities of political and elite factions. This is true of constitutional and electoral issues (especially in regard to presidential and legislative elections), but also of partisanship. Many studies focus on the appearance of new political parties but also of Islamist parties in the countryside or in public works7. Our ambition in this area is therefore to contribute to the epistemology of an issue that we consider potentially “explosive” political and societal issues. We have attempted to focus our enquiry on proposing a cross-disciplinary approach, drawing from political and geographical analyses rooted largely in case studies. In doing so, we position our work as an extension of the more numerous writers working in the immediacy of the “Arab Springs”, took for their subjects, the city and the urban (rather than the more theoretical “decentralization”), making of these spaces, privileged places anything was possible8.

9Beyond the territorial dimensions of political mobilization, a subject developed by several contributors to this issue and presented as mobilized territorial identities and advanced territorial claims, what types of responses did the States propose to the territorial vindications of the “Arab Springs”? Three main modes for remediation of the crisis of relations between central and local have been identified:
- Operate redistributive justice that aims to compensate for inequalities between territories, and mobilize its instruments;
- Encourage the flame of decentralization by means of transfers of skills and resources from the State to local authorities reconfigured in both architecture and respective networks;
- Promote democracy and local governance by establishing new means for political representation and citizen participation, as well as measures to support their implementation.

10The complementarity of these responses is not self-evident however, even if the contradictions are partly masked, which would explain why both the social demand and the States’ response to this request do not rely on these three registers of action, and that the States of the region, in different configurations, have not engaged in the same way on these three paths.

  • 9 . In the sense that Makhzen, in Morocco, means as much an art of governing as it does an institutio (...)

11Also, let's face it, the state of relations between the central and the local in the Maghreb following the “Arab Springs” described in the contributions to this issue is neither obvious nor particularly homogeneous. The popular mobilizations of 2011 did not lead the States and the societies of the region along common or well-marked paths. Rather, they were so many markers of cultural differences in the reconfiguration of relations between the center and the periphery. Thus, the art of Makhzen9 adapted from the political game as it is played in Morocco, where autonomy announces local control, contrasts with the imperturbable Algerian centralism, as well as with the frustrated centralism of Tunisia or the affirmation of local hegemons, sometimes through the use of physical threat or direct use of force, in Libyan “anarchy”.

12The differences may be explained:
- According to the initial economy of relations between the central and the local, which differs significantly from country to country;
- By the strong institutional inertia that pervaded the revolutionary processes. In Egypt, the two main actors of the revolution, the army and the Muslim Brotherhood, maintained relations with the territory that were consistent with the centralizing logic of Egyptian political culture, and relied heavily on centralized and hierarchical structures of authority (Tonsy). For Tunisia, only the main technical services of the central administrations were able to withstand the revolutionary process, conferring upon administrators an exceptional weight and credibility in steering territorial reform, for the better and for the worse (Ben Jelloul);
- According to the fluidity of the revolutionary situations (in Tunisia and in Libya), which were completely different from the controlled processes of the reformist or immobilist scenarios (encountered in both Morocco and Algeria); and,
- By the complexity of the play of actors, which was not limited to a duality of relations between State and central powers or local populations.

13Yet a common rhetorical figure of “it goes without saying” as applied for the abandonment or adjustment of the forms of political authoritarianism – decentralization, (local) democracy and (local) development, the three Ds applied locally - finds its translation into highly visible public policies. It is our purpose here to study the institutional and administrative rearrangement of the territories (in the first part), and the promotion of local participation and emergence of local political competition (second part), in order to appreciate the ways in which the asymmetries of political centrality inherent in the authoritarian political formulae of previous relations have been shaped by the political processes of the “Arab Springs”. The challenge then, is to link the State conception and management of the local together with the localized constructions and representations of territories, starting from empirical approaches that refer as much to the sociology of public administration as to the sociology of law and institutions.

14In the introductory comments that follow, we will go back to the comparative processes of placing decentralization on the agenda, which, everywhere, led to its becoming a burning obligation. We will then highlight the biases and rationale inherent in the implementation of representative and participatory local democracy. In the end, we will examine the contradictory rationales that infuse territorial development strategies implicit among decision-makers and experts, without necessarily being considered as viable competitive options.

Decentralization, a pressing obligation

15Decentralization becomes a “rhetorical figure conveying change” (Turki, Loschi). The previous lack of concern for decentralization, inherent in authoritarian regimes, was identified as one cause for their decline and collapse which led to a disconnect between the central authority and local populations. Further, decentralization was seen as an element contributing to the democratization of governance, promoting greater proximity between the citizens and political decision-makers, as a means for establishing and reinforcing the rule of law and a guarantee for the exercise of local liberties. Decentralization thus becomes a pressing obligation (except in Algeria), proclaimed by its constituents, demanded by the people, implemented by legislators and vigorously supported by international partners, all of whom see the process as a lever for economic development.

Toward a constitutional recognition of decentralization (...)

  • 10 . Usage varies between Tunisia, which kept the term “local authorities”, and Morocco, which adopted (...)

