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  • Author: Zied Boussen, Mohammed Islam Mbarki
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Tunisian youth are no different from their peers across the world when it comes to their indifference to public life. This apathy towards politics is not new; it goes back before 14 January Revolution. A 2008 national survey of youth showed that around 83% of Tunisian youth were not concerned with politics and 64% were not concerned with elections or joining civil society associations. Nonetheless, the Tunisian youth surprised observers and played an essential role in the revolution that led to the fall of Ben Ali. Immediately after, however, they returned to their position of indifference. The political tensions and episodes of instability that accompanied the democratic transition disappointed the youth greatly and led to apathy towards politics in all its forms. Successive elections were the most glaring example of this attitude: the youth abandoned the ballots and stopped taking initiatives of political work, either as candidates or as voters. The rise of Kais Saied as a presidential candidate seemed to have reignited the Tunisian youth’s interest in politics. They walked with him through all the stages of his elections. They led his most unusual campaign at the smallest cost; they confronted media attacks against him and provided him with alternative and new media platforms that improved his image. This support brought the youth and Kais Saied closer together. Saied also showed great understanding of the youth’s economic and social demands and gave them priority. He shared their anger at the political establishment, so they decided to stand by him to punish the establishment that they see as the source of their successive disappointments. The results of the presidential elections, in which one candidate won the bulk of the votes of the youth participating in the elections, generated many questions about the reasons for the youth’s support of Kais Saied, and the hopes that they hanged on him. What can we infer from this experience that can benefit the youth political participation generally? How does this experience help us understand the actual needs that push young people to participate in public life?
  • Topic: Political Activism, Elections, Youth, Participation
  • Political Geography: Africa, Tunisia
  • Author: Stephen J. King
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: After independence, Algeria’s ruling elites chose to suppress identity issues because they saw diversity as a source of division and a threat to their hold on power. The Hirak has challenged the official narrative and called for an overhaul of the established regime, but issues of Black Algerians and anti-black racism still remain absent from public debates. This paper discusses the absence of Black Algerians in on-going debates about democratization, national identity, and belonging in Algeria, and suggests ways in which to address this exclusion.
  • Topic: Discrimination, Black Politics, Exclusion , Identity, Racism
  • Political Geography: Africa, Algeria
  • Author: Intissar Kherigi
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: An account of the Arab uprisings of the last decade would be incomplete without an understanding of regional inequalities. While each country’s protests were driven by a distinct combination of grievances, a common factor has been the marginalisation of “peripheries”. The Sidi Bouzid region of Tunisia from which the Arab Spring started is a region rich in agricultural resources yet poor in infrastructure and economic opportunities. Its connection rate to running water is half the national average. A similar story can be seen across the flashpoints of unrest in the Arab world, a story of widening urban-rural divides, uneven regional development and political and economic exclusion of entire regions. Can decentralisation address these grievances? Since the 1980s, decentralisation has been championed as a driver for both democratisation and development, promising to empower regions, granting them political representation and enabling them to create their own economic strategies. However, a key fear among many, from politicians and bureaucrats to ordinary citizens, is that decentralisation is a means for the central state to withdraw from its traditional functions and transfer responsibility for service provision to under-resourced and over-burdened local government. Yet, the demands for freedom, dignity and social justice voiced by the Arab uprisings require the central state to be more present in peripheries, not less. Can decentralisation help achieve greater local development in peripheral regions without allowing the central state to withdraw from its obligations to citizens? Is it even possible to envisage new forms of local development within the framework of highly centralised Arab states? How can Arab states reconfigure their relations with local communities in the context of severe political and economic crises? This article explores these questions in the Tunisian context, where a major decentralisation process is taking place in response to demands for inclusion and development. It argues that in order to produce new modes of local development in peripheries, central state institutions need to fundamentally reform the way they function.
  • Topic: Inequality, Arab Spring, Decentralization , Bureaucracy
  • Political Geography: Africa, North Africa, Tunisia, Tunis
  • Author: Dina Wahba
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Research Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: In my visit to Egypt in late March 2018, two things were happening simultaneously: the demolition of Maspero Triangle, the neighbourhood I have been working on for my case study, and the re-election of President Abdel Fattah El Sisi for his second term. There was a big campaign banner, one of many engulfing Cairo, with El Sisi’s face and the slogan “You are the hope”. This banner on 6th of October bridge was overlooking the neighbourhood as the bulldozers were hard at work demolishing what was for years the homes of over 4000 families spanning generations. I was in a taxi trying inconspicuously to take pictures of the banner and wondering what my interlocutors would say when I ask them about how they view this promise of hope overlooking the destruction of their homes. I was also marvelling at the almost nonsensical sequence of events. In 2011 Maspero was one of the most militant neighbourhoods, among many in downtown and old Cairo (Ismail 2013), that defended the occupation of Tahrir Square. As it was adjacent to Tahrir, it played a crucial role in sustaining the square during the first 18 days of the uprising. Seven years after the revolution, the neighbourhood was faced with complete erasure. How did we get here? I argue for the productivity of looking at Egyptian politics through the lens of affect as a possible way to answer this question. As Laszczkowski and Reeves argue in their edited book Affective States (2017) “Affect is at the heart of those moments when the political catches us off guard or when it leaves us feeling catatonically suspended, wondering where we are, how we even go there, and when this became so ordinary”. In this paper, I examine one such moment: the demolition of Maspero neighbourhood that coincided with the re-election of Abd El Fattah El Sisi in early 2018. I investigate state-society relations and the shifts throughout those moments by looking at how one neighbourhood negotiated their survival that culminated in their removal. Much like the wider socio-political context in Egypt and the story of the Egyptian revolution itself, Maspero is a story of a negotiated failure. A youth-led movement that demanded basic rights, exhausted various political tactics to lobby the government and failed the bigger fight, but scored some victories, such as the ability of some 900 families to come back to Maspero after the development project is over. I argue that Maspero can uncover much about the wider political tribulations since 2011. The case offers a lens through which we can see political openings and opportunities, clampdowns and closures as well as the current regime’s agenda for ensuring that what happened on 25 January 2011 does not happen again. I claim that one of the tactics of the regime is to systematically deconstruct the politics of the urban subaltern that played a major role in the revolution (Ismail 2013) through urban reconfiguration as well as new and old methods of affective co-optation and coercion. In her analysis of state-society relations, Cilja Harders argues that “political science tends to privilege macro-level perspectives” rendering the urban subaltern as only passive subjects of political transformations (Harders 2003). I argue that this has not changed in analysing the aftermath of the revolution. Few studies discussed the role of the urban poor in the revolution; however, many scholars neglected the politicisation of the urban subaltern when analysing transformation (or lack thereof) in Egyptian politics in the last few years. After eight years, the situation seems bleak and the task futile. To argue for any kind of change, let alone transformation, one must be blind to the strong backlash against any attempt to capitalise on the temporary gains of the revolution. The only story left to be told seems to be one of failure. The utter failure of a reformist movement to impose even partially its agenda for change (Bayat 2017). However, the case of Maspero neighbourhood and its youth alliance allow me to trace the revolution back into the everyday politics of citizens in a crushing struggle with the regime to examine whether the revolution disrupted informal traditional ways of doing politics. Rather than examine radical or even reformist regime or legal changes in national politics, I am interested in informal politics and its disruption. “It is in the local scale that power relations become tangible and abstract concepts such as ‘state’ and ‘politics’ observable” (Hoffmann, Bouziane & Harders 2013, 3). Building on the work of scholars of everyday politics, street politics and politics from below, I focus, therefore, on the street and, more specifically, Maspero, a neighbourhood adjacent to Tahrir Square that lived the revolution with all its tribulations, a neighbourhood that affected and was affected