MESA Banner
Back to the Future? Reinventions of Security States and Resistance Across the Tumultuous Contemporary Maghreb and Sahel

Panel VIII-21, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, November 4 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
This very diverse panel brings together the best of contemporary scholarship on the Maghreb and Sahel. All of the presenters have together a half century of research and analytical experience in the Maghreb and Sahel and over a century of life experience there. All are currently engaged in active fieldwork, four of five currently overseas, mixing interviews, primary source analysis and in situ investigations. This panel looks at how security states and security challenges are reinventing themselves and reemerging in interconnected and dynamic ways across the Maghreb and Sahel. It also looks at how and why resistence to these security states succeed and fail. In Tunisia, the military has reasserted itself in new unexpected ways, breaking longheld norms. In Algeria, reinvented resistence to security states has produced unexpected outcomes at various times that succeeded and failed due to complex intertwined factors that defy conventional wisdom about resistance success and trajectories. And in Libya and the Sahel, security challenges cross frontiers in familiar and unfamiliar inteconnected ways that create new obstacles both of analysis and response. This panel will raise as many questions as it answers, but the presentations will be steeped in rich field experience and thoughtful granularity.
Political Science
  • Dr. Yahia Zoubir -- Chair
  • Prof. Azzedine Layachi -- Presenter
  • Dr. William Lawrence -- Organizer, Discussant
  • Ms. Monica Marks -- Presenter
  • Mr. Mohamed Dhia Hammami -- Presenter
  • Ms. Houda Mzioudet -- Presenter
  • Esra Bengizi -- Presenter
  • Ms. Houda Mzioudet
    Over the past decade, there has been a significant rise in violent extremism and domestic conflict in key regions of Africa. There are multiple epicentres of violent conflict that have emerged in specific zones, such as the Sahelian region between Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger in West Africa and the Lake Chad region between Niger, Nigeria, Chad, and Cameroon with strong interconnectivity with developments in North Africa. This paper examines why these countries are experiencing a spike in violent conflict now. North Africa and the Sahel region represents regions that faced parallel and interrelated challenges including political, social, economic and security; these challenges have contributed to the weakening of the systems of governance, collapse of the security state due to the presence of armed groups within their territories or civil strife of ethnic or tribal nature. The last decade has exacerbated an already fragile situation with the onset of the “Arab Spring” and its regional external effects. With Libya having fallen into a protracted civil war after Gaddafi‘s demise, violent conflict erupted in its neighbourhood, including in Mali and Chad, as well as in West Africa as in Nigeria and Burkina Faso. The snowball effect of Arab Spring countries’ political turmoil had also threatened the fragile security of the Sahel. The underlying causes of the Libyan conflict that led to the collapse of the regime and had reverberations on various insurgencies in the Sahel regions, including links between transnational jihadist groups such as Al Qaeda and Daesh that span the entire area. Others with local/localized rebel groups have a presence that predates that of Al Qaeda such as the Tuareg rebel groups in Northern Mali, or getting emboldened to intensify their activities in the region with the Libyan conflict spilling over its neighbours, with insurgencies from Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb, Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria or one that re-emerged as an offshoot of a rebel group (Thurston, 2020). I offer an explanation based on the diffusion theory from the constructivist tradition in international relations which posits that ideas, events and concepts can travel and spread across borders to produce a contagion effect. Authors such as Strang and Meyer, Dowd, Guichaoua, Thurston and Ronen analyzed the rising security threat of jihadist groups in Mali and its spillover effect on neighbouring Algeria and Sahel countries, transnational movement of militant groups in the Sahel region and the outbreak of Islamist violence.
  • Esra Bengizi
    The year of 1990 was the start of the Black Decade, what Anouar Benmalek called “not a civil war but a war against civilians” marked the start of civil war in Algeria that saw the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) win elections as the Algerian army organized a coup d’état in retaliation to block the formation of an Islamic government. Islamists known for their brutality and exploitation of the Islamic religion, worsened the status of women’s rights in the region by claiming women had no place in society which led to them being confined to their homes in fear of harassment, imprisonment, or death. They used religion to promote their radical ideologies for claims that this will ensure spiritual salvation. Associating women’s rights with the West and framing the discourse as being “anti-islamic” is a strategy deployed to terrorize and incite fear amongst populations. Nonetheless, using culture and tradition as a method to justify control over women, seduced a large number of the population on the basis of encouraging masculinity and male dominance. As Butler points out, discourse produces significance, and dominant narratives have inaccurately portrayed women and racialized peoples as inferior. Feminist theory and postcolonial theory helps us to understand the legacies and effects of patriarchy and colonialism. Theorists including Saba Mahmood, Aimé Césaire, Edward Saïd, amongst others, demonstrate that emancipation begins at the recreation of new narratives. Retelling stories introduces new genres of the human and opens the space for another kind of positionality that distinguishes itself from traditional Eurocentric notions of “human.” These theories work in conjunction with each other to transform traditional narratives into liberatory narratives. As Fanon argues: “Liberation of Algerians is closely tied to liberation of women.” Women’s liberation movements continue to pose threats for women in the Maghreb region. Authors of the Black Decade such as Malika Mokeddem, Maïssa Bey, Latifa Ben Mansour, and many others highlight how women are beginning to play a bigger role in shaping the politics of social movements. They help us to redefine our traditional notions of violence and highlight the essential role that women play in political movements. During any transition, women will play a key role in holding an elected government accountable and in ensuring democratic measures are implemented. Primary source research conducted in France and North Africa includes dozens of interviews with women protagonists in this liberation struggle.