16The spectacular rise of decentralization onto the public agenda is mentioned in several contributions. It finds its first expression in new constitutional texts. The attention reserved to local (or territorial)10 communities in previous constitutions was, in general, reduced to a minimum. Three articles in the Algerian and Moroccan Constitutions of 1996 and a single article in the Tunisian constitution of 1959 contained minimum provisions concerning the categories of public collectivities and the application of the elective principle to local assemblies – the only basis for decentralization. For the rest, researchers and practitioners were simply referred to the law. If, in Algeria, nothing changed in this matter (the latest constitutional revision of March 6, 2016, carefully avoided the issue), elsewhere the decentralization debate very quickly became fashionable. In Morocco in 2011 and in Tunisia in 2014, decentralization was proclaimed a constitutional principle. Article 1 of the Moroccan Constitution proclaims that “the territorial organization of the Kingdom is decentralized, based on advanced regionalization”. Article 14 of the Tunisian Constitution of 2014 states that “the State undertakes to strengthen decentralization and to implement it throughout the national territory, within the framework of the unity of the State”. In a more nuanced formulation, the Egyptian constitution of 2014 mentions that “the State supports administrative, financial and economic decentralization” (Article 176).

17Another sign of decentralizing evidence is that the chapters on local and regional authorities in both Moroccan and Tunisian constitutions have not given rise to much debate. In Morocco, a new title IX “Regions and local authorities” is composed of twelve articles. It promotes the regional authority to the status of “territorial government” with full powers, with a legislative assembly directly elected by universal suffrage. The region elects a Regional President who exercises the Regional executive power. The President’s role is “pre-eminent” in matters of regional planning and development. Even if State supervision is not explicitly removed, local authorities may assert a right of “free administration” (Article 136), as well as a right of “regulatory authority” in exercising their powers (Article 140) and the legitimacy of direct universal suffrage (for both regions and communes). Articles 136 and 139 establish participatory mechanisms within local and regional authorities. The principle of solidarity, set out in Article 136, was first employed to create a social adjustment and interregional solidarity fund intended to establish an equitable distribution of public resource and reduce inter-regional disparities (Article 142).

18Tunisia also joined the “international standard” in terms of decentralization with Chapter VII of the constitution which brings together twelve articles under the title “The local authority”, in this way appearing to establish a fourth power. Regionalization is however less advanced – or more hesitant – than in Morocco. The governorates are renamed “regions” and recognized as full service collectivities, even if they are sub-divisions of “districts”, units whose status is poorly defined and whose members are not elected by direct suffrage. However, the principle of equality between regions and the State’s obligation to ensure an equitable distribution of resources among the regions is clearly established, even more so than in Morocco (Preamble and Article 12). Article 136 goes further in this direction by stipulating that “a share of income from the exploitation of natural resources can be devoted, nationally, to the development of the regional level”. The 2014 text bears the mark of the events that caused the fall of the previous regime. For the rest, we find the classic constitutional provisions characterizing a decentralized State: suppression of guardianship in favor of a posteriori controls, recognition of the principle of free administration, legal personality and transfer of powers. Finally, as for Morocco, the mechanisms for the promotion of local democracy are promoted: “local authorities adopt the mechanisms of participatory democracy and the principles of open governance” (Article 139).

  • 11 . Regions were only granted authority in this draft legislation only in matters of economic develop (...)

19For its part, Libya, the victim of chronic institutional disorder since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi whose legacy of institutional vagueness it seeks to escape, is the country experiencing the greatest difficulty adopting a new constitutional text. A constituent assembly elected on February 20, 2014 showed, at an early stage, signs of divergence on the chapter on “local government” – producing two versions of a draft text for lack of agreement between its members: first a “regional” version, enshrining decentralization and entrusting broad powers to the country’s three major regions (Cyrenaica, Fezzan, Tripolitania); and a “governorial” version, which would subdivide the country into 32 governorates, each with administrative powers11. In the end, the project – which has not yet been submitted to a national referendum – favors a unitary decentralization formula, recognizing only two relevant levels of government, governorates and municipalities. It should be noted that an entire chapter of the project is devoted to natural resources and their distribution, the Gordian knot of the Libyan crisis, with the question of whether income from natural resources (especially oil) should be returned to the producing regions as a priority. The final text seems to answer this question in the affirmative.

  • 12 . A step forward confirmed by the draft law on local government filed in parliament session in Nove (...)

20As for the Egyptian constitution of 2014, it also reserves a significant place for “Local Administration”, and in a section of nine articles devoted to it, paves the way for a possible election of local executives, which is a step forward12, even if it leaves the legislator free to decide on the scope to be given to the principle of decentralization.

(…) And legal framework for local authority

  • 13 . Article 15 of the 1996 constitution provides that the state will promote participatory democracy (...)

