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Local elections, decentralization and governance in NorthAfrica : What changes after the "Arabrevolts"?

Call for contributions for the issue 37 (2019-1)
Deadline for submission of proposals: 15
th September 2018

Coordinators of this issue: Alia Gana (ResearchDirectoratCNRS, UMR LADYSS), David Goeury (Researcher at UMR ENEC), Gilles Van Hamme (Professorat the Free University of Brussels)

Political processes in North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt) have been extensively analyzed at the national level, namely in the context of the transformations that followed the popular uprisings, which wereinitiated in December 2010 in Tunisia before spreading throughout the region from 2011. In addition, the organization of competitive elections made it possible to study the territorialities of the vote and thus to observe distinct electoral geographies attesting to differentiated audiences of certain political ideologies such as political Islam in particular (Gana and Van Hamme 2012, 2016; Rougier 2012, Rougier and Bayoumi 2016; Goeury2014 ;Desrues 2016). These thorough analyses have thus highlighted both urban/rural and regional cleavages. It was thus possible to understand the political logics at work when for a long time they had been masked by non-competitive elections (Tozy 1991, Ben Nefissa 2010).

However, although the democratic demands of 2011 were very quickly followed by national elections, the organization of municipal elections was not systematic. This led to very different situations according to the States, despite the inclusion of the principle of decentralization in the new constitutions (Gobe 2017). In Algeria, municipal elections were held in 2012 and 2017, in Libya in 2014, in Morocco in 2015 and finally in Tunisia in 2018. Egypt is an exception, having still not held local elections since 2008, although the country has organized a very large number of national polls.

Here, we wish to question local elections as a component of the decentralization process. Indeed, all the Maghreb States display in their constitutions a willingness to transfer specific competences consistent with the decision-making scales, and to lighten the principle of central State supervision by creating a logic of partnership, but also through organizing competitive elections by universal suffrage of representative assemblies in order to give this process relative legitimacy (Guionnet 1996). However, the institutional implementation of these local authorities is very different (Benmoumen 2017; Bras and Signoles 2017; Turki and Loschi 2017). In some countries (Algeria and Egypt), local governments are still dependent on central government and administration. In Morocco, the 2015 law allowed greater political autonomy for elected representatives, but the overwhelming majority of local authorities remain financially dependent on the central state (Benmoumen 2017). In Tunisia, the 2018 elections were held before the publication of the decrees implementing the new local government code.

This dynamic is not without raising the question of the circulation of local governance models. Indeed, the process of building territorial authorities has been strongly influenced by European models by discarding the historical logics of the North African states, but this has not definitively relegated the endogenous processes of negotiation and governance (Hashemaui 2012, 2013). Thus, on the one hand, in many places, specific community logics persist, which however are most often articulated around the management of common goods (pasture, irrigation sources, collective land). In several localities in the study region, mobilizations around access to resources are reactivating old solidarities to propose management systems inspired also by cooperative models or the social and solidarity economy (Kadiri and Errahj 2010, 2015; Goeury and Leray 2017). On the other hand, the central administration still favors the co-option of notabilities benefiting from a popular assent and who play the role of intermediary between the State and its customers (El Iraki2003 Tamin and Tozy 2010 ; Hachemaoui 2013). At the same time, international organizations are supporting new civic movements led by associations with the aim totranspose participation models according to new international standards, such as the participatory budget (Goerhs 2017). Finally, local elections have in no way extinguished the hotbeds of protest, localized demands have multiplied by directly challenging central authorities and disqualifying all intermediary mediation networks that may constitute the councils of local authorities even if the latter have been democratically elected as in Morocco (Al Hoceima in 2017, Jerada in 2018). It therefore seems important to question all these territorialized political dynamics by questioning the logic of transposition, juxtaposition, hybridization and even avoidance (Ben Nefissa 2011).

In this issue, we would like to focus on the process of nomination through elections. Several entries are possible of which it is possible here to present three aspects without pretending to be exhaustive.

The impact of the technical choices that determined the legal framework and, in particular, the electoral division and the choice of voting system.

The creation of new territorial divisions, such as the regions in Morocco in 2015 or the municipalities in Tunisia in 2018, impose new logics of political solidarity, most often justified by potential new project dynamics. The criteria for the division have been widely debated in the countries concerned and the technical or political rationales underlying them must be examined in the light of electoral strategies. Indeed, the functionalist arguments often put forward as technical arguments with the objective of economic performance must not rule out the sometimes identity-based or political logics which remain particularly strong (Turki and Gana2015 ;Badreddine 2017 ; Benmoumen 2017).

In addition, local electoral procedures vary between the choice of territorial representation in the municipal council by dividing the entity into single-member constituencies leading to the choice of individualities or the fact of favoring partisan logic by setting up single constituencies to organize a proportional list poll at the highest remainder. Here too, it seems necessary to question these choices and their impact both on electoral mobilization and on the constitution of elected councils.

The intertwining of local and national issues in campaign themes and citizen mobilization

Local elections are part of political sequences that lead to specific positioning of candidates between national partisan strategies or, on the contrary, logics of autonomy that affirm the primacy of the local. Therefore, a better understanding of the place of local elections in a wider political frameworkrequires questioning the resources and registers of action mobilized by candidates and the way in which they are received by local voters. This type of analysis will also make it possible to assess the importance of alternative local governance arrangements in electoral processes. Do collective initiatives, whether traditional or imported, lead to a logic of mobilization or, on the contrary, of avoiding or even contesting elections? It will also be possible to question the place of local elections in contexts of strong social demands or even tensions. Do they ensure new consensus or do they maintain conflict?

The consequences of mobilisations, their effects on electoral behaviour and the construction of new political legitimacy. What specificities at the local level?

Considered as a major instrument of democratization and legitimization of political power, post-revolt Arab elections do not always mobilize voters. In the various countries of the region, they have not necessarily led to strengthening the legitimacy of elected representatives and governments in power. While in some localities, elections have led to the emergence of new political figures, in others, the various levels of governance continue to be the subject of fierce localized disputes from citizens demanding better access to resources and an improvement in their living environment. To what extent do local elections allow these demands to be better taken into account and political legitimacy to be built? This question should be explored through an analysis of the political offer and electoral behavior in order to better understand citizens' expectations in terms of local governance, as well as the normative registers that shape their relationship to politics.

Instructions to authors

Headings (English and French), abstracts (English and French) and keywords (English and French) must be submitted by September 15, 2018, using the following online form:

Articles must not exceed 60,000 characters including spaces and comply with the publication standards of L'Espacepolitique [On line:].

The final texts should be sent before 15 december 2018 to the following address:


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