  • Prof. Azzedine Layachi
    All Arab countries affected by the popular upheavals of 2011—ironically called “Arab Spring”-- experienced an initial euphoric expectation of radical change, then a shimmer of hope, followed by a resignation that the despised economic and political orders may not change. Today, all Maghreb countries remain, to varying degrees, resistant to democratic change, deficient in economic and human development, and with rulers lacking in political legitimacy. Algeria experienced in 2019 a euphoric hope brought on by the wide scale social movement known as hirak which lasted a whole year and then disappeared by 2023 after reaching the phase of resignation that the existing order cannot change. What causes the failure of social movements and the persistence of ruling regimes they rose against? This paper will examine the case of Algeria by looking at several factors and their mutual dynamic impact: 1) the conjuncture during which the movement rose (political opportunity structure), 2) the demand(s) of the movement, 3) the structure of the movement (participants and sub-units), 4) the structure and cohesion of ruling regime’s civilian or military leadership, and 5) the power relationship between the protagonists. An additional variable needs to be added in the social movement research: an unexpected intervening variable that can affect substantially the fate and outcome of the confrontation. This can be a natural disaster, an aggression against the country from the exterior, or simply a health pandemic such as the one caused by COVID-19. It will be argued that the failure to achieve regime change cannot be explained without looking primarily at the combined effect of the five listed factors. The intervening factor--the pandemic—alone does not explain the failure. This paper will draw from the social movement literature (Tilly 1978; McAdam 1996; Tarrow 1998; Giugni 2011) and Chicago school sociologists such as Robert Park and Herbert Blume, and from empirical evidence of several cases in the MENA region and elsewhere. An attempt will be made to test the usefulness of the theories of “political opportunity structure” and “resource mobilization” in tackling some of the variables listed above and explaining not the rise of the Algerian social movement but its end a year after it started. As this proposal is submitted during a trip to Algeria, the field visit permits interviews and chats with hirak participants, government officials and academics, especially on the empirical dimension of genesis and end of the social movement.
  • Starting from the puzzling contribution of the military to the 2021 autogolpe led by Presiden Kais Saied, the article explores the dynamics of civil-military relations in Tunisia and the role of normative constraints in the preservation of democratic norms. The inherited securitarian practices from colonialism have shaped both formal and informal institutions governing civil-military relations in post-colonial Tunisia. The absence of effective mechanisms to yield negative returns to undemocratic behavior among military officers has resulted in positive returns and disregard for democratic norms. Civilians can also contribute to transgressions of democratic norms, creating demand for coup-like events or disrupting existing norms and boundaries. The accumulation of unsanctioned transgressions weakens the normative order, leading to confusion between good and bad behavior. After the fall of the Ben Ali regime, the military became subject to direct scrutiny and influence from civilian actors, but civilians still lack visibility on military issues and spending. The informal dynamics between civilian leadership and military officers have led to the fusion of the military and political spheres into one military-political complex. The Tunisian military has historically been subordinate to civilian political leadership, but this relationship changed after the 2011 revolution, leading to inconsistent roles for civilians and military officers, unclear norms, and loose boundaries. This allowed the military to engage in a coup targeting the parliament and constitutional order, as the absence of legislative democratic control prevented the parliament from preventing the coup. The blurriness and implicitness of the political and societal agreement on military boundaries allowed the military to step into politics, preserving the norms constructed during the state's formational period. The paper argues that the weakness of normative constraints on military behavior is a factor contributing to the demise of democracy, using a mixed-method approach, including archival documents, social media data, and interviews. The article provides insights into the history of civil-military relations in Tunisia and the factors that contribute to the demise of democracy. It sheds light on the importance of clear normative constraints on military behavior to maintain democratic norms, contributing to the literature on norms and democracy survival.
  • Ms. Monica Marks
    During Tunisia's 2011 "Revolution for Dignity," protesters surrounded the Ministry of Interior chanting that it was a "terrorist ministry" and vowing to undo Tunisia's postcolonial police state, whose abuses grew entrenched during the presidency of Habib Bourguiba (1956-87) and worsened during the tenure of his successor, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali (1987-2011). Ten years of democratization in Tunisia, however, signally failed to reform Tunisia's police state. In 2021, a presidential self-coup enabled by Tunisia's security forces and military shut the elected parliament. By 2023, a new authoritarian, Kais Saied, was using the modalities and institutions of Tunisia's unreformed security sector to drag his critics from across the ideological spectrum before military courts and Anti-Terror Units on a scale not seen in Tunisia since the 1990s. What are the chief reasons why ten years of "democratic transition" in Tunisia failed to meaningfully reform its security sector? How is Kais Saied not just resurrecting, but also fundamentally reinventing the relationship between state and security forces in Tunisia? What role has Western support for counterterrorism measures, which escalated in Tunisia after jihadist attacks in 2013-2015, played in both processes? Answering these questions holds important value for scholars of security studies, securitization and terrorism studies, and the comparative study of democratic transitions and democracy breakdown in and beyond the MENA region. The case of Tunisia revises and helpfully broadens theoretical preconceptions in these literatures concerning, for instance, 1) the ability of newly democratizing countries to combine efforts towards security sector reform with elevated internal and external investments in counterterrorism, and 2) the ability of challenger parties to meaningfully shape security sector reform when they themselves have been primary victims of the security apparatuses most in need of reform. This paper draws on twelve years of cumulative ethnographic insights from researching Tunisia, during which time its author conducted over 500 interviews that related to security sector reform. It draws also on research in Tunisia since Saied's takeover in July 2021, during which time the author conducted over 200 interviews and spent over four months in the country spread across six different trips. It showcases insights gleaned from interviews with Tunisian police officers, military, and Ministry of Interior employees, with the political parties and NGOs many hoped would help reform them, and with Western embassies and analysis in and beyond Tunisia tasked with addressing these challenges.