21The implementation of the new constitutional provisions governing decentralization requires the opening of major legislative projects, in the form of laws concerning local elections (on this point, see below) and the organization of local authorities. In Libya, faced with the urgent needs of the administrative organization of the territory, and without waiting for the establishment of a new constitution, the National Transitional Council adopted Law n° 59-2012 of June 12, 2012, relative to local government. This law creates two types of local communities (municipalities and provinces) and sub-provincial jurisdictions (localities) and defines their respective jurisdictions. The constitutional abstention of Algeria does not reflect that country’s legislative sluggishness. Two laws, one of June 22, 2011 and the other of February 21, 2012 were adopted, relating, respectively, to the commune and to the wilaya. These go against the regional trend toward decentralization by not reinforcing either local elected assemblies or the presidents of communal assemblies; instead, by placing them under the reinforced tutelage of the State and its representatives (the communal General Secretary and the w­ali). As a token of exchange, the principle of citizen participation at the local level is reaffirmed, without going further in defining its modalities13.

22For Morocco and Tunisia, the adoption of new legislation relating to local government is the direct consequence of the constitutional upheavals mentioned above. In Morocco, after a long period of gestation, three decrees (dahirs) dated July 7, 2015 were promulgated as organic laws relative to regions, prefectures and provinces, and communes, were enacted to implement the principles and rules established by the 2011 constitution. In the present case, these are issues arising in the political agenda, more concerned with the postponement of local elections than with any substantive issues that might have explained the Chamber’s delays in examining the draft laws. Once the election dates had been decided (local elections were held on September 5, 2015), the legislative procedure went quickly. The texts were barely discussed before they were adopted unanimously or with the abstention of the opposition. Tunisia faced similar difficulties, for partly similar reasons (around the question of the weight of the Islamic party in future local assemblies). An electoral law was adopted recently (organic law of February 14, 2017), which could lead to the paradox of the holding of local elections (these are announced for the end of 2017) without the voters knowing the extent of the authority and organization of the local communities for which they will elect the members of the assemblies.

23The situation in Egypt is quite similar to that of Tunisia. It has not held local elections since 2008 and local councils were dissolved by court order in June 2011. Even so, the void does not seem ready to be filled. While the government proposed two bills in October 2016 which would have allowed the organization of local elections and provided for the financing of these elections in fiscal year 2017-2018, persistent parliamentary disagreements on electoral law modalities make it unlikely that municipal elections will be held before the 2018 presidential elections. Since the provisions governing local elections are included in a general law on local government, including Law No. 43 of 1979, the electoral question and the question of local organization are completely linked in the legislative agenda.

Representative Democracy, Participatory Democracy and local governance: biases and actors' rationale

  • 14 . On this point, the cross-referenced talks in the contribution of Bras J. P. and Signoles A. empha (...)

24One would be inclined to say that there can be no decentralization without legitimate local elected representatives, and conversely14. A space devoid of authority is a space which lacks political elites. From such a stand point, the long-lasting effect of Algerian centralism has been, in the south, to marginalize the traditional elites without allowing the emergence of new local elites (Badreddine) at the Center, management by insurrection (and cooptation) of minority claims of belonging at once to the locality and to the nation (Dufresne Aubertin), while, in the North, the partially disillusioned participation of the opposition in local assemblies (Baamara). The implementation of decentralization elsewhere, in the Maghreb however, a process engaged since 2011 has met with the same problem, namely, the constitution or reconstitution of local elites who are legitimate in the eyes of both the population and the central power.

25The legitimization of local political elites is achieved either of two ways: by elective democracy through the organization of competitive, sincere and transparent local elections and/or through a participatory process that implicates civil society organizations and citizens in the local decision-making process.

The difficulties of setting up a true elective democracy serving local authorities

  • 15 . Beginning in 2011, the members of Special Delegations were appointed by the government with speci (...)
  • 16 . See Turki / Loschi's article on this subject.

26State, Party or Palace control (as the case may have been) over local elections in the pre-spring authoritarian states had the effect of de-legitimizing local political elites, who held strong positions of intermediation with the central power. The “Arab Springs” amounted to confirmation of this in revolutionary terms (Tunisia, Egypt, Libya), to the extent that these elites were non-existent when it came to managing the local conflicts as they arose, and were immediately removed in favor of representatives of the State or of provisional structures established by the State or local populations. In Tunisia this took place via the dissolution of municipal councils in favor of Special Delegations15, or again, in Libya, via the formation of revolutionary local councils16.

27As pointed out by Eric Gobe in his contribution to this volume, the mechanisms of elective democracy related to local authority were mobilized at two levels: in the representation of the local (and its interests) at the national level (hence, very often, the stakes for legislative or senatorial elections); and in the representativeness of local political councils with respect to state institutions.

  • 17 . The question of the representation of the local in the legislative assembly arises all the more i (...)

28The question of representing the local among national institutions was raised, in Tunisia, forcefully and early with the formation of the High Authority for the achievement of the objectives of the revolution in March 2011 with the addition of regional representatives within the Authority. It was again raised throughout the process of voting on electoral laws for the National Constituent Assembly (ANC), and then in the Assembly of the Representatives of the People (ARP)17, whether in debates relating to the choice of voting method (the fear of the return of tribalism associated with single-member voting), the size of representative districts (where the fear of regionalism was raised for large constituencies), or the threshold of participation in the distribution of seats (national lists versus local lists). The observation was valid also for Libya where a tripartite constituent assembly was established to reflect the three regional groups of the country.