by the revolution. I find Salwa Ismail’s work on the role of the urban subaltern in the revolution productive in unpacking and tracing the “everyday” in the Egyptian revolution. “The infrastructures of mobilisation and protest lay in the microprocesses of everyday life at the quarter level, in their forms of governance and in the structure of feelings that developed in relation to state government” (Ismail 2012, 450). Ismail’s argument highlights the quarters or neighbourhoods as spatial political laboratories where the urban subaltern, through rigorous negotiations and “every day” encounters with the different arms of the state, accumulates knowledge about modes of governance and how to resist them. This was obvious in the role that the urban subaltern played in the revolution and was reflected in the narratives of my interlocutors and highlighted in some of the scholar’s accounts of the revolution. In Ismail’s (2012) account of the “backstreets of Tahrir”, she narrates several important “battles” in informal neighbourhoods that she believes were vital to the success of the revolution. These “battles” manifest the moment of convergence between locally grounded grievances and national revolutionary politics. “The account of the battles serves to draw attention to the place of popular quarters in the geography of resistance, and to the spatial inscription of popular modes of activism”. (Ismail 2012, 446) The importance of Ismail’s account is in linking popular resistance to the spatial characteristics of the quarter, which brings up the question of what will happen to popular resistance when the neighbourhood is gone. I argue that the removal of entire neighbourhoods has a political purpose, that of dismantling the political laboratories and crushing street politics. In discussing the battles in Tahrir, Bulaq Abu Al-Ila features prominently in sheltering activists, defending the occupation of the square and engaging in prolonged street fights that exhausted the police and kept it from reclaiming the square. Ismail (2012, 448) links the neighbourhood’s repertoire of contention to a history of patriotism that goes back to the resistance of the French colonial conquest, again highlighting a spatially bounded accumulation of generational knowledge and affective register of popular resistance. The aim of my endeavour is not just to highlight the role of the urban subaltern in the revolution and the subsequent politicisation and depoliticization and what one may learn from it. It is also to link this to what the state has been learning about countering any possible future mobilisation in order to foresee state strategies of radically altering the “every day” modes of governance and with it modes of resistance and to connect this to the urgency of urban restructuring processes happening in Cairo on an unprecedented scale since the 1990s. Asef Bayat (2012) explores the politics of the urban subaltern in “neoliberal cities” in an authoritarian regime. Bayat offers the concept of “social non-movements” to analyse street politics (2012, 119). According to him, the streets are vital to the urban subaltern: he writes that “[t]he centrality of streets goes beyond merely the expression of contention. Rather, streets may actually serve as an indispensable asset/capital for them to subsist and reproduce economic as well as cultural life” (2012, 119). Bayat describes the ongoing conflict over the public space between the state and the urban subaltern as “street politics” (Bayat 2009). These ongoing processes consequently create the “political street”, hence, politicising ordinary citizens through their struggles over urban space. Some of the questions that arise here and reflect the limitations of Bayat’s arguments in this point of history relate to what happens to “street politics” when the urban subaltern loses the “political street”. Reflecting on the case of Maspero neighbourhood, what happens to the politicisation and cultural and economic appropriation when they are relocated to Asmarat, a far-off gated community out of central Cairo? What happens to the politics of the urban poor when they lose their “capital”? And, what kind of political and spatial affects are tied to this dispossession? One of the challenges of studying Maspero was to understand the affective attachments that people had to the neighbourhood. Drawing from the literature on street politics and Asef Bayat’s notion of encroachment (2009), I could understand materially the reasons why forcefully displacing people from their homes could be traumatic. However, as I witnessed them mourn the neighbourhood it became clear to me that there are reasons beyond what this literature can offer. Here, affect theories can be helpful. Yael Navaro Yashin calls for “a reconceptualization of the relation between human beings and space” (2012, 16). Yashin critiques what she calls “the social-constructionist imagination” in its focus on conceptualising space only through what humans project on it. Building on Teresa Brennan’s work on the transmission of affect, Yashin argues for affective relationality between humans and their environment. However, she does not take an object-centred approach but combines the human subjective approach with one that explores that “excess” in the environment that she studies through the lens of affect. Yashin’s work on the collision of the phantasmatic and the material is essential in understanding the “affect” of the neighbourhood. According to Yashin, “the make-believe is real” (2012, 10). Reflecting on the case of Maspero, the affective attachments that the inhabitants of the neighbourhood developed was built around the material, the encroachment, and the social networks but moved beyond this. To them, Maspero is their country and their home. Below one of my research interlocutors, a male resident of Maspero in his 30s explains to me the attachment of the people to Maspero Triangle. “We belong to this place; it is part of us, and we are a part of it. This place holds our memories and childhood. This is something that officials never understood. But we felt it. In this place I used to play, when I am upset, I like to sit in this place and talk to my friends. We are attached to this place not just because it is close to our work. We are linked spiritually to this place; our hearts are attached to this place. I do not want to go out. I do not want to live even in Zamalek, which is very close to us. I do not want to live there. We are attached to this place.” Nigel Thrift (2007) argues that for the political importance of studying affect in cities and affective cities to trace how affect and cities interact to produce politics. The interactions between space, bodies and affect are linked to political consequences. Thrift goes further to point to the political engineering of affect in urban everyday life and what might seem to us as aesthetic is politically instrumentalised. This engineering of affect can have various political aims. To erase emotional histories, create new affective registers or mobilise old ones in urban settings through urban restructuring (Thrift 2007, 172). Thus, it is not farfetched to argue that the urban restructuring of cities is linked to eliciting or inhibiting political responses. The massive plan of the Egyptian government to drastically change downtown Cairo, a space that witnessed a revolution has interlinked political and affective goals. It aims at erasing the affective register of the 2011 Egyptian revolution and inhibits the politics of the urban poor.
  • Topic: Human Rights, United Nations, Revolution, Urban, Youth Movement
  • Political Geography: Africa, North Africa, Egypt, Maspero
  • Author: Alex Walsh
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The 2011 Egyptian protests started in earnest nine years ago on National Police Day on 25 January, a holiday that Hosni Mubarak had introduced to commemorate Egyptian police officers killed and wounded by British colonial forces in 1952. Protesters upended the original meaning of the holiday to turn it into a symbol of police brutality and corruption under Mubarak. In the drama of the 18 days that followed, Egypt’s internal security apparatus fought the protesters in the streets, delivering one shocking provocation after another, galvanizing the protest movement and ultimately contributing to the removal of Mubarak. Since 2011, the police and internal security forces of many countries in the Arab world have been at the centre of the conflicts and struggles that shape the region for better and for worse. Recent and ongoing encounters between protestors and police in the streets of Iraq, Lebanon, Algeria and Sudan are a stark reminder that the police are more than just a proxy target for a protestation of the state. They are also the object of much anger both as a grouping, and in terms of the concept of policing and social control they embody. The impact of this sustained contestation of police behaviour and doctrine in the region deserves reflection. Has the police and policing changed in the Arab world? And if so, in what ways? This paper maps out some of the main modes in which the police and policing have been contested since 2011, and provides a preliminary assessment of its impact. It argues that mass mobilised contestation has only been successful in the instance where institutional reform followed. It notes that hybridisation of policing – where informal security actors cooperate and challenge formal security actors – has spread in many countries but that the concept of state security – with its emphasis on the state over citizens – continues to prevail across the region. Indeed, almost a decade after that fateful 25 January 2011, many of the aspirations of citizens protesting the police are far from realised, even while there are some promising developments.
  • Topic: Protests, Repression, Police, Police State
  • Political Geography: Africa, North Africa, Egypt, Cairo
  • Author: Nadine Abdalla
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Various forms of local activism in Egypt are challenging the shortcomings in local governance and the lack of any developmental urban vision. This paper examines three examples from different neighbourhoods in Giza and Cairo. All three share the goal of resisting exclusionary policies while trying to overcome the absence of political means to register their frustrations given the absence of local councils since 2011.