29Political mediation is just as complex when it comes to drawing up new electoral laws, in order to organize local elections and strengthen local representation, while anticipating the presence of Islamic parties in future local assemblies. This complexity explains the length of time involved between voting constitutional measures of decentralization and the organization of new elected local assemblies fully capable of implementing them (2011-2016 in Morocco, 2014- end of 2017 according to forecasts in Tunisia; 2014-2018 in Egypt) During such a period of transition, a number of factors (cf. infra) may affect the organization and implementation of local government, while the institution itself is subject to political weakness.

  • 18 . The FFS is one of the major parties of Algeria's Independence, with the tutelary figure of Ait Ah (...)

30The situation is different in Algeria, where the status quo allows for the holding of regular elections in a timely manner. Paradoxically, as noted by Layla Baamara, the 2011 communal reform undermines the exercise of power in local communities without discouraging the participation of opposition parties, in this case, the Socialist Forces Front (FFS)18, so long as the elected representative’s mandate is exercised in a depoliticized environment, apart from national political issues – a condition that allows elected minorities some room for maneuver. The means by which the President of the People's Municipal Assembly (APC) and Wilaya (APW) are designated must also be considered in the opposition parties’ decision to participate in local elections. Henceforth, the President is elected directly by the assembly, whereas previously, the leading candidate of the party with the greatest number of elected representatives was automatically nominated, leading at times to creative bargaining and even, to the formation of coalitions “against nature “.

31Libya, another paradoxical case, is also undergoing a transformation for which a legal basis for local electoral authority is lacking. In a (relative) interlude to Libyan turbulence, local elections were held in several cities between 2013 and 2014, providing local authorities, acting within a context of run down state institutions a new legitimacy. As a result, there was for a moment, a real “rise to power” (Turki, Loschi) of municipalities, endowed by law with important prerogatives. These became relevant interlocutors both on the national political scene and in the eyes of international partners as relays of cooperative activities. The other side of the Libyan paradox is the immediate collapse of this rise to power of municipal actors, because of security issues, but also as a result of viable state interlocutors and the impossibility of implementing the 2012 Municipalities Act.

32In this new landscape of electoral mechanisms relevant to local authorities, another point must be considered, namely the creation of a second level of fully fledged local authorities (the region), whose assemblies are elected by direct universal suffrage. The process begins in Morocco with its active play of political alliances and horse-trading over the attribution of regional assembly presidencies among regional and municipal elected representatives, and corresponding party investment on each type of election, as Victoria Veguilla Del Moral shows for Western Sahara (Dakhla-Eddahab). Tunisia could experience a similar development as former governorates are transformed into fully fledged political communities and political regions.

Promoting participatory democracy, a guarantee of good territorial governance

  • 19 . On this point see the contribution of Bras J.P. and Signoles A. in this dossier, which reports on (...)

33Widespread enthusiasm for participatory democracy is palpable upon reading this dossier, an enthusiasm which can be a source of opacity for the various schemes simply by the proliferation of programs and the overlaying of projects. International donors willingly promote its instruments, finance their implementation and promote them as essential tools in the tool kit of good governance19. Civil society organizations see participatory democracy as an institutional means of strengthening their influence on the local decision-making process through interaction with the actors engaged in the international cooperation process. Municipal teams also welcome them, as implementation may lead to an affirmation of legitimacy. States are generalizing and harmonizing provisions by integrating them into national regulations, providing international visibility for their actions in favor of good local governance. Researchers pay particular attention to this: the present dossier offers three contributions specifically devoted to participatory mechanisms (Manuel Goehrs, Damiano de Facci and Joseph Désiré Som discuss participatory budgets in Morocco and Tunisia while Coline Mias reviews municipal consultation processes in Morocco) and a number of other contributions mention these. Of course, such beautiful unanimity is not without misunderstandings. But it also may be said that the Arab Springs provided a window of opportunity for the introduction of these new mechanisms of local democracy, which were not completely absent in previous periods, when they served as a façade for the regimes in communicating with international partners.

  • 20 . The PJD is the main Islamic party in Morocco, created in 1997, within the Muslim Brotherhood Move (...)
  • 21 . Heir to the Islamic Tendency Movement (MTI), affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, Ennahda (reb (...)

34The adoption of the instruments of participatory democracy by differentiated actors refers to objectives that do not necessarily overlap, thus generating tension among users. Therefore, the rhetoric of the depoliticization of electoral mandates is advanced as an appendage to participatory democracy, contributing to a “bottom-up” definition of the general interest. In this context, the elected representative becomes an agent for local public action, in the sense that his ability to set participatory mechanisms in motion and to accompany these to fruition derives from the activation of consultative mechanisms, the use of mediation and the search for consensus. Local public action therefore, is more a matter of policy than it is of politics, and becomes disconnected from the labels and play of national partisan politics. The argument is valid for the FFS in Kabylia, for example, which justifies electoral alliances more or less acceptable in terms of its political ideology (Baamara). The argument however, is used principally by the Islamic parties, in pursuit of strategies for conquering power “from below”, for consolidation of a land base, or for distancing their moral and/or religious rhetoric and as pragmatic justification for their 'public action. The description of how the municipal teams, dominated by the Justice and Development Party (PJD)20 in Tabriquet (Mias) or by the Ennahdha party21 in Sfax (De Facci, Som), welcome and promote instruments of participatory democracy, says a lot about the degree of appropriation of these prerequisites of “good local governance” by the Islamic parties. However, the circumventing exercise between the national political game and the local political game necessarily has its limits, based on the narrative and not on strategies, such that power restoring provokes tensions and conflicts - as evidenced by the withdrawal of secular associations from the Sfax participatory budgeting process.

35Other conflicts among practitioners in the field can be identified as between civil society associations and international donors on the one hand, who seek to sustainably implement participatory mechanisms among local communities, and on the other hand, local authorities who, in a pragmatic way, take advantage of the funding opportunities provided by the “participative” label without necessarily having the real will to promote a device widely considered as exogenous to their practices, even to their values. Hence, as Manuel Goehrs points out, the need to encourage co-financing of participatory projects, so that the involvement of the communities themselves is guaranteed. The commitment of local authorities may be further circumstantiated by political considerations and the procedural advantages of participatory democracy.

  • 22 . It is the same in Tunisia with communal investment plans, as discussed in the contribution of Goe (...)

36Thus, in Tunisia, the favorable reception of the Special Delegations to the participatory budget procedure is explained, in part, by the lack of electoral legitimacy of the municipal teams appointed by the central government. They hope to find - by this means - alternative legitimacy resources, which could be useful in the perspective of future municipal elections. However, the commitment of the local authorities is also likely to be thwarted by the local administrations, who will see in the participative devices a dangerous instrument, questioning their action and their competence. As for Morocco, the establishment of mechanisms of participatory democracy is the subject of the play of strategic interests between central and local authorities – a game in which the state has a long experience. This leaves space for local initiatives and, more broadly, to local associative actors whose actions are then coopted through national devices, such as communal development and municipal action plans22.

37All of these participatory schemes however, significantly reduce the scope of democracy, by dropping its implementation into the nets of state administrations through funding and controls. In this matter, neither the bottom-up approach nor the withdrawal of the State can be decided.

Need for a State versus local autonomy: what development strategy for the territory?

38Are decentralization and the progress of democracy and local governance an adequate response to demands formulated by territorialized populations? How can one simultaneously advocate decentralization, budgetary rigor and territorial equity of public action?

The widening of socio-spatial inequalities, potential risk of decentralization

39The first difficulty for policy makers is the characterization of the need for a State, which assumes a specific and stable identification of populations in relation to “their” territories. However, the manner in which populations represent their territories, name them, and eventually identify with them, may be subject to variation – especially when the administrative delimitation of these territories is an open question, as described in the contribution of Myriam Baron and Sophie de Ruffray. Moreover, Laurence Dufresne Aubertin shows that the need for a State – which was expressed in a riotous manner in popular mobilizations in Ghardaïa (Algeria), between 2013 and 2015 – varied, within this same space, depending on the type of population considered and the neighborhoods inhabited. In this case, the need for a State has even been a source of local antagonisms between populations largely dependent on government subsidies (the Arabs) and populations self-organized along communitarian lines (the Mozabites), who maintain margins of autonomy in their relations with the State, but which also aspire to benefit from the mechanisms of the redistribution in the name of their full membership in the Algerian nation. The nature and intensity of demand for a State thus may vary according to the territories and populations from which it emanates. The demand for a State arising in metropolitan and international areas are not the same as for poor and marginalized regions.

  • 23 . See, in this regard, the contribution of J.P. Bras and Signoles A. in this dossier.
  • 24 . Idem.

40Decentralization however, can be discriminatory, especially since the exercise of transferred powers depends on the means placed at the disposal of the community receiving the delegation of authority and varies in intensity and quality depending on local capacity for action (infrastructure, human and financial resources). Moreover, decentralization in its current implementation, may appear all the more unfair as the previous jurisdictional exercise may have been uniform and equitable across the national territory. It is therefore fitting that international donors today should pay particular attention to the financing capacities of local authorities in the exercise of their competencies, whether new or old23. As Lana Salman points out about the World Bank – an observation that applies equally to other international financial institutions – banks after all are banks: they fund projects that fit into development strategies; but at the same time, they are looking for new borrowing customers among local authorities in the Maghreb, a market previously not accessible to them. Beside the fact that significant direct funding of local authorities would impact relations between the local authorities and the State, it is not unreasonable to think that funds would be directed to local elites or other enablers of territorial development. The observation applies equally to decentralized cooperation, projects targeting economic attractiveness may trigger a territorial redeployment unfavorable to disadvantaged regions24.

41The well-understood interests of international donors however, can also be redirected as bilateral or multilateral aid to disadvantaged areas, for reasons of international security, as for example dealing with migration issues in southern Libya. On this point, foreign donors are practicing a form of gymnastic split, as the costs of decentralization reform can be extremely high in relation to the financial capacities of the States of the region, drastically cutting the budgets of intervention and distributing the savings at the expense of “marginal” territories.

Two territorial strategies in competition

42The strengthening of governance and local democracy can also lead to territorial discrimination, at least in its implementation, as demonstrated by several contributions of this dossier. Thus, participatory budgeting experiments initiated here and there primarily concern large urban agglomerations and therefore, very largely, what is locally called the “useful territory”. Their success moreover, depends largely on the degree of organization of local civil society, also variable according to the nature of the territory considered, i.e., whether national or local.