  • Topic: Social Movement, Arab Spring, Urban, Local
  • Political Geography: Africa, North Africa, Egypt, Cairo, Giza
  • Author: Mohammed Masbah
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The Moroccan monarchy has used political parties, including the PJD, to legitimize the country’s authoritarian political process and structure, and to absorb social and political anger. This paper argues that putting the parties at the frontline without sufficient capacity to enact deep reforms weakens them as a shield against growing popular frustration. While this approach may work in the short term, it risks the country’s stability in the long term.
  • Topic: Social Movement, Authoritarianism, Political stability, Protests, Political Parties, Monarchy
  • Political Geography: Africa, Morocco
  • Author: Dris Nouri
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic to Algeria has forced the Algerian popular Hirak to suspend demonstrations that continued without interruption for over a year despite the authorities’ various manoeuvres to disrupt them. This paper examines the Algerian authorities’ attempt to exploit the suspension of the protests to deal with the Hirak and assesses the ability of the popular movement to overcome this period.
  • Topic: Protests, Public Health, Pandemic, COVID-19, Oppression
  • Political Geography: Africa, Algeria
  • Author: Fadi El-Jardali
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: In the Arab region, countries have become increasingly dependent on non-state actors, notably the private sector, for healthcare provision and any response that includes the State alone may not be sufficient to address the COVID-19 pandemic. This paper explores how state and non-state actors in Arab countries have collaborated so far and suggests ways forward to ensure quality healthcare services for all.
  • Topic: Non State Actors, Governance, Health Care Policy, Public Health, Pandemic, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Africa, Middle East
  • Author: Eya Jrad
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: With COVID-19, Tunisia is dealing with an unprecedented emergency that is testing its newly established democratic institutions. This paper explores how Tunisia’s different institutions have responded so far to the crisis, and sheds light on how each is trying to assert its role under the exceptional circumstances imposed by the pandemic.
  • Topic: Governance, Public Health, Pandemic, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Africa, Tunisia
  • Author: Nacer Djabi
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Algeria has a long and rich history of trade union activism. With the 2019 Hirak, independent unions have participated and supported the protest movement’s demands for regime change, yet achieved only limited success in mobilizing their base. This paper explores the evolution of unions in Algeria and the factors that precluded their full participation in the Hirak. It highlights the need for unions to move beyond a culture of narrow sectoral demands if they are to play a role in the democratic transition.
  • Topic: Political Activism, Reform, Unions, Mobilization
  • Political Geography: Africa, Algeria
  • Author: Salma Houerbi
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The consequences of Covid-19 on Tunisia’s already fragile economy are bound to exacerbate existing social tensions. The government has rolled out a series of socio-economic measures to support individual entrepreneurs and businesses to maintain jobs and incomes across all sectors. This paper argues that the government’s support to the private sector represents a golden opportunity to rectify longstanding problems in state-business relations and institute a culture of corporate accountability. But to do so, the government should place the Covid-19 response within a broader effort to address the persistent and systemic challenges the country faces from corruption to rent-seeking to vulnerable workers’ conditions.
  • Topic: Public Health, Humanitarian Crisis, Pandemic, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Africa, Tunisia
  • Author: Khayreddine Basha
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The military conflict between Haftar and GNA forces in Libya continues to escalate, unaffected by Covid-19 or international calls for a ceasefire. A lack of coordination between the fighting parties and the ineffective implementation of measures to fight the spread of the pandemic further compound Libya’s worsening humanitarian situation. This paper explores Covid-19 impact on the health and humanitarian situation in Libya and examines the factors that contribute to the continuation of the conflict, including the incitement of international and regional actors involved in it.
  • Topic: Military Strategy, Conflict, Public Health, Humanitarian Crisis, Pandemic, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Africa, Libya
  • Author: Ezman Kunna
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Sudan’s current transitional government has inherited a fragile health system that suffered years of neglect and underinvestment. The spread of COVID-19 poses important challenges to the country’s health and political structures. This Q&A looks at how Sudan’s government and non-government actors are faring against the spread of the pandemic and the impact of the lockdown on the political transition in the country.
  • Topic: Political stability, Public Health, Pandemic, Transition, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Africa, Sudan
  • Author: Zied Boussen
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: After months of negotiation, Tunisia’s parliament voted in a government like no other since 2011. Headed by a prime minister whose party is not represented in parliament and with more than half of the ministers independent or new to government office, it is the first since 2011 that is not a “national unity” government. This paper examines this new Tunisian political landscape, the relationship between the prime minister and Tunisia’s president, and looks at the impact of this configuration on the ability of the new government to carry out long-awaited reforms.
  • Topic: Governance, Reform, Political stability, Transition
  • Political Geography: Africa, Tunisia
  • Author: Alessandra Bajec
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Despite being rich in oil and gas, Tataouine in the south of Tunisia has remained severely underdeveloped and marginalized, pushing its inhabitants, time and again, to protest for reinvestment of its wealth in infrastructure and local jobs. This paper examines the underlying drivers of the ongoing unrest in Tataouine, the heavy-handed response of the security forces, and the successive Tunisian governments’ broken pledges to address the region’s socio-economic marginalization.
  • Topic: Governance, Accountability, Marginalization, Socioeconomics , Civil Unrest
  • Political Geography: Africa, Tunisia
  • Author: Amine Al-Sharif
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The Arab Spring was to sound the death knell of the decades-old authoritarian regimes plaguing the Arab world. In the end, only Egypt and Tunisia underwent a democratic transition, and only the Tunisian people succeeded in establishing a real, albeit still fragile, democracy. This regional experience illustrates the difficulty to spur democratic change in Arab countries. A lot of actors are involved in these complex processes, such as the political elite, the army, and foreign states. On top of these, Arab diasporas are also an important player, who can play an even more influential role by self-organizing. What are their actual and potential means of action, and how can self-organizing enhance their influence? Arab diasporas consist of all the Arab people permanently settled in a foreign country who have kept ties with their motherland. These populations, estimated at around 50 million individuals, are highly heterogenous: they are concentrated in Brazil, Western Europe, the United States and Gulf countries; some hold businesses that have thrived, others hold blue-collar jobs; some are conservatives, others modern-minded. And sometimes, they represent an important share of their motherland’s population. The Lebanese and Palestinian diasporas are estimated to comprise more than half of their own populations, making them de facto important players in national politics. Full-fledged democratization in the Arab world is the result of a popular uprising, a transition from authoritarianism to democracy, and a consolidation of democracy. Arab diasporas can contribute to all these stages by engaging in six strategic fields, namely: the civic, media, artistic, entrepreneurial, political, and intellectual ones.
  • Topic: Democratization, Social Movement, Arab Spring, Protests
  • Political Geography: Africa, Middle East
  • Author: Afef Hammami Marrakchi
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: What role can local authorities in Tunisia play as part of the country’s response to Covid-19? This paper examines the opportunities offered to Tunisian municipalities (communes) by the Local Government Act but also the real constraints – human, logistical, and financial – that these new devolved structures face as they seek to play a key role in the recovery.
  • Topic: Recovery, Public Health, Pandemic, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Africa, Tunisia
  • Author: Ishac Diwan, Nadim Houry, Yezid Sayigh
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Egypt’s recent security and macro-economic stabilization has been built on weak foundations and Covid-19 has further exposed this fragility. Egypt is now back to a situation broadly similar to that before the 2011 revolution: stable on the surface, but with deep structural problems and simmering social grievances, and little buffers to mitigate them. This paper argues for a major shift in the ways the country is currently governed in favour of greater openness in politics and markets, and for the international community to seriously engage Egypt on the need to reform economically and politically.