43As rightly noted by Mourad Ben Jelloul, two models of territorial development have been activated through the institutional and political reforms initiated since the outbreak of the “Arab Springs”: a regional equilibrium model, based on the principle of equity; and a model of territorial competitiveness which relies on outsourced economic strategies and assumes the existence of territorial disparities, often in the process of aggravation. In addition, the outlook, the political discourse and the representations produced in these marginalized territories vary considerably, as noted by Lana Salman. We are dealing then, either with “marginalized” or “discriminated” territories and populations with a legitimate claim for “compensation”, “reparations”, or even “reinstatement”; and we are dealing with “backward” territories condemned to remain so by virtue of an implacable economic law which tends to regard inequality of development as a natural phenomenon, to which public action can only bring punctual remedies with limited effects.

  • 25 . This debate on territorial development strategies has strong analogies with the one that has seiz (...)

44Public policies do not generally offer a clear choice between these two options. The presence of both models is striking in Tunisia, and fuels the rivalries between central administrations, threatening the coherence of national planning and codification, as well as the rationality of choices regarding major infrastructure projects, such as the configuration of the motorway network. (Ben Jelloul) In fact, the two registers are not complementary and solicit State intervention in opposite procedural conditions. On the one hand, the disengagement of the State, the transfer of authority and resources to the benefit of competent local authorities with a concomitant territorialization of public debate through participatory mechanisms and local “good governance”. On the other hand, interventionist State policies based on the principle of compensatory inequality, are put into place to ensure a balance across regions of the national territory with its implicit rationale for greater state intervention, less decentralization and local democracy and more national debate25.

  • 26 The accidental death in October 2016 of a fish vendor in the Al Hoceima area who was trying to oppo (...)

45It remains however, that by lending new legitimacy to the imperative of territorial equity, the “Arab Springs” opened a Pandora's box that is not ready to be closed, at least not so long as populations who identify with political territories see themselves as the “forgotten” of the Republic or the Kingdom. The recent events of Al Hoceima in Morocco26 are a clear reminder of this, just as persistence of the territorial dimension does for political and social mobilizations in Tunisia and Libya.

46The “Arab Springs”, a territorial earthquake … with enduring aftershocks

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1 . This is the reason why we have chosen, in our treatment of this subject, to reference the speeches and actions of foreign institutions financing and accompanying projects of international and decentralized cooperation. See, in this regard, the contribution of Bras J. P. and Signoles A.

2 . See, on this subject, and without pretension to exhaustiveness:

a) On Morocco, Cattedra R., Catusse M. and Idrissi Janati M., 2010, Changer d’échelles de gouvernance ? Réflexions autour de la promulgation de la Charte communale de 2002 au Maroc  (Changing scales of governance? Reflections on the promulgation of the 2002 Municipal Charter in Morocco) in Miossec J. M. (eds.), Terrains et échelons de la gouvernance : expériences en France et au Maghreb (Lands and levels of governance: experiences in France and the Maghreb), Paris, L'Harmattan, p. 139-169; or again: Municipaliser les villes ? Le gouvernement des villes marocaines à l’épreuve du politique et du territoire (Municipalizing cities? The government of the Moroccan cities to the test of the political and the territory), in De Miras C. (dir.), Intégration à la ville et services urbains au Maroc. Apport du programme PRUD à l’analyse de l’urbanisation au Maroc : Gouvernance, services collectifs et compétences urbaines (Integration with the city and urban services in Morocco. Contribution of the PRUD program to the analysis of urbanization in Morocco: Governance, community services and urban skills), INAU / IRD, pp. 313-361. See also Iraki A, Des notables du Makhzen à l’épreuve de la ‘gouvernance’. Elites locales, gestion urbaine et développement au Maroc, (Notables of Makhzen in the test of 'governance'. Local Elites, Urban Management and Development in Morocco), INAU-L'Harmattan, Rabat, 2002 and Tozy M., Elections au Maroc : Entre partis et notables (2007-2009), (Elections in Morocco: Between Parties and Notables (2007-2009)), Moroccan Center for Social Sciences, Casablanca, Annahjah al Jadida 2010 On Tunisia, Dhaher (N.) L’aménagement du territoire tunisien : 50 ans de politiques à l’épreuve de la mondialisation  (Tunisian spatial planning: 50 years of policies to the test of globalization), EchoGeo, No. 13, June-August 2010.

b) Lebanon, Favier A. (ed.), Municipalités et pouvoirs locaux au Liban (Municipalities and Local Authorities in Lebanon), OFPO Press, Beirut, 2001.

c) On Palestine, Signoles A., Le système de gouvernement local en Palestine (The Local Government System in Palestine), AFD (Focales Coll.), Paris, 2010.

d) On Egypt, Ben Nefissa S., La vie politique locale : les mahalliyyât et le refus du politique  (The local political life: the mahalliyyat and the refusal of the political), in V. Battesti and F. Ireton (dir.), L’Égypte au présent : inventaire d’une société avant révolution (Egypt in the present: inventory of a society before revolution), Arles, Sindbad / Actes Sud, 2011.

e) On Mauritania, Bisson V., Ville et pouvoir en Mauritanie : un instrument politique pour intégrer l’État tribal  (City and power in Mauritania: a political instrument to integrate the tribal state), l’Année du Maghreb, Ed. 2005-2006, Paris, CNRS, 2007.

f) And, in comparative perspective, in English: Bergh, S., 'Democratic decentralization and local participation - A review of some recent research', Development in Practice, 14 (6), 780-790, 2004, http: //; Bergh, S. & Jari, M., 'Introduction to the Special Journal Issue: Spaces for Change? Decentralization, Participation and Local Governance in the Middle East / North Africa Region, Journal of Economic and Social Research, 12 (1), 1-7, 2010. And, in French: Catusse M. and Karam K., Le développement contre la représentation ? La technicisation du gouvernement local au Liban et au Maroc  (Development against representation? Technicization of Local Government in Lebanon and Morocco), in Camau M., Massardier G. (eds.), Démocraties et autoritarismes – Fragmentation et hybridation des régimes (Democracy and Authoritarianism - Fragmentation and Hybridization of the Regime), Karthala / CSPC, pp. 85-120; Lebris E. (eds.), Les municipalités dans le champ politique local : les effets des modèles exportés de décentralisation sur la gestion des villes en Afrique et au Moyen-Orient (Municipalities in Local Politics: The Effects of Exported Decentralization Models on Urban Management in Africa and the Middle East) Report of the Urbanization and Development Research Program (PRUD) ), IRD, 2004; Signoles A. (dir.), Les municipalités islamistes (Islamist Municipalities) (file including 4 case studies: Morocco, Lebanon, Turkey, Pakistan), in Critique Internationale, n ° 42, 2009; and Signoles P. (eds.), Territoires et politiques dans les périphéries des grandes villes du Maghreb (Territories and Policies in the Peripheries of the Maghreb's Big Cities), Karthala, 2014.

3 . On the issue of “victim” territories brought before the “Truth and Dignity” commission in Tunisia, see Lana Salman's contribution to this issue.

4 . According to the very old Moroccan usage, there is a territorial division between a bled makhzen and bled siba, the first being subjected to a stable and effective control of the central power, the second being a regular source of civic dissidence.

5 . For example: Boex J., Democratization in Egypt: The Potential Role of Decentralization, Policy Brief, Urban Institute Center on International Development and Governance, 2011. Some collective research programs are in progress: on Tunisia, cf. GANA A. ERC – TARICA (PoliTical And socioinstitutional change in NoRth AfrICA) : competition of models and diversity of trajectories, IRMC-Tunis Framework.

6 . See in particular: Bergh, S.I., The Politics of Development in Morocco: Local Governance and Participation in North Africa. London: I.B. Tauris, 2017; Harb M., Atallah S. (ed.), Local Government and Public Goods: Assessing Decentralization in the Arab World, Beirut, LCPS, 2015; Lavergne M., Monde arabe. Pas de démocratisation sans décentralisation (Arab world. No democratization without decentralization), in Confluences Méditerranée, 2013; Quesnay A., L’insurrection libyenne, un mouvement révolutionnaire décentralisé  (The Libyan insurrection, a decentralized revolutionary movement), in A. Allal and T. Pierret (eds.), Au cœur des révoltes arabes. Devenirs révolutionnaires (At the heart of Arab revolts. Revolutionary changes), Paris, A. Colin, 2013. Verdeil E., Révolution et décentralisation en Tunisie : les chantiers des géographes tunisiens (Revolution and Decentralization in Tunisia: Tunisian Geographers' Sites), September 29, 2011, Gana A., Turki S.Y., Les territoires ruraux en Tunisie à l’épreuve de la communalisation : entre complexité de la réforme et enjeux politiques (The rural territories in Tunisia to the test of the communalisation: between complexity of the reform and political stakes), in Maghreb-Machrek, n ​​° 226, 2015-4, 53-71. On the Algerian case: Dahou T., Sidi Moussa N., (eds.), L’Algérie aux marges de l’État  (Algeria on the margins of the State), in Politique africaine, No. 137, March 2015.

7 . See on this subject:

a) On Egypt: Steuer C., Le printemps des partis ? Le rôle des organisations partisanes égyptiennes dans les élections législatives , (The spring of the parties? The role of Egyptian partisan organizations in parliamentary elections) Confluences Méditerranée, n ° 82, 2012/3. Vannetzel M., Grandeur et déclin des Frères musulmans égyptiens : les mutations de l’élite parlementaire frériste de Moubarak à Morsi, 2005-2012  (The Greatness and Decline of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood: Changes in the Mendri Brotherhood Parliamentary Elite in Morsi, 2005-2012), Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales,, No. 211-212, 2016/1.

b) Tunisia: Alia Gana and Gilles Van Hamme Elections et territoires en Tunisie. Enseignements des scrutins post-révolution (Elections and territories in Tunisia. Teachings of the post-revolution polls (2011-2014)), IRMC-Karthala; S.Y. Turki, “Evolution of Cities and Territories in Tunisia Through Parties' Electoral Programs and Civil Society's Proposals”, Built Environment, vol. 40, No. 1, March 2014. On Morocco: Catusse M., Zaki L., Gestion communale et clientélisme moral au Maroc : les politiques du Parti de la justice et du développement (Communal Management and Moral Clientelism in Morocco: Policies of the Party of Justice and Development), Critique internationale, 2009/1, n ° 42,; Desrues (T.), Le PJD en ville, le PAM à la campagne. Le multipartisme marocain à l’épreuve de la bipolarisation  (The PJD in town, PAM in the countryside. Moroccan multipartyism in the test of bipolarization), L’Année du Maghreb, 15, 2016.