  • Topic: Security, Arab Spring, Public Health, Pandemic, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Africa, Egypt
  • Author: Stephen J. King
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Morocco is a diverse country that has yet to come to terms with its own black population and the impact of centuries of the trans-Sahara slave trade. Diversity, the history of slavery in Morocco, and the racism that is generally inherent in post-slave societies are not openly discussed and often denied by non-Blacks. This paper examines the efforts of black Moroccans to tell the stories of racial discrimination against them as a first step in an attempt to raise awareness, pierce the taboos and end the denial surrounding anti-black racism in Morocco.
  • Topic: Minorities, Political Activism, Discrimination, Racism
  • Political Geography: Africa, Morocco
  • Author: Alex Walsh
  • Publication Date: 09-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Since 2011, the police have been at the centre of the contestation rocking the Arab world. Part 1 mapped out some of the main modes of contestation and provided a preliminary assessment of their impact on police practices. This paper examines what is still holding up police reform attempts, presents possible future scenarios for policing practices in the region, and assesses the role of donor states, notably Europe, in supporting security sector reforms in MENA
  • Topic: Social Movement, Reform, Arab Spring, Protests
  • Political Geography: Africa, Middle East
  • Author: Yacine Adberahmane
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: On 1 November 2020, Algerians will vote in a referendum on a new constitution proposed by current President Tabboune. Algeria’s successive constitutions have historically overlooked the country’s diversity. This paper argues that this latest constitutional process was a missed opportunity to encourage peaceful and meaningful exchanges between the country’s different groups, ultimately worsening tensions between both secularists and Islamists and between Arabists and Berberists. It calls on civil society actors to challenge the grip of the central authorities over the identity debate and to initiate a much-needed societal dialogue.
  • Topic: Reform, Constitution, Peace, Identity
  • Political Geography: Africa, Algeria
  • Author: Nadim Houry
  • Publication Date: 11-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Anyone who cares about transitional justice in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) faces a daunting task. How to address the past when the present is in great upheaval? How to tackle yesterday’s wars and violations when new ones—often worse—are occurring today? Practitioners have long recognized that transitional justice is a slow and nonlinear process that requires patience and long-term planning. Setbacks are expected along the way but, in the end, there is the promise or assumption that “if you keep at it, you will eventually get results.” But is this assumption still valid in the MENA region? Are existing transitional justice efforts succeeding in laying the groundwork for a better future, or are they being washed away by new rounds of violence and repression? The issue is both conceptual and pragmatic. On one level, there is the question of whether a society can start addressing the traumas of the past while simultaneously dealing with new traumas, often caused by new actors. On another level, there is the question of what sort of transitional justice processes and institutions can deal with the past, while also being able to adapt to an ever-shifting present. The challenges are immense and there are no easy answers. Here, I highlight the need for further research on transitional justice processes in the MENA region, with a focus on recent years of upheaval. Two fundamental questions emerge: (i) how to reconcile past and current claims; and (ii) how to accommodate ever-changing sources of legitimacy, given the increasing hollowness of state structures in the region.
  • Topic: International Law, Transitional Justice, State Building, Humanitarian Crisis
  • Political Geography: Africa, Middle East
  • Author: Alessandra Bajec
  • Publication Date: 11-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Tunisian women in rural areas have played a vital role in maintaining food security during the coronavirus pandemic but continue to suffer exploitation and exclusion. While their working conditions are already known for being dire, the public health crisis has compounded their economic and social insecurity. This paper discusses the systemic exploitative treatment of female agricultural workers, the state’s inability so far to protect them, and how local NGOs are helping to improve their lives.
  • Topic: Gender Issues, Women, Rural, Public Health, Pandemic, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Africa, Tunisia
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, USA, in May 2020 prompted a global surge of demonstrations in solidarity with the “Black Lives Matter” movement and has ushered in one of the most significant and wide-reaching anti-racism movements in recent history. While much of the world is slowly coming to terms with the painful racial histories that fuel present-day discrimination and tensions, the issue of racism in MENA and the region’s role in the slave trade have long been left either unacknowledged or explicitly denied. This denial reinforces entrenched systems of oppression, marginalization, and social exclusion with wider implications on the lives of MENA communities. Societies from Rabat to Sana’a are not as inclusive as they claim to be. Deeply ingrained racial prejudices continue to be a source of suffering and marginalization for diverse minorities, including black communities. Despite the recent growth of interest in anti-racism in MENA, scholarly and literary work on the subject remains sparse, and history books have either glossed over the plight of black people in the Arab region or ignored the part they play in the region’s social dynamics. As part of an effort to promote more regional discussions on the issue and our commitment to fight discrimination in the region, the Arab Reform Initiative is putting together a series of papers (as part of our Bawadar series) on anti-Black racism in MENA in an attempt to raise awareness about anti-black racism in Arab countries and highlight the mobilization that is taking place by anti-racism activists in the region. As a part of this effort, we are also compiling this reader list to draw attention to key academic and artistic works (in English, French and Arabic), but also to bring and keep the issues of anti-black racism at the forefront of public debates and actions. This list – although not exhaustive – presents works chronicling the history of Black communities in MENA, Afro-Arab experiences, and anti-Blackness in the region. We aim to regularly update it to highlight new authors and works. If you think there is a book or paper that needs to be added to this reader, please email us at the address provided above with a link to the paper or book and a few words as to why you think it should be added.
  • Topic: Solidarity, Discrimination, Black Lives Matter (BLM), Racism
  • Political Geography: Africa, Middle East
  • Author: Yasmin Helal
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Although street theatre succeeded in establishing itself as an artistic genre in Egypt in the 2000s, the rising restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly have forced street performers to silence in recent years. Through a series of interviews with artists, this paper addresses the factors that enabled the rise of street theatre, the process of politicization of some of its pioneers, as well as the causes that led to its fall.
  • Topic: Arts, Culture, Freedom of Expression, Theater
  • Political Geography: Africa, Egypt
  • Author: Abdelkhalig Shaib
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The place of religion in Sudan’s state has divided the country since its independence. In September, the transitional government agreed to separate religion and state, in an attempt to end the decades-long contention. Against the backdrop of past constitutional failures to adequately recognize and address Sudan’s diversity, this paper examines the implications of the recent Juba and Addis Ababa agreements in the country’s efforts to build a civil democratic state and the challenges ahead.
  • Topic: Religion, Democracy, State, State Building, Transition
  • Political Geography: Africa, Sudan
  • Author: Rachid Tlemçani
  • Publication Date: 04-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: As of 22 February 2019, a new chapter of Algeria’s history is being written, one which will establish a new relationship between Algerian citizens and their state. On that day, against all odds, tens of thousands of Algerians, regardless of gender, age, social or professional background, converged on cities and villages to voice their rejection of a fifth term for Abdelaziz Bouteflika in the forthcoming presidential elections. To the call of General Ahmed Gaïd Salah, the army’s chief of staff, to remove President Bouteflika as per Article 102 of the Constitution, and Bouteflika’s subsequent resignation on 2 April, Algerians responded with an even stronger mobilization and their own call, “Système, dégage!”
  • Topic: Social Movement, Democracy, Protests, State Building
  • Political Geography: Africa, Algeria, North Africa, Mediterranean, Algeris
  • Author: Magdi El-Gizouli
  • Publication Date: 04-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: What is the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) anyway, perplexed commentators and news anchors on Sudan’s government-aligned television channels asked repetitively as if bound by a spell? An anchor on the BBC Arabic Channel described the SPA as “mysterious” and “bewildering”. Most were asking about the apparently unfathomable body that has taken the Sudanese political scene by surprise since December 2018 when the ongoing wave of popular protests against President Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year authoritarian rule began. The initial spark of protests came from Atbara, a dusty town pressed between the Nile and the desert some 350km north of the capital, Khartoum. A crowd of school pupils, market labourers and university students raged against the government in response to an abrupt tripling of the price of bread as a result of the government’s removal of wheat subsidies. Protestors in several towns across the country set fire to the headquarters of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and stormed local government offices and Zakat Chamber1 storehouses taking food items in a show of popular sovereignty.