8 . See, in this regard, one of the latest issues of L’Année du Maghreb: Belguidoum S., Cattedra R. and Iraki A., ed., Villes et urbanités au Maghreb  (Cities and Urbanities in the Maghreb), No. 2, 2015. Also: Bennafla K. (ed.), Acteurs et pouvoirs dans les villes du Maghreb et du Moyen-Orient (Actors and powers in the cities of the Maghreb and the Middle East), Paris, Karthala, 2015; Stadnicki R. (eds.), 2014, Les acteurs urbains à l’épreuve de la transition en Égypte  (Urban actors facing the transition in Egypt), Égypte/Monde arabe, n ° 11, 2014; Stadnicki R. (ed.), Villes arabes, cités rebelles (Arab cities, rebel cities) Paris, Swan Ed., 2015.

9 . In the sense that Makhzen, in Morocco, means as much an art of governing as it does an institution.

10 . Usage varies between Tunisia, which kept the term “local authorities”, and Morocco, which adopted the term “territorial authorities”. Algeria uses both terms interchangeably (Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution).

11 . Regions were only granted authority in this draft legislation only in matters of economic development.

12 . A step forward confirmed by the draft law on local government filed in parliament session in November 2016.

13 . Article 15 of the 1996 constitution provides that the state will promote participatory democracy at local government level.

14 . On this point, the cross-referenced talks in the contribution of Bras J. P. and Signoles A. emphasize that international donors are more concerned with issues of competence and the political capacity of elected representatives than it is with matters of political legitimacy.

15 . Beginning in 2011, the members of Special Delegations were appointed by the government with specific powers to act as local assemblies, pending the organization of new municipal elections.

16 . See Turki / Loschi's article on this subject.

17 . The question of the representation of the local in the legislative assembly arises all the more in Tunisia that this country, unlike Algeria and Morocco, abandoned bicameralism, which allowed a representation of local authorities in the second chamber.

18 . The FFS is one of the major parties of Algeria's Independence, with the tutelary figure of Ait Ahmed, who has a very strong territorial base in Kabylia - which specifically inserts it into the local political game.

19 . On this point see the contribution of Bras J.P. and Signoles A. in this dossier, which reports on actors and activities within international and decentralized cooperation programs.

20 . The PJD is the main Islamic party in Morocco, created in 1997, within the Muslim Brotherhood Movement. It entered the government in 2011, after significant electoral successes ... in the national and local polls.

21 . Heir to the Islamic Tendency Movement (MTI), affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, Ennahda (rebirth) created in 1989, came out of hiding in 2011, to gain direct power following the elections to the National Constituent Assembly. Although it has not been in the majority since the 2015 elections, the party led by Rachid Ghannouchi remains an essential component of the parliamentary majority

22 . It is the same in Tunisia with communal investment plans, as discussed in the contribution of Goehrs M.

23 . See, in this regard, the contribution of J.P. Bras and Signoles A. in this dossier.

24 . Idem.

25 . This debate on territorial development strategies has strong analogies with the one that has seized, for several decades, many European states (in particular, those with a centralizing tradition), as well as the European Union, because of the integration and, more generally, the effects of the globalization of economic exchanges.

26 The accidental death in October 2016 of a fish vendor in the Al Hoceima area who was trying to oppose an administrative seizure of his merchandise, prompted a massive protest which has not ceased - and even amplified - ever since, despite attempts by the central government to contain its consequences. The analogy with the Tunisian scenario around the Bouazizi self-immolation in Sidi Bouzid is striking, as the social question and the territorial question seem intertwined in both cases: the disadvantaged region of the Moroccan Rif in one instance; the forgotten interior regions of Tunisia in the other.

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Jean-Philippe Bras et Aude Signoles, « Introduction: States and Political Territories, The Debate over Decentralization », L’Année du Maghreb, 16 | 2017, 9-25.

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Jean-Philippe Bras et Aude Signoles, « Introduction: States and Political Territories, The Debate over Decentralization », L’Année du Maghreb [En ligne], 16 | 2017, mis en ligne le 31 août 2018, consulté le 03 août 2020. URL : ; DOI :

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Jean-Philippe Bras

Professeur de droit public, CUREJ – Université de Rouen.

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Aude Signoles

Maître de conférences en science politique, Institut d’Études Politiques d’Aix-en-Provence (CHERPA). Chercheure associée à l’Iremam, Aix Marseille Université, CNRS, Aix-en-Provence, France.

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