  • Topic: Mass Media, Food, Social Movement, Protests
  • Political Geography: Africa, Khartoum, Sundan
  • Author: El Mouhoub Mouhoud
  • Publication Date: 04-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: With ongoing protests in Algeria and wide calls to boycott the presidential poll in July, Algerians’ demands for radical regime change remain relentless. The army’s announcement it is considering all options to resolve the current crisis does not resonate well in a country where the army has been closely tied to regime interests. In this interview, Professor Mouhoud provides a much-needed context to better understand how the protests started and the potential scenarios that may unfold in Algeria over the coming months.
  • Topic: Social Movement, Arab Spring, Military Intervention, Protests
  • Political Geography: Africa, Algeria, North Africa, Mediterranean, Algeris
  • Author: Abdülrahman Ayyash
  • Publication Date: 04-2019
  • Content Type: Research Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: On 28 January 2011 – as hundreds of thousands of Egyptians demonstrated on the day dubbed the “Friday of Anger” – Muslim Brotherhood member, Sameh, was demonstrating with several thousand others in Mansoura in the Nile Delta (120 km north of Cairo). As demonstrators began to throw stones at the State Security Investigations building, Sameh stood in front of them shouting “peaceful”. He was hit in the chest by a stone meant to hit the building in one of the city's most prestigious neighbourhoods. Two years later, Sameh was arrested on an array of charges, including joining the Brotherhood and committing acts of violence against the state. A few months later, he told a friend waiting on death row that he considered the Muslim Brotherhood to be apostates and that he had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (Daesh) and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Sameh's case is not unique. According to several detainees – including current prisoners spoken to over the phone – there are ongoing changes among detainees who have spent most of their lives as Muslim Brotherhood members. Egyptian prisons host tens of thousands of political detainees – perhaps more than 60,000 according to Human Rights Watch.2 Arrests have mainly targeted members of the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters. However, with increased armed attacks against the army and police, arrests have also targeted alleged supporters of Daesh, al-Qa’ida, and Islamists affiliated with smaller organizations. The Egyptian National Council for Human Rights documented prison overcrowding at a rate of at least 160%,3 forcing the authorities to build 20 new prisons since the military coup in the summer of 2013.4 Importantly, this has led to an increased exchange of influences and ideologies among detainees from diverse backgrounds. Detainees – those held after referral to the judiciary or sentencing – are often relocated during their detention, including frequent transfers to temporary detention centres during court hearings, or when brought before the Public Prosecution or for medical treatment. This further facilitates communication with different prison populations and discussion and exchange of ideas between detainees. This paper does not dwell upon traditional classifications imposed on Islamic movements in terms of moderate and extremist trends. Nor does it go into detail regarding the mechanisms of individual radicalization, though it does encourage further study. Instead, we focus on the developmental dynamics of Muslim Brotherhood youth and sympathizers in Egypt, especially those who were arrested during the breakup of sit-ins supporting former President Mohamed Morsi. Developmental dynamics refer to the conditions and contexts which Brotherhood members and sympathizers experience in prison. These inform broader understandings of issues including state and society relations, and social mobility through jihad as opposed to social mobility through the Brotherhood. This paper also discusses the ways in which the Muslim Brotherhood manages its members inside prison, and its attempts to maintain the Brotherhood's administrative and intellectual organization. It is based primarily on information collected during 10 rare phone interviews with current prisoners. It is also based on additional phone and face-to-face interviews with former prisoners inside and outside Egypt. The interviewees come from five different cities and have been in at least seven prisons, including Tora, Wadi al-Natroun, Mansoura and Gamasa; for security and technical reasons, it was not possible to expand the research cohort. The paper is also based on reviews of articles written by detainees, press reports, opinion pieces, and research papers dealing with the complex social phenomenon of the Muslim Brotherhood from different angles.
  • Topic: Human Rights, Prisons/Penal Systems, Arab Spring, Protests, Ideology
  • Political Geography: Africa, North Africa, Egypt, Mediterranean
  • Author: Ahmed Ezzat
  • Publication Date: 05-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Egyptian cause lawyers have constituted a strong socio-professional group and successfully used “strategic litigation” to challenge the state’s policies and counter its conservative narratives. With President El-Sissi in power and the security grip over legal institutions and courts, doubts were raised as to whether it still makes sense to go to court against the state over matters of rights and freedoms. By reviewing several emblematic cases, the author analyzes the impact of cause lawyering on mobilization and social movements and how it contributed to reshaping the public sphere, as well as the challenges the cause lawyers’ movement faces under El-Sissi.
  • Topic: Human Rights, United Nations, Social Movement, Legal Theory
  • Political Geography: Africa, North Africa, Egypt, Mediterranean
  • Author: Magdi El-Gizouli
  • Publication Date: 07-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: With Sudanese protesters still shouting “Madaniyya” (civilian), only time will tell if the recently signed power-sharing accord will be a true step in the direction towards democratic transition or simply another manoeuvre in Sudan’s longstanding tradition of “tajility” and unfulfilled promises.
  • Topic: Social Movement, Democracy, Protests, State Building
  • Political Geography: Africa, Sudan, North Africa, Khartoum
  • Author: Lamia Zaki
  • Publication Date: 07-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: In the wake of the Arab Spring, Morocco witnessed street protests demanding, among other things, for the “King to reign but not to rule”. Adopted by referendum on 1 July 2011, the latest Moroccan Constitution was prepared through a year-long participatory process led by a consultative commission. Although it did not fundamentally change the balance of powers at the highest levels of the State, it gave a new impulse to the decentralization process. Article 1 of the new Constitution states “the territorial organization of the Kingdom is decentralized”. It also enshrines the two principles of “free administration” of Local Governments (LGs) and subsidiarity and aims at reinforcing transparency, citizen participation, and governance. The new Constitution has also introduced the principle of “advanced regionalization” to make regions, in addition to municipalities, key levels of LGs in Morocco. In 2015, three Organic Laws (OLs) were issued to specify and operationalize the spirit of the Constitution at the municipal, regional, and prefectural levels.1 The decentralization process has quite a long history in Morocco. It has consistently been put at the core of the policy agenda for several decades and represented an important research topic for many observers of the political scene. Three different analytical perspectives have been put forward (in conjunction with contextual factors) to explain why and with what consequences decentralization has been put at the core of the policy agenda. The first points to the authoritarian management of LGs, based on the alliance built after independence between the monarchy and rural elites to counter the influence of urban and partisan elites.2 Using sophisticated tools (including postponing elections, successively reorganizing electoral maps, increasing the role of deconcentrated authorities), this approach led to the creation of domesticated local elites. Behind the decentralization reforms initiated through municipal charters of 1960 and 1976, researchers have pointed at the centralized and often brutal management of the Moroccan territory and of cities in particular in a context of rapid urban growth.3 A second analytical perspective highlights how decentralization has been presented and used since the 1990s by the Moroccan government as a tool to implement “democratization reforms”. The relative opening up of the political field in the late 1990s and early 2000s led to the emergence of new elites in different fields (entrepreneurship,4 real estate,5 partisan field,6 civil society,7 etc.), who have used their local base to claim rights and/or a political role at the local or national level. The third analytical perspective links decentralization to (“good”) governance reforms that focus more on the rationalization of resources, effective investment and the respect of management rules to promote local development rather than on representative democracy.8 By 2011, Moroccan municipalities were already entrusted with a wide range of mandates pertaining to the creation and management of a wide range of key services.9 Studies have shown how municipalities lack the financial and technical means to implement their missions and remain subject to the strong control of central and deconcentrated authorities.10 Yet other research has also highlighted the impact of these reforms on local notabilities and mobilization. The development of Hirak al-Rif, a protest movement born in Northern Morocco in 2016 and focused on demands for local and regional development, shows that the issue of local policies and decentralization remain at the core of the political agenda in a post-Arab Spring era. This article closely examines the recent legal reforms (2011 Constitution and Organic Laws) and looks at the technical and normative arrangements that have been developed in the wake of the Arab Spring to promote decentralization both at the municipal and regional levels. This approach has hardly been used, yet these often-neglected technical arrangements are the fruit of a bargaining process and have a direct political effect. I will show below that beyond the reforms brought by the Constitution and OLs to encourage local democracy and ensure more autonomy for LGs, important uncertainties remain as to their effective implementation on the ground. In addition to the lack of financial resources, the lack of a clear framework and implementing provisions explain that these legal changes remain largely theoretical (despite the fact that about 40 decrees and circulars that have been produced by the Directorate General for Local Governments (DGCL) at the Ministry of Interior to allow for the effective enforcement of the reforms). Contrary to many studies which consider deconcentration (i.e. administrative decentralization)11 as a way to neutralize decentralization reforms, 12 I will also argue that the deconcentration reforms simultaneously initiated with the “régionalisation avancée” (advanced regionalization) could enhance the scope and impact of the decentralization reforms in Morocco.
  • Topic: Social Movement, Arab Spring, Protests, Decentralization
  • Political Geography: Africa, North Africa, Morocco, Rabat
  • Author: Lotfi Tarchouna
  • Publication Date: 07-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: In order for decentralization to be effective and lead to greater equality in development and political engagement, both processes of codification (i.e. enshrining provisions in the constitution) and operationalization must be guided by strong legal and political foundations, principles and structures. The paper discusses the Tunisian experience of decentralization since the adoption of the 2014 Constitution that described the Tunisian state as a unitary state and enshrined administrative decentralization, thus consolidating the Tunisian decentralized state. It argues that after the fall of Ben Ali, decentralization was seen as a way to preserve the integrity of the unitary state in Tunisia while introducing instruments of participative democracy through a reinvigorated decentralization process. First, it presents the legal and political foundations for decentralization and the new structures that were set up to implement it. Second, the paper addresses the fiscal and logistical challenges of implementation, the importance of collective civil society engagement in decentralized structures and concludes with recommendations and lessons learned from this experience in a country that recently experienced democratic transition.
  • Topic: Democracy, State Building, Decentralization , Engagement
  • Political Geography: Africa, North Africa, Tunisia, Mediterranean, Tunis
  • Author: Souha Drissi
  • Publication Date: 09-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: With the death of President Beji Caid Essebsi on 25 July, Tunisia’s presidential elections were moved up and will be held on 15 September 2019. By the end of the eight-day process of accepting nominations – from 2 to 9 August – the Independent High Authority for Elections (IHAE) had received 971 requests for nomination which include 75 independents and 11 female candidates. On 31 August, the IHAE released the final list of candidates for the presidential race, accepting 26 nominees, including two women, and rejecting 71 applications for failing to meet candidacy requirements. The IHAE is considered one of the achievements of the 2011 Revolution. It is a nine-member permanent body based in Tunis which enjoys administrative and financial independence. Its mission is to “ensure democratic, pluralistic, fair and transparent elections and referendums”2 and supervise and oversee all related processes. The election campaigns started on 2 September and will continue until 13 September, with 17 September as the deadline for the announcement of the preliminary election results and 21 October for the announcement of the final results. In case of no absolute majority vote, a second round will be held after two weeks.3
  • Topic: Politics, Elections, Democracy, State Building
  • Political Geography: Africa, North Africa, Tunisia, Tunis
  • Author: Souha Drissi
  • Publication Date: 09-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: With the death of President Beji Caid Essebsi on 25 July, Tunisia’s presidential elections were moved up and will be held on 15 September 2019. By the end of the eight-day process of accepting nominations – from 2 to 9 August – the Independent High Authority for Elections (IHAE) had received 971 requests for nomination which include 75 independents and 11 female candidates. On 31 August, the IHAE released the final list of candidates for the presidential race, accepting 26 nominees, including two women, and rejecting 71 applications for failing to meet candidacy requirements. The IHAE is considered one of the achievements of the 2011 Revolution. It is a nine-member permanent body based in Tunis which enjoys administrative and financial independence. Its mission is to “ensure democratic, pluralistic, fair and transparent elections and referendums”2 and supervise and oversee all related processes. The election campaigns started on 2 September and will continue until 13 September, with 17 September as the deadline for the announcement of the preliminary election results and 21 October for the announcement of the final results. In case of no absolute majority vote, a second round will be held after two weeks.3
  • Topic: Politics, Elections, Democracy, State Building
  • Political Geography: Africa, North Africa, Tunisia, Tunis
  • Author: Ishac Diwan
  • Publication Date: 09-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: During its first years of transition to a democratic order, Tunisia's efforts were predominantly focused on addressing political challenges. The performance of the country in this regard has been generally positive, as it has managed to consolidate democratic gains despite challenges related to the polarization of politics around identity and religious issues, the rise in insecurity related to attacks by extremist groups, and even the general disenchantment of voters for the existing political elites. However, the gains on the political front came at the expense of economic setbacks. One of the main challenges for the coming period will thus be largely economic. High unemployment, unfulfilled demands for social justice, the rise in corruption, and most importantly in the short term, an unsustainable macroeconomic trajectory, all threaten to upset recent political gains. If the upcoming administration does not address them, social discontent would endanger the hard-won democratic gains.
  • Topic: Religion, Social Movement, Democracy, Economic Policy
  • Political Geography: Africa, North Africa, Tunisia, Mediterranean, Tunis
  • Author: Dris Nouri
  • Publication Date: 11-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Since pluralism was introduced in Algeria in the February 1989 constitution, presidential elections have become a means of conferring legitimacy to the civilian façade of military authority. Historically, the army has held centre stage in the country’s configuration of power, holding power explicitly until 1989, then indirectly after facing popular anger in October 1988, which led the armed forces to relinquish their “revolutionary legitimacy” and replace it with elections-sanctioned legitimacy. The conditions of this political openness, however, and the slide into violence in 1991, allowed authorities the opportunity to disable the capacity of elections to bring forth a democratic alternative. Elections were thus rendered periodic events designed to provide the veneer of democratic legitimacy to a supposedly civilian elected president – but who was always chosen in advance by the authorities under a rigged bureaucratic system. While this model didn’t allow Liamine Zéroual to continue his term (1995-1999), Abdelaziz Bouteflika knew how to manipulate the system to the greatest extent, allowing him to stay in power for four full terms, regardless of his deteriorating health conditions, and to even try to devise loopholes for extending to a fifth term.1 The regime did not expect to pay a high cost for running this model. Nor did it understand that the resources needed to maintain the effectiveness of this system in the collective imaginary of the Algerian people were in fact dwindling, be they material resources (revenues from oil and gas used for generous social programmes and clientele networks) or symbolic (revolutionary legitimacy, Bouteflika’s charisma). As such, the planned presidential election of 18 April 2019 – designed to renew the existing contract between the regime, its cronies, and its clientele networks - instead became the catalyst for a peaceful revolutionary movement to emerge. It was the moment when millions of Algerians took to the streets demanding radical change to the state’s mode of operating, the production process, and the distribution of power in society. As a result of the peaceful popular uprising, Algeria’s top brass was forced to intervene to remove the president who was running again for office, and the elections were cancelled in a bid to contain the unprecedented and widespread anger. However, the authorities soon realized that Algerians were demanding something deeper: the cancellation of the de facto delegated power that the military had enjoyed since independence, to be replaced with a true electoral process. In the wake of this realization, the authorities have been trying to neutralize the effectiveness of the popular uprising, going to great lengths to renew the civilian façade.
  • Topic: United Nations, Social Movement, Elections, Protests, Repression, Military Government
  • Political Geography: Africa, Algeria, North Africa, Algeris
  • Author: Redouane Boudjemaa
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: On 17 November, the presidential campaign, which the Algerian authorities insist on organizing on 12 December, officially started. This is despite opposition from large segments of Algerians, expressed through rallies across the majority of provinces in Algeria. These protests strongly express the widely held perception amongst the protesters that the upcoming elections will only renew the system (le pouvoir) and anchor the survival of the military regime imposed on the country since 1962. Two prominent slogans sum up this refusal, across all the protests, "no election with the gangs", highlighting the corruption of the regime, evident through the presence of the figures from the era of the resigned/removed president Bouteflika. The other slogan is, "Civilian, not a military, state", meaning that the protesters demand the building of a civilian state, not a military one. It is this slogan that confirms the necessity of breaking, on an epistemological level, with the militarization and securitization on which the political regime was built since Algeria’s independence from France in July 1962. Departing from an attempt to understand the popular movement’s refusal of the 12 December elections, and the authorities’ rigidity to impose its will and pass the election by force, this paper tries to analyze the trajectories of the five candidates in the election, the calculations of the authority, and those of the popular movement, before moving on to some likely scenarios in case the authorities succeeded, or failed, to impose the ballots.
  • Topic: Democracy, Election watch, Protests, Military Government
  • Political Geography: Africa, Algeria, North Africa, Algeris
  • Author: Nassim Balla
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: On 22 February 2019, tens of thousands of Algerians took the streets to oppose President Bouteflika running for a fifth term. This unprecedented movement in Algeria, the Hirak, is in many respects particular: it is pacifist, rooted in popular neighbourhoods, and dominated by a young generation of activists. After years of the regime’s disdain (hougra) of the marginalized, of youth, and of political opponents, a spontaneous and peaceful glimmer of hope suddenly emerged. During these protests, Algerian youth have shown incredible creativity in expressing their political demands despite having always been excluded from the formal political sphere and having themselves despised and rejected politics writ large. They have invented complex metaphorical slogans and songs to express their indignation and anger. These chants, however, are not entirely new: they have always existed in Algerian stadiums, where they were traditionally composed by young football fans, the “ultras,” and inspired from Algerian folklore and chaabi (popular) music.1 In the last decade, though, these songs saw an important revival and began encompassing strong political messages deeply anchored in an assessment of the current context. This paper seeks to analyze, deconstruct, and interpret three of these slogans and songs that were born among the ultras in Algerian stadiums and later adopted by all protesters as an alternative to classical political projects. These slogans reflect a long-lasting dissatisfaction with the status quo and are often deeply rooted in popular culture and anthems of the marginalized and forgotten in Algeria.
  • Topic: Culture, Elections, Protests, Youth Movement
  • Political Geography: Africa, Algeria, North Africa, Algeris
  • Author: Hatem Chakroun
  • Publication Date: 05-2018
  • Content Type: Research Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: This paper seeks to describe and analyse in a contextual way how the relationship between human rights organizations and the State in Tunisia has evolved since independence. The establishment and consolidation of national State institutions after independence was the main obsession of the ruling political network in Tunisia. This dictated its antagonistic position and measures against pluralism and inclusion of various political groups, all of which had been once unified in the anticolonial struggle. After independence, this common objective disappeared and differences materialized regarding which political system and policies to adopt in order to building a modern nation-state in Tunisia. The consolidated regime of President Habib Bourguiba succeeded in imposing an authoritarian single-party political system, whose “legitimacy” rested on the anticolonial struggle, that controlled the state, to which all had to show loyalty. The autocratic political system continued after 1987 with the reign of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who presented a retooled authoritarian political vision. The human rights community represented by the Tunisian League for the Defence of Human Rights came under pressure as the State attempted to coerce it into adopting a tailored vision of human rights compatible with the logic of a dictatorship. Ben Ali regime had also set up a façade of commitment to human rights as expressed in various laws, about which he boasted on all occasions and political events with total disregard for systematic violations by repressive state bodies. After the fall of Ben Ali following a popular uprising that rejected repression and authoritarianism and expressed a popular longing for freedom and dignity, a new vision began to form of the relationship between the State and the human rights community in Tunisia. The starting point was very positive with long time human rights activists playing a central role in the process of establishing a vision for the new republic based on respect for the principles of human rights. However, the political contention among various political factions and higher state echelons, fuelled by varying ideologies and interests, has affected this relationship, which oscillated between harmony and dissonance.
  • Topic: Human Rights, Social Movement, Protests, NGOs
  • Political Geography: Africa, North Africa, Tunisia
  • Author: Nadine Abdalla
  • Publication Date: 05-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Social movements in Egypt and Syria played a central role in sparking the 2011 revolutions. Yet, despite their profound influence both before and during these critical moments of popular mobilization, they have since been sidelined. In Egypt, the role of social movements has been severely diminished because of the now-restricted political sphere, which has become increasingly inaccessible since the 30 June 2013 revolution and the subsequent military intervention. In Syria, civil society groups and political movements have become less important as a result of the militarization of the revolution, which the Syrian government successfully transformed into armed conflict. This policy paper, which is based on various research papers conducted under the Arab Research Support Programme, provides insight on social movements in these two countries, three main factors that affect a movement’s ability to mobilize communities and that help explain how social movements are affected by increased state repression. These include movement’s ability to understand the changing political context and shift strategies and tactics accordingly; organizational structure and flexibility; and patterns of repression and oppression by the state. This paper finds that social movements grow or decline depending on the strategies chosen to navigate given political contexts, as well as their ability to organize and appeal to a wide audience. For social movements to succeed, they must also be cognizant of a community’s unique characteristics and strengths. This includes its collective memory and fears, dynamics of cohesion and integration, and its historical relation with authoritarian regimes. Understanding these dynamics is essential for a movement to expand and to grow sustainably, especially as tensions rise within a community.
  • Topic: Social Movement, Arab Spring, State Violence, Revolution, Repression
  • Political Geography: Africa, North Africa, Syria, Egypt
  • Author: Afifa Mannai
  • Publication Date: 07-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: This paper addresses the role of the human rights movement in Tunisia in influencing state legislations and practices. It also attempts to tackle a shift from largely monitoring and denouncing rights violations prior to the January 2011 revolution to participating in drafting bills and lobbying for policy reforms that could reduce these violations. The human rights movement was not isolated from what Tunisia experienced in the years following the 2011 revolution, which resulted in massive realignments of social and political structures and practices with a heightened awareness of the importance of human rights and the need to continue the struggle to demand and enjoy them. This new climate witnessed a change not only in terms of the scope of the demands put forth by the human rights movement but also regarding the means and mechanisms it used to achieve these demands, which at times succeeded but ended in failure some other times.
  • Topic: Human Rights, United Nations, Social Movement, Revolution
  • Political Geography: Africa, North Africa, Tunisia
  • Author: Asma Nouira
  • Publication Date: 07-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The voting system adopted in municipal elections has produced mosaic municipal councils where no one has an absolute majority, reflecting the situation in parliament. This will require forming coalitions and negotiating to create new agreements. But unlike the parliament, coalitions on the local level will not necessarily follow the logic of party alliances. Negotiations among the winning 8 Tunisia’s Local Elections: Entrenching Democratic Practices formations have already started in preparation for the election of presidents of municipal councils. In this context, the controversy over the presidency of the Tunis municipality has arisen between Ennahdha’s candidate Souad Abderrahim and Kamal Eidir from Nidaa Tounes. These elections are important to the winning major parties as they bring them closer to the average citizen on the local level, helping them improve their image and win the confidence of citizens in preparation for the upcoming legislative elections. They are equally important for the average citizen considering that they focus on the foundations of local democracy. What happens in these councils will reflect either positively or negatively on the project to enhance local authority, as well as the services this new system is supposed to provide to citizens.
  • Topic: Gender Issues, Elections, Geopolitics, Negotiation
  • Political Geography: Africa, North Africa, Tunisia, Tunis
  • Author: Mohamed Outahar
  • Publication Date: 07-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The relationship between the human rights movement and the state in Morocco has gone through two major stages since the movement appeared in the 1970s. The first phase (1970s–1990s) was antagonistic in the broader ferocious political conflict that lasted from independence till the 1990s. Civil and political rights were routinely violated, and members of the opposition were incarcerated in secret detention centres. The state oppressed or ignored human rights activists or tried to contain them during that stage. This came to a gradual end in the early 1990s. The ruling regime changed the way it viewed the human rights movement and human rights themselves. Political detainees benefited from an amnesty and a process of reconciliation evolved as the state opened up the dark files of repressive practices such as arbitrary arrests, torture and enforced disappearances. The second phase, which began in the mid-1990s, came after the ruling regime had created and stabilized state institutions and the modalities of governance. It was then able to begin a calculated political opening bolstered by various internal and external forces. This, however, did not change the essentially contentious nature of the relationship between the human rights movement and the state. The conflict became subtle and more refined. The state attempted to turn the dark page of human rights’ violations within a process of transitional justice. Despite harsh criticism, this process heralded in some way the end of systematic torture, forced disappearance and detentions without fair trials. The scope and spread of human rights organizations and activists expanded in the following two decades, particularly after the movement of 20 February 2011, leading to the adoption of a new constitution that explicitly acknowledged the supremacy of international treaties and human rights laws and legislation. This paper reviews the history of the state’s relationship with the whole paradigm of human rights as it relates to society and politics and with human rights defenders in particular.
  • Topic: Human Rights, Torture, United Nations, Constitution, Repression
  • Political Geography: Africa, North Africa, Morocco, Rabat
  • Author: Mohamed Sahbi Khalfaoui
  • Publication Date: 09-2018
  • Content Type: Research Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: How can we understand the relation of political Islam in Tunisia with the human rights system in its indivisibility and universality? Since the establishment of the Tunisian Islamic Movement in the early seventies, it has worked extensively to articulate public positions addressing issues of human rights and freedoms. This relationship sprang from a dual position which juxtaposed full hostility to personal freedoms such as sexual rights and a relatively positive interaction with public freedoms. Then came the deliberations and process of ratification of the 2014 Constitution which was special in its emphasis on equality between women and men, freedom of belief, and criminalization of accusation of blasphemy. The repression of Islamists in Tunisia in the 1980s and 1990s was the most important factor that defined their position, views, and engagement with human rights principles. After the fall of former Tunisian President Zine El Abedine Ben Ali in 2011, the return of the Islamist Ennahda (Renaissance) Movement to public activity was one of the most important features of the new political phase in the country. The Tunisian society was split between supporters and opponents of such a development. With the return of Ennahda and the emergence of other Islamist groups, especially the Salafis, the debate resumed over the position of Islamists towards human rights. While they attempted to include Islamic law (Sharia) as the main source of legislation in the constitution, Islamists continued to declare their belief in human rights principles. Some analysts were optimistic concerning a transformation in the Islamist ideology, while others insisted that Islamists were duplicitous, waiting until they are empowered enough to impose their project, which is inherently hostile to human rights. This paper is an attempt to review the Islamists’ positions on human rights and how they changed over time.
  • Topic: Human Rights, Islam, Constitution, Islamism
  • Political Geography: Africa, North Africa, Tunisia, Mediterranean, Tunis
  • Author: Bassma Kodmani
  • Publication Date: 10-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: As long as military means prevailed in deciding the fate of Syria, the European Union could not alone induce any decisive change in the dynamics of the conflict, and Assad was vindictively seeking to prove that the European Union’s ability to influence the conflict was nil. Assad’s luck was that Putin was determined to prevent his fall and threw his full weight behind him to maintain his rule. When the guns finally fall silent, should the key countries of Europe and the EU itself simply accept as “a sad reality” the fact that the Syrian regime is back in full control of the country? Will they channel funds for humanitarian, post-emergency and early recovery purposes through the State’s financial system knowing full well that European tax payers’ money might be massively diverted to end in the pockets of Assad’s family and the kleptocracy around him,1 and serve to pursue his sectarian scheme of changing the demographics of Syria along religious and ethnic lines? Framing the discussion in terms of accepting Assad and rehabilitating him or not is disempowering for the EU. It assumes that military force alone is what determines the outcome of the conflict and the political fate of the country. If it follows this rationale, Europe would be annihilating everything it stands for; it would serve as a helping hand in Assad’s strategy to bury the civil society groups it helped organize and silence the democratic forces and all those within the different sectors of society who want a Syria that resembles Europe in terms of its values and its political system on the other side of the Mediterranean. The EU’s declared position that there will be no reconstruction without political transition in Syria is an honorable one, but this position still needs to be operationalized if the EU is to turn it into a policy and use its full clout to shape the resolution of the conflict.
  • Topic: Europe Union, Humanitarian Intervention, Military Intervention, Economic Policy
  • Political Geography: Africa, Russia, Europe, Syria
  • Author: Heba Raoul Ezzat
  • Publication Date: 10-2018
  • Content Type: Research Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Animosity has been the keyword in the relationship between Islamists and rights advocates for most of the past few years in Egypt. Islamists turned a blind eye to many crimes committed by the regime and its security agencies between 25 January 2011 and mid-2013. On the other hand, some rights advocates took part in mobilizing and supporting the opposition movement that led to the June 2013 demonstrations and the military seizing power. However, the killings, executions, and other egregious rights violations, then the direct confrontation between the regime and rights groups culminating in a more restrictive NGO law, led rights defenders to take a firmer position, by condemning the regime, and monitoring and documenting its violations. More Islamists are expected to see an opportunity in resorting to human rights advocacy. As such, this would mean accepting more cooperation, especially in terms of monitoring and documentation through various initiatives and institutions established after 2013. Led by a new generation of actors, will this cooperation be free from ideological conflicts? The paper seeks to review, in broad brushstrokes, the contours and important turning points of the relationship between the two groups of actors and outline a possible future trajectory.
  • Topic: Human Rights, International Cooperation, Islam, NGOs, Repression
  • Political Geography: Africa, United Nations, North Africa, Egypt, Mediterranean
  • Author: Taher labadi
  • Publication Date: 12-2018
  • Content Type: Research Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Displacement, dispersal, denial of nationhood, and global power shifts define the existence of the Palestinian diaspora, hindering their ability to connect to each other and to their homeland. This paper outlines diaspora-homeland relationships that, it argues, are shaped by both settler-colonial policies and globalization. “Diasporization” also impacts power dynamics among Palestinians, reflected in the shifting centre of gravity of Palestinian politics toward the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the growing marginalization of the Palestinian diaspora – especially those residing in neighbouring Arab countries. This paper also addresses the emergence of Palestinian diaspora elites who have been involved in inward-bound dynamics within the state-building process. Of particular note are increasing attempts to mobilize Palestinian “expatriates,” intending to strengthen their involvement in both economic development and state-building processes.
  • Topic: Globalization, Diaspora, Colonialism, State Building, Economic Development
  • Political Geography: Africa, Middle East, Israel, Palestine